Warsaw Afrobeat Orchestra ‘Wendelu’ (Ubiquity) 3/5

warsaw-afrobeat-orchestraSeun Kuti, one of the sons of the late and great Fela Kuti recently said, “There are hundreds of bands playing afrobeat around the world, from Australia to Israel to the US. What began with my father has become a global movement.” The ten piece Polish group Warsaw Afrobeat Orchestra (W.A.O) are a prime example of that newer, almost global afrobeat sound, as they encompass a very broad range of different elements with their music.
For an afrobeat band only formed at the end of 2012, they have obviously attracted attention as Wëndelu is released on the eclectic American label, Ubiquity Records and produced by ‘Bosq’ from the ‘Whiskey Barons’.
Wëndelu is their first full length album which is a fusion of folk, funk, reggae and rock, amongst others, and loosely fits under the ever vague umbrella of ‘world music’. For me, the simplest way to describe them is that if afrobeat and dub have ever had babies, then this is one of them, and they brought it into the world kicking and screaming, relatively loudly.
This album may divide opinion about what makes modern afrobeat. For strict afrobeat fans, this could be a funny one, as it is not afrobeat through and through. I personally found it to be an enjoyable album, and if afrobeat is such a hybrid genre in its very origin, then this is a natural path for W.A.O to take.
What is admirable about this album is that they are not afraid of their own original sound, and do not hesitate in their delivery of it. Many bands have tried to replicate the sounds of Fela Kuti, whereas these guys have given a respectful nod, but have not held back in putting their own stamp on the genre, possibly diluting its powerful sound and message, or enriching it? That one’s up for debate!
Either way I don’t think this is an issue that would have arisen if they had not included a genre in their name, although you could argue again, that afrobeat isn’t just a sound, but a socially conscious attitude that is conveyed in their message.
They introduce themselves with the opening track “Stop”, and there is no denying their love for afrobeat, with the Fela-esque rambling organ played by Jan Jędrzejczyk backed by Igor Chołda on percussion, then followed by the three horns laying on the melody thick, setting a dark and sultry scene.
The next track, “Signs”, combines a busy horn and guitar fuelled riff that is cooled into a smooth dub terrain, due to the persistently fluid and hypnotic tone that bass player Jakub Bruszewski delivers.
The most striking quality of this album are the vocals. Comprising of three lead vocalists, Iza Byra, Magdalena Kuś and Anna Piotrowska, they casually mix an almost african style of chanting, combined with call and response and repetitive phrases with predominantly european folky harmonies. What struck me whilst listening to “No Such Thing” is the bizarre resemblance they have to eighties girl group vocals. These individually soft tones when layered together give a strong, yet airy resonance which compliments their music and aids their overall inventive style.
“Which Direction” is the rockier tune on the album that is introduced with a continuous, almost prog rock style melody played in unison by all instruments. This gives way to another bass dominated reggae groove with the guitarist Wojciech Trusewicz adding delicate rhythmic bouts of funky wah-wah, in an almost reggae meets Nile Rodgers scenario.The call and response between the vocals and the horn section in the verse contrasts against the intense, and somewhat heavier, rock styled chorus.
“Your Way” stands out as the bass adopts a cleaner tone and weaves around the lead guitar line as more of a counter melody. The horns launch into another energetic riff, which takes on a brighter, afro latin feel. This distinctly varies against the folky qualities of the vocals in the chorus.
I personally would have liked to hear more individually from the horn players on this album. There are a few tantalising moments where Rafał Gańko (trumpet) and Karol Gołowacz (tenor sax) have brief solos, but sadly don’t build like they teasingly suggest. This is less of a dig, and more of a compliment to them, but is still frustrating. To be fair, I’m impressed with the full and meaty sound
they deliver with just the three of them (trumpet, tenor sax and trombone) as I often thought that to get that sound you needed a baritone sax, the classic afrobeat favourite.
Overall I would call Wëndelu a success. It is consistent throughout and something you can listen to in its entirety without the nagging temptation to skip a tune. This should appeal to a wide audience of listeners, with its Afro-dub energy going down particularly well at festivals, and has a firm place in the soundtrack to my summer.

