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) 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/Dig (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) 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

Mark Turner Quartet ‘Lathe of Heaven’ (ECM) 4/5

mark-turnerTenor saxophonist Mark Turner debuts for ECM here on a set that respectfully evokes the spirit of mid-1960s Miles Davis and the acoustic recordings Wayne Shorter with a deliberately pared down setting. In reality Turner is anything but a novice for ECM having recorded on several albums as a sideman including Billy Hart, Enrico Rava and the latest Stefano Bollani that was recently reviewed in this column. The quartet has comprises Avishai Cohen (not to be confused with the namesake Israeli bassist), Joe Martin on double bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore. If the six pieces are lengthy (none less than eight minutes and one at just under thirteen), then they are nonetheless beautifully constructed. On the title track and opener, there is a full frontal attack by the leader which contrasts with the lengthened out notes of Cohen, but both combine with the catchiest of hooks on the chorus. In a more laid back vein is the lovely bossa-infused bass line of ‘Year of the Rabbit’, which is a title in direct reference to the ECM album by Fly from 2012, ‘Year of the Snake’. An ode to Stevie Wonder is paid on the pared down ballad ‘Sunset for Stevie’. In general this is chamber jazz music of the highest quality and a debut album that takes the listener on at times an unknown, yet utterly fascinating journey. The title of the album, by the way, is a reference to a 1971 Science Fiction novel by K. Le Guin.

Tim Stenhouse

Astrid Jones & The Blue Flaps ‘Stand Up’ (Private Press) 5/5

astrid-jonesWell, their I was basking in the 34 degrees in Bilbao Spain for our yearly sojourn to the Soul4Real weekender, with no less than the immense Barbara Mason live with a full band including a string section. The weekender takes the shape of 2 full on all-nighters plus a six-hour session of deep, sweet ballads etc. Barbara Mason came on stage on Saturday night at 9:30pm and completely blew us all away, her performance of one of my all time faves “Yes Im ready” will stay with me until the my end. The backing singers were very impressive, 2 ladies and one hell of a male voice. After the concert I caught with the three of them outside and found them to be down to earth, lovely people. I also caught with them in the club later where Astrid sold me her cd, she managed to offload all she had, self distributed it seems at the minute so we need to help her get it out there mainstream, at the time I bought it blind, bloody hell am I glad I did, the whole album makes for astounding listening pleasure, all self-written and produced by Astrid (hark at me calling her by her first name) a real band too, real instruments. Space is always at a premium and these reviews are simply meant to stimulate some interest and get you to go and have a listen for yourself, some highlights then, the opener “Something else” is a cracking head nodding, foot tapper that is hard to get past, so easy to hit that replay button. Can I just tell you that Astrid’s voice is a beautiful tool she uses so so well, lots of jazz inflections in their, and there is no doubt about her soulfulness either…………….other highs are “Stand up” and “I wanna say” but the cream that has risen to the top is the sumptuous sax led “Power”, on repeated plays here at home for sure however; “Who they are “ is creeping up on the rails as a contender for a place in my top ten, it’s a superb dancer that sits perfectly with my southern soul plays out, hell the album’s already secured its place. The album was recorded in Madrid and mastered in Washington DC and sung by a marvellous new voice that I can’t get enough of.

Brian Goucher

Isabelle Boulay ‘Merci Serge Reggiani’ (Wrasse) 5/5

isabelle-boulayFrench-Canadian singer Isabelle Boulay is little known over here, but judging by the superb performance on this tribute album, that may be about to change. This album is a delicious slice of retro music firmly in the French chanson tradition and the singer Boulay is paying homage to, Serge Reggiani, is internationally best known as an actor of some standing, notably in the film ‘Le Casque d’Or’. However, in his native France Reggiani is much loved also for his interpretations of the songs of Georges Moustaki as well as those by the pairing of Jean-Loup Dabadie and Jacques Datin, and these form the bedrock of the compositions contained within. Boulay, who possesses both a deep and emotionally charged voice, a prerequisite in order to remain faithful to the Reggiani songbook, is at her most effective on the acoustic guitar led and uplifting number that is ‘Le Vieux Couple’ which receives here an outstanding rendition. There are hints of Brel, who was surely a major influence on Boulay, on the accordion accompaniment to ‘Ma Fille’ while the song ‘De quelles Amériques’ is distinguished by the use of orchestrations and percussion, with arrangements in general being taken care of by husband Benjamin Boulay. Simplicity is a much undervalued virtue and here the deceptively simple, yet highly effective cover design of a red rose speaks volumes of the quality music on offer throughout this album. The album has in fact become something of a cult hit in France and English language listeners will find much to enjoy if they are searching for that classic French chanson sound.

Tim Stenhouse

25 Years of Mr Bongo

mrbcd124highresMr Bongo started life in 1989 as a small record shop underneath Daddy Kool’s Reggae Store on Berwick Street in London. They were the first shop to sell vinyl releases from independent hip-hop labels such as Def Jam, Rawkus, Nervous and Big Beat outside of the USA. They also became the established bearer for hard-to-find, classic Latin music, particularly Brazilian, outside of the Americas.

Out of this basement a thriving Latin shop was born and supplied music for salsa dancers, Latin Jazz addicts and Brazilian groovers. Such characters as Giles Peterson and clubs such as Dingwalls championed this music and in the following years Mr Bongo established itself as the leader and provider for whole scene.

