Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band ‘Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band’ (Strut) LP/CD/Dig (4/5)

pat-thomasGhanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas is something of a musical institution in his native land and in neighbouring Nigeria. However, it has been thanks to a series of re-issue albums and compilations in the UK (Mr Bongo, Soundway) that his name become more familiar on these shores and this brand new release builds upon that burgeoning reputation. Indeed he is referred to as ‘The golden voice of Africa’ and on the basis of this excellent new offering few would argue against that with a reworking of some of Thomas’ 1980s classics, recorded this time round in Accra with a full band for good measure and an analogue sound. Unlike Afro-Beat, the grooves are that bit more relaxed and subtle in highlife, though still ideal for dance music purposes. A strong contender for the album’s best number is the infectious melodicism of ‘Odoo be ba’ with lovely organ and guitar riff, while dancefloor heaven may just have been attained on the driving bass, percussion and organ of ‘Oye Asem’. The uplifting groove of ‘Odo Adada’ features joint lead vocal harmonies while there are some delicate guitar riffs on ‘Gyae Su’. A retro feel is created complete with electric piano on ‘Me no Asem’ that is notable also for its bubbly percussion and collective horns. Strut are to be commended for their open-minded approach to dance music across the board and this latest release will only serve to widen the label’s appeal to a whole new audience. Pat Thomas and the band will perform at the Rich Mix in London on Friday 2 October. Destined to be an early autumn highlight.

Tim Stenhouse

Bluey ‘Life Between the Notes’ (Dome) 4/5

blueyFounding member of UK jazz-funk legends Incognito, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick has gone solo with this latest project that combines elements of the classic Incognito sound, but differs in that the leader is now also the main vocalist and there are some interesting jazzy excursions thrown in to the mix. The mid-tempo format of the title track suits Bluey best of all and in the 1970s style vocal harmonies and the subtle jazz inflections, the singer-musician reveals himself to be in fine form. Arguably the strongest number on the album is ‘Columbus Avenue’ which combines spiritual jazz elements with soulful vocals and with a piano vamp that is straight out of Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme’. A beat ballad, ‘Saints and Sinner’s’ serves as a pretext for some jazzy fender Rhodes musings while a sensitive soul number, ‘I’ve got a weakness for your love’ makes a pretty decent stab at a classy soul track even if the falsetto vocals need to develop further in this register. Back into Stevie Wonder terrain on ‘Trippin’ on this feelin’ which is the strongest club-oriented piece and this writer especially liked the atmospheric keyboards and Latin percussion in the intro. For more left field Dexter Wansel meets Pat Metheny fusion jazz, the gentle and lyrical number ‘Sunshine on the shores of Mars’ works a treat with an extended guitar solo. Only the unmelodic with thumping bassline and drums ‘Hold On’ does not impress. Otherwise, a fine solo effort.