Lindsey Purse

Keith Jarrett ‘Creation’ (ECM) 4/5

keith-jarrettHappy Birthday Keith Jarrett! Now in his seventieth year, ECM have released two completely separate recordings to celebrate the dazzling virtuosity and compositional craft of the musician in both jazz and classical idioms. This is the former and it chronicles a series of solo concerts performed around the globe in autumn and summer of 2014. The fact that Keith Jarrett performs live on his own makes them that extra bit special and recalls those wonderful and seminal albums of the 1970s that first established the pianist as a major talent and one fully capable of appealing to an audience beyond the realms of jazz.
The album is divided up into a kaleidoscope of contrasting moods and these are expressed in the deeply creative, yet equally soulful manner in which one has come to expect of Jarrett. It is to the pianist’s credit that the pieces here are not overly long and stand well side by side. Part II from Tokyo is more delicate, yet also outgoing in tone and there are those who might argue that Keith Jarrett has never lacked in self belief, but then with his outstanding track record he might have good reason to feel outward reaching in approach. Contrast this, however, with Part V of the same concert which has something of a 1960s great American songbook to it and it is the lyrical quality of the music that comes shining through, and would lend itself to a vocal interpretation. Part IV is an altogether more reposing piece in the Romantic classical tradition, yet even here Jarrett toys with a minor Latin undercurrent that reminds one of Chick Corea’s early masterpiece ‘Spain’, albeit at a slower pace. A fascinating Part III from the prestigious Salle Pleyel in Paris where countless pianistic legends have plied their trade provides the pretext for some Gershwin-esque reflections on jazz with what sounds like a Jobim quote from ‘Àguas de Março’ which makes for a delightful blending of styles and the kind of piece that Brad Mehldau at his most creative would attempt.

Matters reach a stunning crescendo towards the end of Part IX, but the sensitivity displayed throughout returns for a gentle finish. A listening delight and the ideal finale to proceedings.

Tim Stenhouse

Alfonso Deidda ‘Lucky Man’ (Via Veneto) 3/5

alfonso-deiddaHaving collaborated with many jazz musicians including, among others, Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, Peter Erskine, Mulgrew Miller and Michel Petrucciani, it shouldn’t be a surprise that saxophonist/composer Alfonso Deidda has successfully utilised his skills well on this debut release as a leader. Together with his excellent band; pianist Julian O. Mazzeriello, drummer Alessandro Paternesi, bassist Dario Deidda and trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, they have produced a solid jazz album that takes the listener on a journey from Latin to Funk to Free Jazz. All 10 originals are well conceived and have a contemporary, energetic and intelligent tone to them. There is plenty of variation on the album, resulting in a pleasing mix of melodic musings, cool grooves, engaging textures and emotional yet well-balanced tension. The band all get chance to shine, but it is Deidda that stands out, whether he’s playing tenor, soprano or baritone, the shapes and pictures he creates are melodic and focussed, bringing excitement and vibrancy to the party on much of the recording. Acclaimed trumpet player Fabrizio Bosso combines well with the sax of Deidda, keeping the harmonies lean and mean. Bosso also turns in some brilliant solos, revelling in the opportunity to blow hard and free. Stand-out tracks for this listener include the stylish, free improv heard on “Poisoned Apple”, the wonderful presence of the leader’s baritone on “Center of Mood”, the sharp funky groove of the opener “Actual Size” and the subtle, lyrically beguiling title track “Lucky Man”. Without being over ambitious, this is an honest album, with some very good performances from all musicians involved. A good solid debut that suggests there could be much more to come from Mr Deidda.