In 1991, Huw Bowles entered the Mr Bongo fray bringing his own encyclopaedic knowledge of hip-hop, expanding Bongo’s field of expertise. Initially selling old skool and hip-hop, the shop was the first to start selling music from small independent hip-hop labels from around the world in the UK (artists such as Jurassic 5 having special Bongo pressings). This pioneering spirit revived the waning interest in hip-hop and also started to bring focus to home-grown talent. As the independent scene grew Mr Bongo exclusively imported the first releases by Dr Octagon, J5, Mos Def and many more.

Ray Barreto opened much needed new premises in Lexington St. as the Latin section expanded. Always expanding its field of vision and expertise, the Mr Bongo store moved again, to its final premises in Poland St., Soho. Now fully established, it was not unusual for queues around the block on Saturdays, caused by stocks of their exclusive vinyl.

The shop also initially acted as home to the Mr Bongo record label and the later formed imprints; Disorient and Beyongolia. In 1995 the Bongo empire expanded into Japan, opening a store in Tokyo, providing a useful A&R source for Disorient. After a two year crusade Bongo’s secured the soundtrack rights to the classic hip-hop movie Wildstyle and released two LPs from the film on Beyongolia.

The label and publishing operation moved to Brighton in 2001. From their seaside base Mr Bongo have been responsible for discovering and breaking some of the world’s most exciting new talent, as well as reissuing sought after classics and rarities that have gone on to become collectors items in their own right. Looking through the label discography is like digging into a treasure trove. Mr Bongo’s eclecticism married with their unshifting focus on quality has resulted in celebrated releases from artists such as Terry Callier, Jorge Ben, Joyce, Marcos Valle, Seu Jorge, Labi Siffre, Hollie Cook, Karol Conka, Prince Fatty, Ebo Taylor, Lula Cortes, and The Incredible Bongo Band. It may have been these artists that introduced you to the world of Mr Bongo, or it may have been through their legendary Brazilian Beats compilation series, but whatever the introduction, we can guarantee there are countless other classics in the catalogue for you to discover. And the releases keep coming with the recently launched re-issue labels Brazil 45s and Latin 45s creating a whole new generation of Mr Bongo fans.
This compilation is a celebration of the label’s work from 1989 – 2014; Mr Bongo classics on disc one and the future of Mr Bongo on disc two.

Tracklisting:

Disc One (Mr Bongo Classics)

01 Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (Grandmaster Flash Remix) 02 Seu Jorge – Carolina
03 Hollie Cook & Prince Fatty – Milk And Honey
04 Doris – Did You Give The World Some Love Today Baby
05 Terry Callier ft. Massive Attack – Wings
06 Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – African Problems
07 Ebo Taylor – Heaven
08 C.K. Mann & His Carousel 7 – Asafo Beesuon MEDLEY (Gruff & Grey Edit) 09 Fab 5 Freddy – Down By Law
10 Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space
11 Os Ipanemas – Nana
12 Wilson Siminal – Pais Tropical
13 Trio Mocoto – Swinga Sambaby
14 Tom Ze – Sao Sao Paulo
15 Lula Cortes E Ze Ramalho – Beira Mar
16 Blo – Chant To Mother Earth

Disc Two (Mr Bongo Future)

1 Hollie Cook – Looking For Real Love
2 Mungo’s Hi Fi – Scrub A Dub Style Ft. Sugar Minott (Prince Fatty Remix) 3 Horseman – Computer
4 Karol Conka – Boa Noite
5 Junip – Oba La Vem Ela
6 Olli Ahvenlahti – Grandma’s Rocking Chair
7 Hareton & Meta – KM 110
8 Juca Chaves – Take Me Back To Piaui
9 Jorge Ben & Toquinho – Carolina, Carol Bela
10 Pete Rodriguez – I Like It Like That
11 Beny Moré – Babarabatiri
12 Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock

John Mayall ‘A Special Life’ (Forty Below) 4/5

john-mayallOctogenarian John Mayall is enjoying a new lease of life late on in his career and this latest album showcases his profound knowledge of the blues tradition and beyond, while laying down some heavy blues-rock grooves. This writer prefers the more subtle side to the Mayall repertoire and the soulful, catchy melody of ‘Heartache’ is a joy to behold with keyboard and bass in unison on this terrific number. On the minor blues number ‘Floodin’ in California’ Mayall reveals a more delicate side to his music and excels on vocals. His respect for the blues tradition is beyond dispute and on the rustic ‘Just a memory’, he takes the ensemble sound down to the bare minimum to thrilling effect while there is a faithful interpretation of Jimmy McCracklin’s ‘I’ve just got to know’. The mid-paced groove of ‘Why did you go last night’ is noteworthy for the use of some subtle electric piano while Mayall himself leads on harmonica on the title track. Some of the uptempo numbers were a tad too much in the blues-rock bag for this writer, but that is exactly what his fans love him for and ‘Like a fool’ is probably the pick of these. John Mayall is currently undertaking an extensive UK tour that began on 17 October and continues on into late November, taking in Manchester at the Bridgewater Hall on 28 October and a double bill at Ronnie Scott’s in London on 25 and 26 November respectively. Blues fans are in for a treat.

Tim Stenhouse