Jerry Kalaf ‘Welcome to Earth’ (Palm Mountain) 3/5

jerry-kalafWhat is it with drummers? They tend to bring with them a (sometimes well earned) reputation of being the most annoying member of the band. And yet there are times when they bring us some of the finest original music we have heard. Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Brian Blade’s Fellowship, Paul Motian’s Trios; to name but a few. Maybe they look at things from a slightly different perspective, but whatever the reason, we are fortunate to have so many recording and performing new compositions in the jazz world. Jerry Kalaf’s “Welcome to Earth” may not hit the dizzy heights of some of the aforementioned artist’s recordings, but it is nonetheless a fine album. This is a captivating mix of quiet, confident lyricism and rich textures – performed as a trio or sextet. Kalaf actually employs three different bands in effect, each one relishing the task of working their melodic majic around Kalaf’s sensitive drumming.
“Welcome to Earth” is Jerry Kalaf’s fourth release as a leader. Having toured extensively with many well- known names in music, and having earned himself quite a reputation for his movie soundtracks, it’s pleasing to hear such sincerity on this release. A very well respected drummer, Kalaf’s compositions are tuneful and at times very compelling. The album opens with the first of three tracks featuring his sextet; “Ambiguity”. With Doug Walter on alto sax, Barry Coates on guitar, Jeff Colella piano, Gabe Davis bass and Scott Breadman adding the percussion, it swoons with its harmonic atmosphere. “Siyaya Samba”, a smooth rich samba, not surprisingly, along with the rhythmic “This one’s for Jim”, dedicated to Jim Hall, make up the other two sextet pieces. Three tunes as a trio see Leonard Thompson on piano and Ryan McGillicuddy on bass join Kalaf at his kit. “The Jazz Answer” is a warm yet rich piece of writing, inspired by Bill Evans. “Not Knowing” has that lush piano trio sound that melts the heart and suggests to the listener that actually, yes, all is well with the world after all. The title track was penned by Kalaf for his new grandson and again allows the trio to shine. For the two remaining tracks; “See You Next Year” and “Moving On” the band leader performs with Rich Ruttenberg on piano and Domenic Genova on bass. The first of these two tracks is an engaging jazz waltz with a Bill Evans languorous style. The second; “Moving On” would sit nicely on any ECM “best of” album. The tune has a sense of peace and satisfaction and is the perfect end to a very nice album.

Jerry Kalaf’s “Welcome to Earth” may not set the world on fire, but then not all music has to. What it does have is a quiet intensity and lyrical warmth that allows the listener to enjoy its uncomplicated compositions, performed with an elegance and sincerity, be it as one of two trios, or a sextet.

Mike Gates

Emanative ‘The Light Years of The Darkness’ (Steve Reid Foundation/Brownswood Recordings) 5/5 & 4/5

emanativeEmanative’s latest release is an incredible, full-on, world beats meets jazz collaboration with some of the finest musicians on the scene at the moment, performing a collection of what amounts to nothing less than some of the very best spiritual jazz ever composed. This whole double album was conceived from the outset as a way to raise both money and awareness for Gilles Peterson’s Steve Reid Foundation. The Foundation commemorates the life and legacy of Steve Reid and aims to help people working in music who are in crisis, especially those suffering from illness. As Gilles Peterson explains, “In 2009, Steve was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was during one of my visits to New York that I became aware of the extent of his suffering. I was horrified by the conditions he was living in during his last days.” He continues, “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Steve Reid’s life than to start a charity to help other musicians in his name.” The Foundation provides grants to non-profit organisations that help people working in music.
Orchestrated by Nick Woodmansey aka Emanative, but not without the generosity, help and contribution of every musician and collaborator involved, “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a limited edition release of 500 2xLP on 180gsm heavyweight vinyl. Released on Brownswood Records, Gilles Peterson adds; “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emanative’s album as our first release for the Steve Reid Foundation. In keeping with Steve’s open-ended approach and his musical history, Nick Woodmansey has delivered a knock out jazz and beyond album.” And he isn’t wrong there. Featuring, among many others, the talents of Tamar Osborn aka Collocotor, Jessica Lauren, The Pyramids, Finn Peters, Earl Zinger, Idris Ackamore, and Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, this is a hypnotic, organic, cosmic body of work. It is a celebration, as Gilles Peterson puts it, of “the wealth and depth of the art of black musicians, magicians who have given us so much; as well as a joining of forces with an emergence of new and present time talent to co-create new versions of music of this era.”