Mike Gates

Flavia Coelho ‘Mundo Meu’ (Mr Bongo) 4/5

flavia-coelhoBrazil in invariably associated with the samba beat, but in the twenty-first century, as with young musicians globally, it is the fusion of traditional and external influences that holds sway. In the case of singer Flavia Coelho, reggae, rap and pop flavours all play their part, yet throughout she still manages to retain an identifiable sound and one that in influence recalls the clarity of Gal Costa and emotional fragility of Diana Ross. An album highlight and immediately infectious song is ‘People dansa’ with the legend that is Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen propelling the rhythm section and, alongside the glorious background vocals, this is a joyous number to behold. Minor chord reggae predominates throughout on this album, which is a follow-up to the well received 2012 offering’ Bossa Muffin’, and on the appealing ‘Amar e amar’ her fellow Brazilian chanteuse Céu is conjured up. In the wrong hands rap can become both derogatory and repetitive, but Coelho delivers both a witty and rapid-fire melodic monologue on ‘Hoje’ and this interestingly features the other album guest, accordionist Fixi. Likewise the singer’s gentle rap on the Afro-Latin flavoured ‘Pai de Santo’ impresses while slower-paced rap with dub effects comes into play on Espero voce’. Flavia Coelho has quietly gained invaluable live experience, opening for example for the great Gilberto Gil at a Ronnie Scott’s performance from 2013 and this new album is a clear sign of a maturing artist. She will perform at a number of dates in the east of England during May and a single performance in London on 18 May.

Tim Stenhouse

London Afrobeat Collective ‘Food Chain’ (London Afrobeat Productions) 4/5

london-afrobeat-collectiveThe continuing vestiges of the classic Fela Ransome Kuti sound have been much pillaged and even plagiarised by countless musicians. However, in the very competent hands of the London Afrobeat Collective (LAC), the sound is merely the starting point for a creative musical exploration that takes in gritty soul and funk, varied tempi and a coherent/cohesive ensemble sound that is sure to attract even the most reticent or indeed seasoned of Afrobeat listeners. Recorded at the Fish Factory in London, this is Afrobeat with a decidedly cosmopolitan London twist and all the better for it.
Matters begin on a high with the busy as a bee opener, ‘Celebrity Culture’, that features some lovely chopped guitar that Niles Rodgers would appreciate and the combination of neo-disco and Afrobeat is an absolute winner. Jazzier flavours are gradually introduced on the heavy bassline groove of ‘Prejudice’, most notable for a terrific trumpet solo and the lovely call and response vocals led by female lead singer Funke Adeleke. Certainly, the rhythm section of bassist John Matthews and lead guitarist Alex Szyjanowicz are a special unit that LAC would do well to hold onto.
The continent from which the Afrobeat phenomenon first emerged is not forsaken and ‘Say what you mean’ is the number that remains closest in form to the original with some lovely highlife-inspired guitar while collective vocals are straight out of the Chic repertoire just to add a certain je ne sais quoi. It should be stated here that band collaborations have included the legendary Egypt 80 who were of course Fela’s accompanist back in the day while another meeting of musical minds was intriguingly with the Bombay Bicycle Club, and just goes to show how panoramic the LAC vision is.

A soulful mid-tempo vocal piece, ‘First World Problem’ makes for wonderful variation and the restrained collective horns and subtle guitar riffs work a treat. This song will immediately appeal to a soul/funk audience and demonstrates that Afrobeat can be successfully transposed into a different musical setting. For an altogether gentler beat, the mid-tempo ‘I no be criminal’ indicates that a lessening of tempo does not diminish in any way the intensity of the message or music and once again Andy Watts excels on trumpet. The London Afrobeat Collective will perform live dates throughout the summer with concerts in May-July and on into August, and this includes the prestigious Glastonbury and Mondomix festivals as well as the South Bank.