Tim Stenhouse

Antonio Adolfo ‘Tema’ (Private Press) 4/5

antonio-adolfoIsn’t it nice when people do things well, really well? Fellow human beings (well some, but let’s not get cynical), can share their achievements and feel a genuine warmth and pleasure for them. This is how I feel listening to Antonio Adolfo’s latest release “Tema”, an album that brings sunshine where there were clouds, light where there was dark, and joy where there was sorrow. Music that makes the heart leap with pleasure. For over half a century, pianist/composer Adolfo has dedicated himself to the exploration of jazz in the context of the great Brazilian music tradition. More than 200 of his songs have been recorded by his own groups and other major artists. “Tema” is a reflection upon his own accomplishments, drawing on a selection of his tunes dating back as far as the 1960’s that have been revisited, reworked and revitalised.
“The Portuguese word ‘tema’ is usually translated as theme, tune, melody or song” explains Adolfo, “but in this title I want to evoke a sense of a musician inviting others to play. That’s the way jazz players mean it in Brazil.” And the composer’s invitation certainly turned out to be a welcome one for the musicians involved in the making of this album. They have responded by helping make a beautifully crafted album with some excellent moments for the listener to cherish. Highlights include the deliciously melodic “Natureza”, featuring Marcelo Martins on flute. Martins provides the lead on several tracks and his soprano sax playing especially is both poignant and sublime. Adolfo has a natural flare for melody and many of his tunes sound so effortlessly tuneful one can’t help admire him. The Spanish guitar of Claudio Spiewak brings “SamboJazz” to life with its cool Brazilian beats provided by Rafael Barata on drums and Armando Marcal on percussion. This track also features a wonderful solo from electric guitarist Leo Amuedo. The chord changes and subtle playing from all the band members is set off perfectly by Adolfo’s whimsical hooks. “Alem Mares” is a gorgeous little tune that reminds me of the lighter, brighter side of an early Pat Metheny Group composition. Jorge Helder’s bass adds a touch of class, working well with the pianist’s easy-going nature of the tune. The two guitarists are a joy to behold, with both Anuedo on electric and Spiewak on acoustic putting in wonderful solos on the lively “Sao Paulo Express”. Not to be outdone though, the smouldering soprano sax of Martins shimmers with life and vitality. He carries this through on to “Todo Dia”, another lovely composition by the band leader. “Trem da Serra” provides a platform for all things great about this album, the lovely effortless feel, a sense of pleasure from all the musicians performing. Adolfo’s style and gentle charisma rubs off on all involved, subtlety and intelligence shining through. The album draws to a close with “Variations on a Tema Triste”, an exquisite solo piece from Adolfo.

For an artist looking back on 50 years of his own music, this must have been a highly personal and emotional journey for Antonio Adolfo. The resulting album is a rewarding one for both the composer and the listener. Captivating arrangements and thoughtful, dynamic performances bring the music to life. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Mike Gates

Jarrod Lawson ‘Jarrod Lawson’ (Dome) 4/5

jarrod-lawsonUS vocalist Jarrod Lawson made musical airwaves last year when this was first released and combines the jazzy sophistication of Donny Hathaway’s pioneering work with the inventive soulfulness of early 1970s Stevie Wonder. The cover graphics are straight out of a Prince release, but that is where that comparison ends and Lawson is very much his own man with a tight band sound whose elasticity means that they can soul, jazz or Latin grooves and sometimes a combination of the three. This writer particularly likes the use of Earth, Wind and Fire style background harmonies as on the opener, ‘Music and its magical way’. A downtempo groove and some George Duke-ish keyboard riffs feature prominently on ‘All that surrounds’. Possibly the favourite number on the album is ‘Sleepwalkers’ with a lovely piano vamp and a fantastic combining of brass and flute while Lawson contributes wordless vocals and the pianist lays down some Herbie Hancock-influenced licks. In general, there is a storytelling quality to Jarrod Lawson’s music that marks him out from the rest and none of the clichés that abound with younger soul singers. More recently, a brief EP of live performance has surfaced and this coincided with a select number of UK dates. This is an outstanding solo debut album from a musician who has a clear grasp of the historical legacy of black music and a vision of where he is going next. One singer to watch in the forthcoming years.