The album opens with a serene, dreamy, laid-back take on Alice Coltrane’s “Om Supreme”. This acts as a fine introduction and leads the listener gently into the mind-bendingly awesome “Hum Allah”. Written by Pharoah Sanders, this is undoubtedly one of the many highlights of the album, with its wonderful out-there saxophony and meditative, harmonious vocals cutting through the cyclical nature of the keys and drums. Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s “Makondi” is a percussive masterclass in rhythm with its seductive synchronicity and timeless simplicity. An ebullient melody ensues on Joe Henderson’s “Fire”, summoning the light from the dark with its sparkling arrangement. As the flames die down and the smoke rises, we find ourselves way out in orbit for the melancholic beauty of Sun Ra’s cosmic poem of love; “Love in Outer Space”; a chant and solo delivered to us by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, veteran member of The Sun Ra Arkestra. The double vinyl includes two very different versions of this, both from the same session. Arthur Blythe’s “As of Yet” rumbles, tumbles and grumbles its angry tones with expressive fortitude and a steadfast authority. Now bring on the horns, two drummers, two percussionists and a flute flight of fancy for Sun Ra’s celestial “Rocket Number Nine”. Neneh Cherry’s band, Rocketnumbernine, are joined by the brothers of United Vibrations who supply Sun Ra’s chant, vocals and message on this blast through the outer regions of space and time. This decadent and diverse album closes with Albert Ayler’s signature piece “Music is the Healing Force of The Universe”. And so it ever was, and so it should always be. A spiritual sun sets on one of the finest musical journeys to have been released this year. “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a gift, a joy to behold and cherish. The production and musicianship heard throughout this recording is jaw-dropping. It’s clever, it’s natural and ultimately it’s incredibly inspiring. May your smile Emanate from the radiance of its beauty.

Mike Gates Rating 5/5

Nick Woodmansey has led his Emanative cohort, and an array of esteemed collaborators, to produce ‘The Light Years of the Darkness’ for the Steve Reid Foundation’s first full release. The album’s journey begins with Captain Nick Woodmansey and Empress of the Ivories, Jessica Lauren, ushering this sublime work in with a version of Alice Coltrane’s earthly meditation ‘Om Supreme’. Jessica Lauren on Rhodes exposes the soul artery driving the project at it simplest form. The healing warmth of this version contrasts with the abrasion that punctuates the original and like all of the versions on The Light Years Of The Darkness, is treated to Emanative’s wand casting alchemy over the players in the engine room.

Locked deep in the grooves of this double vinyl odyssey, is a body of work that pays homage to journeyman drummer, Steve Reid, and edifying masterpieces from the spiritual vanguard of firebrand jazz that includes; Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry.

Gilles Peterson has stated “he couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emanative’s ‘The Light Years Of The Darkness’ album [as the] first release for the Steve Reid Foundation. In Keeping with Steve’s open-ended approach and his musical history, Nick Woodmansey has pitched outside conventions and ground through stay in the rhythms. Quite how many is not something Steve dictated just that you should ‘stay in the rhythms’.”

The Light Years of the Darkness project has been driven by the cause, spirit and purpose of the Steve Reid Foundation (SRF) that was set-up following the drummer’s untimely death in 2010. The foundation is guided by a board of trustees that itself is a rare collection of innovative DJs, producers and musicians inspired by or, connected to Steve Reid; [the trustee’s include; Floating Points, Kieran Hebden, Theo Parrish, Gilles Peterson and Nick Woodmansey amongst others].