Tim Stenhouse

Casey Golden Trio ‘Live at Bennetts Lane’ (Scrampion) 3/5

casey-golden-trio“Live at Bennetts Lane” is the companion release to the trio’s studio album “Outliers”. Recorded during their 2014 winter tour, this Australian trio of Casey Golden, piano, Bill Williams, bass and Ed Rodrigues, drums, shows a slightly freer, more expansive side to that of the studio recording. Sporting similar intergalactic sleeve art by Marvel Comics’ Ron Frenz, all compositions are by Casey Golden. Yet unlike some “trios” where the music is just a vessel for the lead performer, this threesome are most definitely a “trio” in the truest sense. The instruments are interconnected and entwined at all times, the music benefitting from an odd symmetry where the musicians can be heard in unison or all playing as if reading exactly the same script at exactly the same time. The album is made up of three pieces, each with an intro by a member of the band, plus a fourth stand-alone piece. The music here has an other-worldly edge to it, fragmented, intriguing and collectively colourful. The level of interaction and cohesion from this three-piece outshines many in this field, making for a rewarding listen.
The opening intro features Rodrigues on drums. The sound is bright and crisp, as is the inventive playing. The three main tracks are all conversational pieces and as the intro leads us into the main opener, “The 16th Floor”, it doesn’t take long to get a feel for what this band are all about. There is a bottom line that runs through this tune and the trio bounce around the line taking it up and down in twists and turns, playing, enquiring, like a child discovering a new toy for the first time. The next intro features Golden at the piano. Perhaps reminiscent of a Bill Evans tune that got lost somewhere in time, we are led into the second full piece “Paralysed”. Intricate riffs, motifs and ideas are used as building blocks for the trio to construct and assimilate their resonating discourse, huffing and puffing, stopping and starting, breathing deep and flying free. “When The Talking Stops” is a gem of a piece. It successfully mixes the band’s conversational style with a rich lyricism making for a free-flowing richness that delivers on many levels. The bass of Williams takes care of the next intro, leading us into the final track, “Clouded”. Time and space is shared between piano, bass and drums. The depth of playing is rich and fulfilling, each band member contributing a musical equation to the overall sum. Casey Golden Trio have a distinctive sound, enabling them to stand out in the crowded piano trio field. Alongside “Outliers”, their studio album, “Live at Bennetts Lane” is a strong companion, offering a clear insight into the music of the trio.

Mike Gates

Joyce Elaine Yuille ‘Welcome To My World’ (Schema) 4/5

joyce2015_LP_FINALLess is more. If only a larger number of singers were capable of appreciating this simple fact. Joyce Elaine Yuille delivers an effortless, soulful performance on her debut album “Welcome To My World”. No vocal histrionics or melodramatic over exuberance going on here, just silky-smooth accomplished soul/jazz of astute quality. New York born, Yuille now resides in Italy and having plied her trade as, among other things, backing singer for Gloria Gaynor, she gets the well deserved opportunity here to showcase her vocal and songwriting talents. It doesn’t happen too often, but occasionally an artist releases an album where the synergy between artist, band and producer is bang on the money. This is one of those releases. Yuille teams up with Schema’s Luciano Cantone and the Finnish saxophone player Timo Lassy. Together with the empathetic strings and woodwind of Silva Catasta’s Synthonic Orchestra they make for the perfect fit and it is the arrangements and production that lift this recording to well above the average. Yuille’s influences of Sarah Vaughan and Phyllis Hyman are evident in places and that’s no bad thing at all, but the pleasing thing is that it is Yuille’s originality that shines through. The opening, and closing track of the session, “Come With Me” is performed in two very different ways. The opener is with full band and is a catchy, infectiously uplifting jazzy take. The closing version is paired back to voice and piano and is a slower, more soulful take. Both versions are exceptional and it was a great idea/decision to put the two tracks on the album. There are a mixture of originals and covers featured, and for me it is the not so obvious songs that work best. As an example, Yuille’s take on the classic “Tryin’ Times” is very enjoyable, and one gets the impression she is capable of singing such tunes day in, day out, with consummate ease. But it is the less expected gems that sparkle for this listener. “Late I Rise” is a bluesy number performed with a feel and clarity that draws the listener in with its simplicity. The lush strings and orchestration shine through on the gorgeous “It’s Madness”; this is stunningly beautiful and as highlighted throughout, the arrangements and production help take it into a different league: goosebumps time. “Time to Love Again” draws on gospel influences and its sparse piano and voice opening bars lead into an emotionally mature and very moving piece of music. The lyrics are beautiful and the theme is conveyed in a sincere style by Yuille that simply oozes class. “Make Right” highlights the superb playing of the rhythm section and is just one example of how well the bass and drums are utilised with a skillful sensibility. The title track allows the clarity of the singer’s voice to radiate with warmth, again with some lovely touches of masterful production.