Tim Stenhouse

Gaël Horellou ‘Synthesis’ (DTC) 4/5

gael-horellou“Synthesis”: meaning the combination of two or more entities that together form something new. Alternatively it refers to the creating of something by artificial means. In this instance both apply. Saxophonist/composer Gaël Horellou has, over the last ten years performed with several acoustic jazz ensembles, drum and bass and experimental electronic jazz outfits. On “Synthesis” he brings together man and machine for his latest exploration in sound. Together with David Patrois on vibes, Geraud Portal on bass and Antoine Paganotti on drums, Horellou directs and conducts his musical machinery in a wonderful fusion of jazz based rhythms and soundscapes with thoughtful, cleverly integrated electronica. At its heart though, there is always a good tune. This may sound simple enough but where many musicians fail in attempting a unison of synthetic sound and acoustic melody, Horellou succeeds. The band leader’s writing and playing is both lyrical and melodic throughout. Not unlike perhaps Andy Sheppard or Joshua Redman; eminently listenable with a likeable cutting edge to it. Helping him achieve this are some fine performances from his fellow band members. The individual instruments are sometimes natural, sometimes tweaked by electronics, but always in such a thoughtful, well integrated way that the whole thing sounds like it was meant to be… Not some unnatural cobbling together of instruments, but a musical vision that delivers an intriguing and beguiling beauty. Bass and drums combine perfectly to create a groove whilst Horellou’s sax and Patrois’ vibes dance together and tell their endearing melodic tales as the oscillating, experimental sounds ripple effortlessly in a stream of atmospheric sound. Warm vibes, sax and percussion greet the listener as the album’s opener “Cite Engloutie” opens in meditative fashion. Subtle flute floats in and out and the first signs of the machinery flutter effectively in the background before the double bass and sax envelop each other with a lovely melody that prevails throughout the tune. “Atlantis” relies more heavily on the synthesised effects and sounds and once again, a common theme throughout the session, Horellou’s sax is bright and lyrical as it winds its way freely in sync with the cool electronica. A slightly avant garde feel with an immovable bass riff sums up the darker outlook of “Lm4”. The title track could be one man’s nightmare vision in a darkened tube station. Or perhaps the cold light of dawn after a raving all-nighter… who’s to say? “Secret Stone” features the excellent double bass of Geraud Portal as it develops into a cool traditional jazz rhythm, taken into a different dimension by Horellou’s soprano sax and eery special effects. This album seems to pick up pace as it goes. Whether that’s due to the listener gradually being pulled in, or simply that the second half of the recording feels more confident and innovative in its writing and performance, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, “Fractals” begins a series of tracks that allow the listener to melt into the essence of this music. Free spirited, playful and experimental- but never without a clever hook or cool riff to grab hold of and walk hand in hand with. A Philip Glass – like chordal backdrop is lifted by some lovely arrangements between sax and vibes here. As “Broken Chant” begins with its echoes of a long lost tune by Tangerine Dream, we are led further into this voyage of discovery by another solid bass riff that provides the solidity for the rest of the tune to work around. This track has a disconnected feel to it, and yet it’s musicality still shines through. “Constellation” encircles us with its starry melancholy, drums and bass set off by the stellar sax and vibes combination, bringing light from dark and creating a powerful groove led mix that Gilles Peterson would be proud to discover. Imagine a psychological horror film and you can picture the scene set on “Hypnosis”. Once again though, the deep pools of darkness portrayed at the start of the tune are soon overshadowed by the electric light and energy that engulf the rest of the track with its lyrical, singing melodic musings. A reprise of the walking bass line and tuneful, engaging sax heard on the opening track take the album to its end with the radio edit of “Cite Engloutie”.

In summary, Gaël Horellou has come up with an engaging album with “Synthesis”. Whilst not particularly ground-breaking, its music is at times innovative without being at odds with itself. The electronica is arranged and performed in such a way as to enhance the music, adding to the overall oeuvre of the composer’s work. There are some great tunes working their magic here, all rounded off nicely with the meeting of minds that sees the quartet syncing the acoustic jazz tradition very nicely with its futuristic sounding electronica.

