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