“Welcome To My World” as an album is a triumph, especially for a debut. Full credit to all involved. Hopefully it will get the credit it deserves and propel Yuille towards a long and successful career.

Mike Gates

Now then, I have to say that I am not necessarily a jazz man. However, if the voice on display has soul, and I can relate to it, then I’m very much on board. Actually on reflection, I do have a healthy collection of jazz related tunes amongst my soul treasures.
So, to the album at hand. Joyce Elaine Yuille was a new name to me, embedded in a jazz tradition but with more than enough soul to keep me happy made for an interesting listening experience. Her voice sure does suit the genre perfectly, backed as she is by the legendary Timo Lassy Band, which includes the Synthonic Orchestra di Silvia Catasta with a full string section including cello, flute and piccolo. The music score is tight, lavish, inventive and sets a very high bar. (I mention those instruments purely because we don’t get that kind of extravaganza in Southern Soul circles!)
She cover’s Donny Hathaway, Esther Phillips, Marvin Gaye and Penny Goodwin though this is no cover’s album. Instead, each track stands out on their own individual merit. Throughout, her vocals are powerful – demanding the listener’s attention, yet still at the same time they appear understated – like early Anita Baker. At times whilst listening I’m reminded of the great Jimmy Cobb album “So nobody else can hear” – Effortless and passionate.

Straight then to track two, “Come go with me”, a compulsive dancer that seriously swings, a nod to back in the day when Motown dominated. “Too soon your old” ambles along on a bed of percussion, bass and horns to a relaxing pace when at 4.28 ‘bang!’ it takes off – a monster dance-floor mover that is destined for a remix or two. “Just say goodbye” is a stunning dancer too, that sounds like you’ve heard it a hundreds times before. One that is sure to be a big tune, once word gets around. For more of the same, try “Running for my love”; perhaps the most radio friendly of all the tracks amongst the album.

The release isn’t about dancers, there are some fine low-rider moments too, with the whole album is overshadowed by her simply epic version of Marvin’s “Its madness”, this really is one of those OMG moments – the soul ballad of the year so far, as she interprets the pain and sorrow of separation so well when she cries “I’m flirting with insanity”, the string section comes in and bathes her pain away and in the dying moments she pleads “Only you can save me”. It’s on constant replay at home and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, just wonderful.

Brian Goucher

Wizz Jones ‘A Life On The Road 1964-2014’ CD (Sunbeam) 4/5

wizz-jonesUK folk singer and guitarist Wizz Jones is one of the undervalued musicians of the 1960s and 1970s folk scene and it has taken some fifty years for an anthology to finally emerge. Thankfully, Sunbeam have done an excellent job of chronicling his lengthy career and this serves as an excellent taster to his large work. Influenced early on in his career by the innovatory guitar of Davy Graham and Long John Baldry, Jones began to create his own distinctive style that fuses US folk-blues, the English folk tradition and a healthy dose of popular song reinvigorated and re-worked in a folk idiom. The anthology is well-balanced overall with just over half of the songs covering the period 1966-1977, the 1970s being a particularly fruitful period in Wizz’s career, but the last three decades are still well represented and his voice is still very much in fine fettle. In the early part of Jones’ career, the singer-guitarist was soaking up the major new talent around at the time and this included a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’ where the slightly echoed sound quality adds a timeless quality to the recording and yet even here Jones succeeds in imposing his own take on the song. Intricate guitar harmonies were already in evidence and are heard to marvellous effect on the stunning intro to ‘Corinne’s blues’ from 1966, with both the folk-blues and jazz traditions underpinning the sound.