Mike Gates

Georgia Anne Muldrow ‘A Thoughtiverse Unmarred’ (Mello Music Group) 3/5

georgia-anne-muldrowGeorgia Anne Muldrow is a Los Angeles born R&B and neo-soul artist. Well known for her silky, expressive vocals, she is also a respected producer, making her own music and her own beats. Her new release, ‘A Thoughtiverse Unmarred’ is her fifteenth full length album, for the first time produced by someone other than herself, Chris Keys. This record shows Muldrow on a confident crusade into the world of rap.
This shift in style, after so many soul albums, could have hardcore fans in a bit of a tizz, but she still finds a way to combine a soft and eloquent delivery, in a more ‘Lauren Hill’ style approach to rap, whilst maintaining thick harmonies and all the while delivering a consistent, brutally honest, and intelligent social commentary.
Appropriately named ‘A Thoughtiverse Unmarred’, this album is a collection of poetic observations on relevant issues. With lyrics such as, ‘Some wonder why she held her head so high, the point of this discussion is that she did not die, so strive’ she conveys a realistic, yet positive message of hopeful change for the future. Covering topics such as globalisation, race and consumerism gives this album a prophetic, almost protest feel.
The first full length song after the ‘Prologue’ is ‘Monoculture’, which discusses the potential harm that globalisation has on individual cultures. Getting stuck in straight away with a solid hip-hop beat, this tune combines rap, velvety smooth harmonies with reggae elements, in particular, consistent rhythmic, reggae guitar. This contributes more to the main beat, which weaves in and out of pushing the beat, then catching up to playing on the beat, which is so subtle that it can be quite disorienting.
‘Great Blacks’ is my least favourite on the album, as it is more ‘rap’ in it’s repetitiveness and has less substance melodically than the others. My favourite tracks are ‘Ankles’ and ‘Arkansas’. In ‘Ankles’, Muldrow mixes her style with trip-hop elements with chilling organ, a fat intermittent bass line, and a darker, break-beat sound. Muldrow also combines a good mixture of longer melodic lines vocally in the chorus, which contrasts well with the shorter, rhythmic rap in the verse, which gives me the welcome dynamic variation I’d been craving.
‘Arkansas’ uses a catchy sample of a funk/blues guitar riff that casually wanders in and out over a sustained old-school organ sound. Muldrow again combines singing and rap, with alluring gospel harmonies in the chorus.
Overall I would call Muldrow’s first attempt at a rap album to be a success. From where I’m standing – the real deal. She exudes a kind of confidence in her voice that sounds like she’s been doing it for years, which probably comes from her impressive and lengthy career in soul and R&B. I would expect this album to appeal to a wide audience as she combines elements of reggae, soul, blues, gospel and jazz into her own personal strain of rap. Even if it doesn’t fly off the shelves, you have to give her respect for trying something new after already establishing her sound.

Lindsey Evans

Aaron Diehl ‘Space Time Continuum’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

aaron-diehlIn his follow-up to the well received Mack Avenue debut “The Bespoke Man’s Narrative”, pianist/composer Aaron Diehl broadens things out with the addition of saxophones, trumpet and even a vocal outing, adding to his core trio which features David Wong on bass and Quincy Davis on drums. “Space Time Continuum” features eight tunes, all composed by Diehl, encompassing a broad range of styles, never really deviating from the expected path, but performed with skill and precision none the less.
“Uranus” opens the session. A lovely piece that plays to the strengths of the trio and features a particularly nice final chorus highlighting the playing of drummer Quincy Davis. 85 years young Joe Temperley blows his baritone sax on the thoughtful, probing “The Steadfast Titan”. Bowed bass adds the atmosphere as the tune develops a nice cool laid-back vibe. The much younger tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley guests on “Flux Capacitor”. He may be younger in years than the two elder statesmen featured, but in terms of tone, the listener wouldn’t know. The tune itself is something of a throwback to 50’s/60’s era straight ahead jazz and Riley’s playing fits in perfectly. “Organic Consequence” has a film noir feel to it, with some gorgeous, subtle brass supplied by trumpeter Bruce Harris and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson. “It’s important to use both contemporaries and elders as sources of inspiration” comments Diehl. “I gave Mr Golson a solo section with a specific set of chord changes” Diehl continues, “in rehearsal he wasn’t fond of playing the progression and offered constructive criticism that led to our finding an alternative harmonic movement that suited his needs. He taught me the importance of leaning towards people’s strengths.” On “Kat’s Dance”, we have a lighter, more playful tune that could well be a Kenny Barron / Stan Getz duet, easy listening and comfortable as one sips one’s martini. A cinematic intro on Santa Monica” leads into a nice groove which highlights well the rhythm section. Diehl says of drummer Davis; “Quincy is not just a drummer, he’s a consummate musician, great composer and arranger. He does just the right thing to be supportive.” And support he does, along with bassist Wong, especially well on the fine “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, a fast-paced burner of a tune. The album closes with the title track, and features the vocal talents of Charenee Wade. Whilst the tune is nicely written and does offer some variation to the rest of the album, it feels a little out of time and place to this listener.