On from the sacred gateway cast by Jessica Lauren’s ‘Om Supreme’, the vibe of The Light Years Of The Darkness intensifies, as the collaborations become a cluster of orbiting players together pushing outwards as one dense and at times indistinguishable mass. A vocabulary forms around the theme’s of the original works, leant into with the help of original cast members. The grace of Ahmed Abdullah on ‘Love in Outer Space’, a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and purveyor of the source material is the segue that join the worlds locked into the Unctuous grooves.

Long time friend and collaborator of Steve Reid, Kieran Hebden AKA Four Tet brings an auspicious storm with Makondi as it is a blurring of the Don Cherry original by some ‘Sanzaesque’ finger piano and hypnotic drums.

The immensity of Pharoah Sanders’ Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah brings the release to a spiritual apex before heading into the unknown. A pair of double basses, Jessica Lauren in command of the Grand Piano and The Pyramids combine to reach beyond conventional superlatives.

Tamar Osborn’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s Fire is impeccably conducted for her Collocutor ensemble to plunge deep alongside Emanative’s up-tempo stick work and Phillip Harper summon the heat with a deluge of percussion. Finn Peters weaves around the space coloured by Collocutor’s horn section along with Emanative’s, Ben Hadwen on Saxophone.

As the number of Emanative personnel grows so do the length of the versions. The pea soup of sonic fog precipitates Emanative’s vocabulary of space jazz. The ensembles journey from spiritual jazz to four-to-the-floor bangers.

Reid’s distinctive cymbals, echo squarely from their steely rivets, (and are likely the ones he dropped in the Atlantic when disembarking from a cargo ship 40 years ago on his pilgrimage across West Africa exploring the region’s rhythms) feature as part of Tom Page’s kit (Rocketnumbernine’s drummer), and United Vibrations come together for an intense rendition of Sun Ra’s Rocket Number Nine.

On the version of ‘Music is the healing force of the Universe’ Earl Zinger and Valerie Ettiene call and respond across the ether with plays on Albert Ayler’s lyricism. Pass through the door of earthly perception as Zinger, apparent here as an otherworldly Griot, instructs us to, “Let it come in”.

The Light Years Of The Darkness traverses glorious opposites, harmony is affronted by friction, complexity is awakened from simplicity, digital production bedded down with warm quilts of analogue textures, sacred against profane, and as Sun Ra eluded in his writings that inspired this albums title, ‘the light years [within] the darkness’.

Pete Buckenham Rating 4/5

Tony Joe White ‘The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings’ 2CD (Real Gone Music) 5/5

tony-joe-whiteSwamp rock is a misleading term that has come to include myriad sub-genres that are seemingly disparate. What do Bobbie Gentry and Lynyrd Skynyrd plus the superlative Allman Brothers for example have in common other than their southern roots? Nonetheless, it is a convenient music industry designation and in recent years the UK has witnessed a resurgence in interest in the music of the south imbued with blues, rock and soul influences and the two Soul Jazz record compilations were a step in the right direction and BBC have even in recent months devoted a three-part series to the music of the southern states. One artist featured in an interview was Tony Joe White and Real Gone have done a sterling job of putting together the three LPs that White cut for Warner Bros back in the early 1970s. Of course White had already established a reputation as a singer-songwriter of some calibre by then and as a leader had scored a hit on Monument records with ‘Pork Salad Annie’. What is less well-known is that Tony Joe White is the original writer and performer of ‘A rainy night in Georgia’ that so many significant artists have covered from Ray Charles through to a dub-soaked reggae interpretation from Lee Perry’s production stable in George Faith, and then an early 1980s UK soulful pop hit from Randy Crawford.