Moving on to the early 1970s, Wizz sounds as though he has been listening to Paul McCartney and or the Beatles in the use of harmonies (and why not when the result was sublime) on the 1973 song ‘Friendship’, which was on an album for indie label Village Thing, facilitated by the support of life-long folk fanatic and devotee, Ian Anderson. It is the Irish folk tradition that is seemingly evoked on ‘When I leave Berlin’ (1975) with the use of guitar and banjo plus vocal duet evoking the progressive folk hues of Planxty. So revered is this song in the folk canon among musicians that no less than Bruce Springsteen opened a 2012 Berlin concert date with it, an illustration of the high esteem in which Jones is held by his fellow musicians. The inspiration for some of Wizz Jones’ songs is fascinating and on ‘Railroad’ boy’ (1975) he manages to write about life in London town and give it all the feel of downtown Mississippi which is testimony to his songwriting skills and sheer imagination. Fast forward a couple of year to 1977 and Wizz recorded a one-off album for a label set up by the bassist and drummer in Steelye Span and here ‘Magical Flight’ is represented with a nod in the use of cello (Sand Spencer) and guitar (Pete Berryman) plus vocals to the dreamy sound of Nick Drake. A tribute to folk blues revival great on ‘Mississippi John’ [Hurt] impresses from 1985 and there is a wonderfully authentic bluegrass feel in the instrumentation with an instantly catchy hook and some lowdown blues vocals laid down by Wizz. Interestingly, this song differs completely from the recent homage by Big Daddy Wilson.

Loving attention to detail in the homely and personalised inner sleeve notes written by Wizz with individual song details and photos of the musician throughout his career, plus full information on musicians present. It is a paradox that while Cat Stevens picked up plaudits (and rightly so) for his early 1970s work on Island, Wizz Jones languished in obscurity for all save the few folk cognoscenti at the time. All the more reason to sample this excellent overview of Wizz Jones’ career. This should lead to a wider re-examination of his career with the re-issue of some of the original albums. Thus far, only the terrific 2011 re-issue of ‘Right Now’ (Speaking Corner) has seen the light of day. That is an oversight that other independent labels would do well to set right.

Tim Stenhouse

Kamasi Washington ‘The Epic’ (Brainfeeder) 4/5

kamasi-washingtonUndoubtedly set to become one of the most talked about releases of the year, “The Epic” is 3 cd’s, 3 hours long and features 10 piece band, 20 person choir and 32 piece orchestra. Released on LA based label Brainfeeder, 34-year-old saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington and his closely-knit group of musicians have recorded a multi dimensional jazz album of audacious intent. In the few years preceding this ambitious project, Washington had cut his teeth touring with Snoop Dogg, Raphael Sadiq and Chaka Khan. His credentials began to rise as Washington went on to record as sideman with Brainfeeder co-founder/producer Flying Lotus and fellow Southern Californian Kendrick Lamar. It is fair to say though, that nothing could have prepared us for the sheer scope and content of this recording. Given Washington’s hip-hop pedigree, it could be seen in some quarters a surprise that this is a jazz album of real substance. Yes there are fusions in there, and let’s face it, if an album lasting 3 hours hasn’t got variation it would make for a long haul of a listen, but underneath the soul/funk/hip-hop and gospel influences, this is a recording most firmly rooted in the jazz tradition. It was 2011 when Washington went into the studio with a group of long-time friends/musicians with the goal of recording as much music as possible over the period of a month. Washington has commented that this triple album set is the result of having recorded 190 tunes, including 45 original compositions. From there he edited it down to a mere 17 tracks and “The Epic” was born. “Trying to reduce it to an album took me a while.” comments Washington. “I felt like all 17 of those songs, there was nothing I wanted to change about any of those. And it was weird, I started having these dreams and the album was playing out through the dream. And I came to this conclusion – these were supposed to be together, this was it.”

3 hours is a lot of music, by anyone’s standards. Perhaps not surprisingly, nothing is rushed here. Many of the tracks clock in at between 10 and 15 minutes and throughout the entirety of the 3 disc set, much time, freedom and space is generously given to the soloists performing. Generally speaking the lead roles, in addition to Washington himself, are given out to trumpeter Igmar Thomas and trombonist Ryan Porter. The three horn players work very well together and whilst the album benefits from a deep unity, it is the band leader’s soloing that stands out time and time again. Washington seems able to turn his hand to any given situation, whether that be a 5 minute long Coltrane-esque journey of discovery, a rapid-fire Brecker-like improv, or a catchy hook-laden break with melodic virtuosity. The heartbeat of the band is exceptional, with Thundercat and Miles Mosley on electric and acoustic bass, Ronald Bruner Jr and Tony Austin supplying the drums, alongside percussionist Leon Mobley, Cameron Graves on piano and Brendan Coleman keys. There are also 3 songs featuring the lead vocals of Patrice Quinn and a walk on part from the quiet legend, Dwight Trible.