Listening to Diehl play, the impression I get is that he is a confident, assured and masterful pianist who could turn his hand with ease to any style of his choosing. For me though, this album, as well-played and enjoyable as it is, lacks the imagination and excitement I was hoping for. The compositions are standard fare and I was expecting more. There just feels a lack of warmth, emotion. The album is lovingly packaged with excellent sleeve art, extensive liner notes by Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus) and is beautifully produced by Al Pryor. I’m sure there’s much more to come from the very talented Mr Diehl, personally I hope his next release shows a little more adventure.

Mike Gates

Jacky Terrasson ‘Take This’ (Impulse) 4/5

jacky-terrassonFranco-American pianist Jacky Terrasson took the world of jazz by storm in the mid to late 1990s with a series of recordings that re-interpreted the piano jazz tradition in a highly innovate manner. Now in his late forties, Terrasson is an established figure and one who has sought to re-invent himself within the parameters of the jazz idiom and this represents his debut for the re-activated Impulse label. The repertoire is typically eclectic, with inventive takes on jazz classics and some interesting new original compositions, and the line-up varies between trio and quintet with guitar and vocals added as and where appropriate. Not everything works, but then the leader has always strived to expand his horizons. An Afro-Cuban take on Brubeck’s anthem ‘Take Five’ is but one of two interpretations with the former a lovely alternative reading to Tito Puente’s mid-1980s Latin Jazz Ensemble version a reminder of just how good Terrasson was back in the 1990s, and the angular referencing of the tune is an astute brainwave by the leader, creating a new vibe that is a wonder to behold. In stark contrast, a solo rendition of ‘Blues in Green’, finds the pianist in an altogether more solemn mood and the influence of Bill Evans looms long in this interpretation. Less effective are some of the 1970s wah-wah guitar effects on the opener ‘Kiff’ with wordless vocals from Sly Johnson while the blues-inflected take on the Lennon and McCartney standard, ‘Come together’, works to a certain extent, but still sounds unconnected to the rest.

In general the relatively short nature of the pieces works in Terrasson’s favour for, in seeking conciseness, the pianist has been forced to focus to a greater extent on the melodicism of the individual pieces. A higher rapid treatment of Terrasson idol Bud Powell oscillates between first acoustic and then fender Rhodes keyboards and the use of hand percussion is a subtle complement to the overall texture. Piano and percussion work in thrilling unison on the Caribbean flavoured ‘Dance’ while the hustle and bustle of the trio number ‘November’ is the piece that most harks back to his Blue Note roots.

Tim Stenhouse

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet ‘Family First’ (Beat Music Productions) 5/5

mark-guilianaThe phrase “rising star” gets used way too often. However, if ever it could be applied in an apt way, then it can be used with sincerity when talking about drummer/composer/band leader Mark Guiliana. “A leader worth following. A musician with vision – and beats.” said Jazz Times. “A drummer around whom a cult of admiration has formed.” said The New York Times. “He’s the guy to watch if you want to know where the great art of drumming is right now – and where it could be headed.” said Modern Drummer Magazine. Having earned an enviable reputation as a sideman, performing regularly with, among others, Avishai Cohen, Gretchen Parlato and Meshell Ndegeocelli, Guiliana has recently gone on to perform with David Bowie, founded two bands; Beat Music and Heernt, and launched his own independent record label “Beat Music Productions” as an outlet for his diverse musical vision. Add to this his Grammy nominated duo partnership with jazz icon Brad Mehldau, “Mehliana”, and we appear to have something of a jazz visionary in the making. With the release of Guiliana’s Jazz Quartet’s first outing “Family First”, I think we can now say the star has well and truly risen.
“Family First” is an acoustic jazz album of such power, virtuosity, depth and poise, that it leaves this listener in genuine awe, and extremely happy. This is what jazz is all about. Free spirited, emotionally engaging and written and performed with a rarely heard skill and mastery. The quartet is: Mark Guiliana on drums, Chris Morrissey on bass, Shai Maestro on piano and Jason Rigby on saxophone. Together they perform nine tracks, eight of these being Guiliana original compositions, plus one incredible Bob Marley cover/interpretation. The quartet are long-time musical collaborators and good friends, and the chemistry and artistry shown throughout this album shines through. Guiliana explains; “This music really highlights the strong bonds and sense of brotherhood and family that I share with these guys.” He continues; “I’ve been lucky to have been building a great musical bond with each of them over the last decade.” There is certainly a sense of togetherness on this recording, one which delivers cohesion and a fearless sense of adventure that lifts the music to the lofty place that it resides.