The first self-titled album, dating from 1971, starts off as it means to continue with some stunning evocative music and a title that conjures up a dozen potential stories on its own, ‘They caught the devil and put him in jail in Eudora, Arkansas’. As a whole, it is a diverse affair and very soulful in parts since White enlisted the support of the Memphis Horns and this is the full six-piece ensemble in its full glory. For a marked contrast in emphasis, the extended monologue intro to ‘The Change’, which impressively changes gear as it progresses, features an impassioned delivery from the singer. Political changes were already afoot and White was neither afraid to allude to them nor to voice his own allegiances as on ‘Black Panther swamps’ which is an uptempo blues-rock tinged piece that Janis Joplin might have been proud of. White has always been capable achieving great subtlety in his delivery and ‘Traveling Bone’ is a wonderful Memphis soul-blues number. On the second album, ‘The train I’m on’, the singer-songwriter in White’s craft comes to the fore and the album is divided up between the second part of CD1 and the first part of CD2. It was recorded at Muscles Shoals in Alabama where Aretha Franklin and many others cut some of their finest southern soul sides. A more sensitive aspect to White’s music is revealed on ‘The family’ which has echoes of ‘A rainy night in Georgia’ while the melodic opener, ‘I’ve got a thing about you baby’, is a largely pared down affair with White on acoustic guitar (elsewhere his harmonica playing is featured extensively) and some lovely vocal harmonies from Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes (the trio would later find fame as a soulful and classy disco pairing when that genre came to prominence) and some minor chord changes on electric piano from Harry Beckett. The album’s title track is, perhaps, this writer’s favourite and is a mainly solo nugget. Several songs betray the influence of the early 1970s Stax label with White arguably strongly influenced by the music of the Staple Singers. This is most likely the case on the groove-laden ‘As the crow flies’ or on the superb ‘300 pounds of hungry’. White’s inventive song writing talents are once again evident the acoustic guitar-led ‘Sidewalk hobo’ and even more so on ‘The gospel singer’ with a stunning ‘Halellujah’ chorus. Could Leonard Cohen have heard this at some point and incorporated the gospel tinges into his repertoire? The third and final album, ‘Homemade ice cream’ from 1973 repeats the stylistic diversity, but is never formulaic for all that with swamp blues permeating the creatively titled, ‘Saturday night in Oak Grove Louisiana’, ‘Backward preacher man’ and ending on a musical high with ‘Did somebody make a fool out of you’. Full marks to Real Gone for truly first-rate inner sleeve notes where the reprinted album cover details are clearly legible and the photo graphics are clear and as large as possible within the obvious constrictions. Full recording date details make for a comprehensive package and a first port of call for any fan of southern blues with a deeply soulful edge. An early contender for re-issue for the year.

Tim Stenhouse

José James ‘Yesterday I Had the Blues. The Music of Billie Holiday’ (Blue Note) 4/5

josé-jamesThis April we celebrate what would have been the one hundredth anniversary of one of jazz music’s most unique and emotionally-charged voices of all time, namely that of Billie Holiday. Blue Note have seen fit to pay tribute to her music by entrusting José James with the responsibility of paying homage and this refined set is respectful of the jazz tradition while sticking to an acoustic trio format and a top notch one at that comprising Jason Moran on piano and fender, John Pattitucci on bass and Eric Harland on drums. This compares favourably with the earlier tribute from Dee Dee Bridgewater which was excellent in it’s own right.
Carefully selected, the nine songs covered on the album makes for a cohesive whole and James voice has a vulnerability to it that make him the ideal male vocalist to attempt Lady Day’s classic repertoire and yet he still manages to stamp his own individuality on each of the songs. There is for example an uptempo and somewhat lengthy trio intro to ‘What a little moonlight can do’ and when James finally enters he does so bringing a spontaneous feel to proceedings while the trio really cooks. An intimate rendition of ‘Tenderly’ at an achingly slow pace works a treat while on the relaxed and leisurely tempo ‘Good Morning Heartache’ the band swings gently. For a lovely bass line and blues-inflected piano, ‘Fine and Mellow could scarcely be bettered and James’ approach here recalls that of say Jimmy Rushing or Jimmy Witherspoon in their prime with a down home blues approach, but in an altogether more sedate fashion. A blues shouter he certainly is not. Jason Moran has an opportunity to shine with an extended solo on ‘I thought about you’ and indeed the rest of the rhythm section is out here, but overall the trio has plenty of space to breath and that is a major plus feature of this recording.