Having listened in-depth to this enterprising release I would have this to say: “The Epic” may be 3 hours in length but a summary of the whole can effectively be made by reflecting on the album’s opening track “Change of The Guard”. From the opening bars it is clear that what we are listening to could be described as Washington’s homage to the greats; John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins; written and performed for a 21st Century audience and fearless in its execution. The power hits you hard between the ears and as the tune develops, utilising full orchestra and large vocal choir, it has a wow factor that surprisingly stays with the listener despite its lengthy running time. The band has a killer core to it that nails the tune perfectly and for the most part, the orchestrations are well worked and the choir adds an obvious gospel hue to the palette of brightly shining colours. For me, there are times when the voices are over-worked, superfluous even, but one can’t fault the endeavour. There is something else that struck me immediately and although this may sound somewhat pedantic, I have found this to temper my enjoyment of the music. The production, the sound itself, doesn’t work as it should do for me. This may be a personal thing, but it all sounds over compressed; just “not quite right on the ears”. Whether this is due to the sound engineering or if it’s in the mix, I’m not so sure. More likely in my opinion it is down to the production techniques employed. It could be a Flying Lotus thing… maybe that’s his sound derived from a background of hip-hop and clever yet sometimes over-produced recording, but whatever the reason it doesn’t work that well for me and it does have a negative effect on my overall experience. That said, I can counter my own argument here as there are tracks where the production works brilliantly, this being on a couple of stand-out tunes later on in the session, which I’ll come to in due course. There is enough variation in the opener, from its searing melody through to a deft lightness of touch and onto a soaring, uplifting crescendo of sound, for it to be enjoyed many times over whilst still trying to take it all in. And this is just one tune of many. To try to convey a feel for the sheer scope of the music at hand, I’ll pick out a few of my favourite tracks to talk about here. I spoke earlier of the tunes where I felt the production clearly worked well. These are “Re Run Home” and “The Message”. “Re Run Home” could be a classic 70’s Mizell Brothers production, echoing the deep soul/funk grooves they helped create with legendary trumpeter Donald Byrd. Complete with wah wah sounds and incessant driving rhythm, this is a killer of a track I can come back to time and time again. “The Message” feels more organic, its beautiful strings and choir opening leading into a rich, warm, percussion and double bass led groove punctuated throughout with some wonderful horn solos. The 3 tunes featuring the soaring vocals of Patrice Quinn are all very enjoyable and if the length was cut down (losing some of the solos – but not Washington’s which brings joy each time I hear it), I could see “The Rhythm Changes” becoming a platinum selling single if they chose to release it. The album’s penultimate track “Malcolm’s Theme” pulls no punches with its eulogy for Malcolm X sung through a melodic vocal line, leading up to what is in effect a plea for understanding and compassion drawn from a speech given by the civil rights leader in 1965. In surprising contrast, there is the smooth, glowingly sumptuous “Clair de Lune”. It is perhaps easy to dismiss this track amongst some of the other hard blowing high energy music on the album, but for me it delivers that sexy, sultry feel in the same way that someone like Prince does when he decides to do so. The soul-organ grinds like the sexiest Hammond on earth! One more tune to mention or we’ll be here all day… “Askim” showcases Washington at his most intense and powerful. And I hereby declare full rights to the non patented idiom “The Washington Wail”. You will come to hear this grunge-like growl repeatedly throughout the recording and it is undoubtedly a sound to be reckoned with, and one which will make Washington instantly recognisable.

“The Epic” clearly is what it says on the tin. For me, it’s certainly not faultless and some parts work far better than others. But it is nonetheless an incredible achievement. It remains to be seen as to whether it sells well and assists in building a bridge between the jazz community and the more casual mainstream listener. Whatever the outcome, this is a self-assured and undeniably brave release that will probably divide opinion and bring people together in equal measure.

Mike Gates