Guiliana’s compositional skills come to the fore right from the off. “One Month” opens the album and is a tour de force in itself. What I love about this tune is how it hits you both between the ears and deep inside the soul as it pulsates with excitement before changing pace, drawing breath, and building up again with such joyous skill. Jason Rigby’s sax playing on this track and indeed throughout the whole album, is nothing short of astonishing, being both lyrically brilliant and touchingly soulful. “Abed” drives forcefully and swings with fervour and highlights why Guiliana is so highly thought of as a drummer. The deep intensity of “2014” reminds me of the feel of the music heard on Brad Mehldau’s much underrated “Highway Rider.” There’s such a strong emotional pull to this music, this is a ballad that delivers real melancholic beauty. “Long Branch” is a breathtaking composition. Once again all 4 musicians are in full swing, with pianist Shai Maestro proving how true class shines through. For me, his skill, touch and virtuosity outshine many of his peers and contemporaries in this field. The Bob Marley tune “Johnny Was” is performed here as a thought-provoking, subtle, deeply moving piece of music. Once again the natural understanding between the musicians is incredible. They seem to play in such an assured manner that this allows them to create an electric, spine tingling energy even in the spaces between the notes. The somber mood lifts as “From You” brings us back into daylight with its warm breeze and clear air. Reminiscent of an 80’s/90’s Brecker classic, the tune drifts effortlessly, singing as it goes. Chris Morrisey’s contemplative, musing bass forms the intro to “The Importance of Brothers”. The tune develops into a march before leading us into the Coltrane-esque beginnings of “Welcome Home”. Beautiful chords and lush soundscapes create a gorgeous, uplifting atmosphere before the track moves into its full, rich melody. Guiliana’s compositions are stories that unfold with a vision and a purpose and the mood changes within these stories portray life itself; sometimes mournful, sometimes sweet and liberating. There are so many moments on this album where the emotion is at such a high point that shivers flow through the body creating a deep felt intense experience that takes the listener to a place well beyond the music itself. The last few minutes of “Welcome Home”, leading into the final piece, the title track “Family First” sum this up perfectly. I don’t mind admitting I was moved to tears at this point, this is just so stunningly beautiful.

In summary, I cannot find enough superlatives to describe “Family First”. And if by the end of 2015 this isn’t my personal album of the year, I can’t wait to hear the one that is.

Mike Gates

Melody Gardot ‘Currency of Man’ (Decca) 4/5

melody-gardotSinger-songwriter Melody Gardot occupies musical territory somewhere between the smoky folk-blues of Cassandra Wilson and the jazzy neo-soul of Erykah Badu with a voice that bears something of a resemblance to that of Annie Lenox. That is all part of the chemistry that makes her a highly individual musician and on this new all original set of recordings Gardot has come up with a sound that takes in acoustic and electric blues, sometimes with a rock tinge. funk and soul, with the ocasional jazz chord change, and yet still sounds utterly convincing. She excels on the dramatic strings that lend a film soundtrack quality to ‘Don’t talk’ that is a percussive mid-tempo number and the soulful delivery from the vocalist works a treat. Nina Simone is conjured up on ‘Morning Sun’, and this writer would like to hear more of the gospel hues evident in this song. The influence of Billie Holiday is discernible on the lush, jazzy ‘If I ever recall your face’ that could almost be in terms of style a modern-day take on ‘Strange Fruit’, though devoid of that song’s profound social significance. Country folk-blues are usefully evoked on ‘Don’t misunderstand’ with a repetitive chorus that is truly addictive. An uptempo and funky ‘Same to you’ features a bass line not dissimilar to Chic’s ‘Good Times’ and a funky urban groove is equally present on the sparsely produced ‘It gonna come’ with some epic 1970s style strings thrown in there for good measure. Melody Gardot is a vocalist with a difference and yet still deeply rooted within the blues, jazz and soul tradition and this fine album will only enhance her already burgeoning reputation.

Tim Stenhouse