José James grew up in a musical environment where he soaked up his mother’s vinyl collection featured strongly in his upbringing alongside the music of his peers who were into nu-soul, rap and grunge, and the former has come up in handy for this new project on which both singer and trio excel. Billie Holiday would be proud of him and José James has unquestionably done a marvellous job of updating the evergreen compositions while still maintaining the jazz tradition from which they emerged several decades previously.

Tim Stenhouse

A Taste of Honey ‘Ladies of the Eighties’ (BBR) 3/5

a-taste-of-honeyFemale duet Taste of Honey scored a major disco hit with the extended 12″ version of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ back in 1978 with Mizell brothers in genial attendance and differed from other disco divas of the era in that they could actually play their own instruments as well as sing. Their self-titled debut album entered the Billboard charts as did its solid if unspectacular follow-up, ‘Another Time (1979), and then they unexpectedly returned with arguably their strongest album under the ace production talents of George Duke with ‘Twice as Sweet’ from 1980 and this contained another strong dance number in ‘Rescue Me’ and a real left-field gem in ‘Sukiyaki’.
Fast forward a couple of years to 1982 and there was a marked change in direction, reflecting the new technological innovations in instrumentation with synths the order of the day. Production duties this time round would be shared between Al McKay of Earth, Wind and Fire and Ronald La Pread of the Commodores. The result was something of a mixed affair with some high points for sure, but an overall feel that lost Taste of Honey that key foothold in the charts and this would in fact be the last album that the pair recorded together before eventually splitting up and pursuing separate careers. By 1982 disco had morphed into boogie and something was definitely lost in the process in that instrumentation became standardised and the human element that is so crucial to music was consequently lost in the process.

That said. Taste of Honey were always a class act and able to rise above the rest of the crowd and this is evident on songs such as ‘Never go wrong’ where the production of McKay is all too apparent and the Earth, Wind and Fire influence makes this number a worthy ‘After the love has gone’ Pt. 2 contender while the Japanese-flavoured opener, ‘Sayonara’ sought to replicate the success of ‘Sukiyaki’. A clear indicator that the duo of Janice Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne were contemplating new avenues was given in the second single to surface off the album, a Smokey Robinson cover, ‘I’ll try something new’ which became a top ten R & B single and appealed to their core audience. In marked contrast uptempo songs such as ‘Lies’ and Diamond Real’ have not stood the test of time well and now sound somewhat dated with their layered synths and artificially created synth drumming. Extensive and informative inner sleeve notes completed the picture on the duo’s career and include some stunning photos of the pair at their creative zenith.

Tim Stenhouse

Paul Riley Quintet ‘Into View’ (Jellymould) 3/5

paul-riley-quintetFusion jazz with shades of rock can all too easily be summarily dismissed, but in the case of leader and alto and soprano saxophone player Paul Riley that would be a mistake on the part of the listener. The sound here is progressive fusion in the Steps Ahead vein with the leader coming across as a composite of the young Michael Brecker and David Sanborn. An acoustic line-up includes guitarist Ant Law who has only recently recorded as a leader himself and some of the young Turks of the London jazz scene are on hand with Dave Hamblett on drums to propel the rhythm section. There is some fine ensemble work on the title track which is an uplifting number and a genuine maturity in the use of space. In marked contrast the contemplative ballad ‘Another summer’ features some lovely bass work from Matt Ridley and gentle guitar from Law. Back in an uptempo groove, the brief piece ‘Opening’ leads directly into ‘Spindrift’ where the parallel with Steps is most obvious and this provides the opportunity for pianist Mitch Jones to solo effectively. Riley himself excels on a lyrical ballad ‘Laura’ with expansive bass line work from Ridley. The group will be undertaking a UK tour beginning in early April.

Tim Stenhouse

Ida Sand ‘Young at Heart’ (ACT) 2/5

ida-sandAn album of Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young covers may not be the most obvious of releases, even for Swedish vocalist/pianist Ida Sand. “They often say that the mentality of Sweden and Canada are quite similar to each other. Our countries have the same kind of climate and not seldom Swedish and Canadian culture have been described as melancholic.” Sand continues; “Neil Young has been one of the greatest, most productive, influential lyricists and musicians of our time.” I couldn’t agree more. However, if you’re going to make an album covering the songs of one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time, surely there are only two ways to approach this. Either record the songs in a completely different vein, taking a few risks along the way, or stick close to the original sentiment and style of the song, but perform it so well that it sends shivers down the listener’s spine. “Young at Heart” does neither of the above. It is a little confusing as to why this album has been released on the excellent ACT label. Yes they release a heady mix of innovative, eclectic music, but for me, this just doesn’t seem to sit well with the label’s ethos. Anyway, back to the music on the album. There’s no argument here that Ida Sand has a lovely voice. Her phrasing is subtle and her tone can be gorgeously soulful. But this is why I feel this recording doesn’t really work. Sand’s voice just isn’t that well suited to the style of songs she’s performing here. It’s as if there’s a jazz/soul singer waiting to burst out from within, but is too constrained by the nature of the songs. Sand’s interpretations of these 13 Neil Young classics (well, 12 NY plus 1 Joni Mitchell actually) are pretty close to the originals in many ways. She may have purposefully tried in a commendable way to keep the essence of the music intact and the structure remains close to the originals in most cases, resulting in little deviation or innovation. The band around Ida Sand are, like the singer herself, more than capable, but it’s all kept very “nice and easy to listen to” and very “pleasantly comfortable.” Perhaps this is partly due to the song choices. Sand has chosen some of Neil Young’s most beautiful and well-respected numbers here, including “Birds”, “Harvest Moon”, “Old Man”, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Helpless”… and in many ways one can’t argue with that. Sand further comments; “Neil Young has enriched the music world by putting words and melodies to the human and existential questions that we all share. To me, that has been the traction of this project, to capture the melancholy which usually is a strong perimeter of my DNA too.” And therein lies an issue I have with the song choices. If it’s melancholy she wants to capture, then look no further than the three seminal mid 70’s albums released by Young; “Tonight’s the Night”, “On the Beach” and “Time Fades Away”. But alas there’s not one song taken from these albums. No “Ambulance Blues” or “Journey through the Past” to be heard here. It’s all just too middle of the road. That said, it is nicely produced and there are songs on “Young at Heart” that really do work, especially Sand’s soulful take on “Harvest Moon”‘ and the more free-flowing, upbeat “Woodstock” and “Sea of Madness”. The intimate feel to the recording is largely driven by the subtlety employed by the excellent musicians involved, including Ola Gustaffson on guitars and Dan Berglund on acoustic bass. Christer Jansson on drums and Jesper Nordenstrom on keys complete the line-up, and they are joined by various guests throughout the recording. Whilst I’m sure that Ida Sand’s motivation for making this album is undoubtedly commendable, for this listener, I’m afraid it just doesn’t hit the spot.

Mike Gates

Plaza Francia ‘A New Tango Songbook’ (Because) 4/5

plaza-franciaFrom the label that brought you Manu Chao and other boundary hopping music comes a release that is an off-shoot of Gotan Project (duo guitarist and arranger Eduardo Makaroff and Swiss-French band member Christophe H. Müller) and has their sound production all over it, albeit an altogether rootsier version. However, the icing on the cake is the participation of Catherine Ringer on lead vocals and fans of 1980s indie music will remember her as part of the ace French duo Les Rita Mitsuoko who had a Latin-inflected hit in France with ‘Baila Marcia’ in homage to the Argentinian dancer who died in 1981. Ringer’s interest in Latin music is a genuine one and she proves to be something of a revelation singing in Spanish. Compare and contrast her deep voice with that of Arielle Dombasle, an actress and wife of Bernard Henri-Levy, with the tinniest of voices and an atrocious attempt at a bolero album that bombed. Thankfully, Catherine Ringer has done her homework and had in fact already collaborated with dancer Marcia Moretto and starred in an Argentine musical prior to her joining up with Fred Chichin.
The new recording is packed with rootsy acoustic tango, left-field tango-canción and uptempo electro-tango. The latter is exemplified to perfection on the subtle beat of ‘Secreto’ with dramatic strings and a marvellous guitar breakdown solo from Makaroff and is a contender for best song alongside the stunning ‘La Misión’ which hints at Soft cell in the intro, but then develops into a laconic bandoneon-led milonga with a swing beat not dissimilar to reggae and some lovely whistling at the end. A genuinely catchy tune that could well be used surface as a single to showcase the album. In a gentler vein, the jazzy introspection of ‘Cenizas’ features terrific interplay between the band and Ringer who displays an impressive vocal range and depth and on the melancholic tango-canción sub-genre with the emphasis firmly on the lyrics. Back in the dance floor groove, the electro-dub of ‘Cada Vez’ certainly has a Gotan Project feel to it while the gradual building of tension in the number ‘La que se fue’ has something of a film soundtrack quality.

Gotan Project were in need of a return to the roots of tango and Plaza Francia is the ideal riposte and one that hopefully attract a whole new audience as well as some of the old guard of supporters. Plaza Francia will be performing as part of La Linea festival on 23 April. The festival itself runs between 21 April – 30 April.

Tim Stenhouse

Eliane Elias ‘Made in Brazil’ (Concord) 4/5

eliane-eliasBrazilian pianist and now chanteuse Eliane Elias returns with another varied set of classic Brazilian composers from the bossa nova period coupled with some of her own compositions. Of interest this time round is the creative use of voicings and it certainly sounds as though Elias has been inspired by the harmony vocals of Manhattan Transfer on some of the numbers. One of the strongest pieces is Elias’ own ‘Driving ambition’ which is a stunning minor chord number with the subtle use of electric piano phrasings that Herbie Hancock deployed back in the 1970s and this provides greater flexibility for the band to shine with vocals delivered by the leader in English. Similarly Elias excels on the minor chord melancholia of the trio outing on ‘Incendiando’ where verses are sung in both English and Portugese. Last up on the album, but a strong contender for the most compelling song is the uptempo samba, ‘No tabuleiro da Baiana’ and this writer would definitely like to hear more in this vein when the blues-inflected piano and vocals are so catchy with an extended piano solo. Perhaps Eliane Elias might think about devoting a future project to the post-bossa period when composers of the calibre of Jorge Ben and João Bosco wrote some devastating music. What a thrill it would be to hear Elias tackle that kind of material and it would enable her to cover a more varied set of tempi. For a more laid back approach, ‘Rio’ fits the bill admirably and then part way through goes up a gear while Elias’ own composition ‘Some enchanting place’ again with voicings is an accurate representation of where the pianist/singer is currently at. Vocalese group Take 6 are on hand to accompany Elias on the album’s opening song and virtual unofficial Brazilian anthem, ‘ Brasil (Aquarela do Brasil)’ that features a retro 1970s fender solo from the leader.

In parts the strings are a little intrusive and overly lush as on ‘Searching’, but overall they do not detract from the whole and it is an art in itself as to when and to what extent one should incorporate strings into a jazz idiom. One burning question remains? Does the vocalist in Eliane Elias take away from the virtuoso pianist? It is in fact the case that Elias is growing in confidence as a vocalist while remaining a supremely gifted and ever sensitive pianist and retains a trio that can still swing hard. Not an easy balance to strike between these elements, but on this evidence Eliane Elias has succeeded in creating a harmonious balance and the listener is most definitely the beneficiary.

Tim Stenhouse