Gregory Porter ‘Take Me to the Alley’ CD/LP (Decca) 4/5

gregory-porterSinger extraordinaire Gregory Porter has managed that most elusive of ambitions: on the one hand pleasing the critics with his combination of jazz and soulful grooves, while at the same time attracting a wider audience. The latter objective has resulted in his previous album, ‘Liquid Spirit’, achieving sales of over a million copies, which is no mean feat in a time where the recording industry is still in post-recession mood. The new album continues very much in the same vein with a growing maturity in the song writing stakes
Influenced by 1970s soul singer Donny Hathaway, but also by his mother’s record collection that included jazz and gospel greats, Gregory Porter excels on reflective numbers such as the title track which is the kind of song that Terry Callier might have composed in his prime, and here the delicious duet with singer Alicia Olatuja hints at the gospel influences he heard growing up. In a down tempo vein ‘Insanity’ is one of the strongest compositions with gorgeous piano accompaniment from regular keyboardist and arranger Chip Crawford and sensitive drumming from Emanuel Harrold. However, his jazz credentials are still fully intact and showcased marvellously on uptempo numbers of the calibre of ‘Fan the flames’ and the first single, ‘Don’t lose your steam’. This writer especially liked the underlying reggae vibe on piano, the kind of groove that Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander might have conjured up. Throughout the musicianship is excellent with fine soloing from alto saxophonist Yosuke Sato and tenorist Tivon Pennicott, who collectively add some thrilling unison horn lines. Soul fans will warm to the mid-tempo shuffle of ‘Day dream’ where the underlying rhythm recalls the song, ‘I wish I knew how it feels to be free’, from Nina Simone and one that Donny Hathaway covered so well. The opening song, ‘Holding on’ has a definite anthemic quality to it with a muted harmon trumpet solo straight out of the Miles Davis bag from trumpeter Keyon Harold.

In general, there is a timeless quality to the song writing that augurs well for the rest of Gregory Porter’s career, and judging by this latest offering, he is well and truly in an inspirational phase. A lengthy recent UK tour throughout April confirmed his fan base on this side of the Atlantic.

Tim Stenhouse

Tamuz Nissim ‘The Music Stays in a Dream’ (Private Press) 4/5

tamuz-nissimIt had been a while since I had last listened to jazz singers but when I first heard Tamuz Nissim, I immediately reconnected with jazz singing. With touchingly simple melodies, Tamuz’ s debut album, The Music Stays in A Dream, is absolutely delightful. Strongly influenced by jazz icons like Sarah Vaughan, Tamuz Nissim’s vocals range from voluptuous to silvery and even delights the listeners with impeccable scatting which seems to be a cinch for her.
For this album, she enlisted her good friends Giorgos Nazos on guitar, Francesca Tandoi on piano, Vasilis Stefanopoulos on bass and George Polyhronakos on drums. The album is nicely paced, with a good range of tempos, and features 10 songs, most of which are composed by Tamuz Nissim, and which are heartfelt melodies about love and life.
The sensual mood of the album is set right from the beginning as it opens with the title track The Music Stays in a Dream, where after a short bass solo, we are introduced to Tamuz’s deep voice which seduces us immediately and where the piano and guitar both toy with her vocals. Deeper in that range, she tackles Golden Earrings, where her modulated voice is absolutely captivating. The piano solo teases the audience in and out before it sets the melody free from its Oriental twist, luring it into it into a jazzier piece, which is eventually joined in by Tamuz’s fluctuating vocals.
Shir, the only song sung in Hebrew, remains one of my least favourite number on the album. Nonetheless, I must admit that Tamuz’s silky voice is infused with warmth and that the short guitar solo certainly spices up the piece. Together, on the other hand, is an up tempo piece full of pep with cheerful lyrics and which she sings in accelerando. On this piece, Tamuz leads the piano into a playful, feet-tapping solo and eventually into a dialogue with the drums before she takes over again and finishes the song by holding the notes which reminds us of 1960’s jazz divas. Tamuz’s clean and fruity voice in By the Window lends a jazz lounge feel to the song. The melody has a languorous tone to it, which is accentuated by the piano’s precise accompaniment, the guitar which emulates her voice and a resonant bass solo which adds to the song’s sense of loneliness. In the poetic Waltz for Winter and in the lilting Stretching the Blues, she surprises us with some scatting, which she handles effortlessly. In the former, Tamuz leads the piano into a solo which grabs your attention as it impels the melody in a dance-like movement while in Stretching the Blues, she leads the guitar into a lively solo which echoes her own scat singing before taking it to the next level.
Broken Promises is my favourite piece on the album, and probably my favourite of Tamuz Nissim’s songs. Whether it is because of the narrative or the melody itself, but it has a personal resonance for me. Comparing their vocal performance is irrelevant, and yet, Tamuz projects such sadness to that song and imbues it with a quality worthy of Nina Simone.

Tamuz Nissim’s debut album is a seductive little gem, a real feel-good endeavor. She succeeds in bringing a different feel to each piece on the album, keeping the listeners on edge, and the quintet has a distinctly honed tightness which contributes to the album’s listening pleasure. Tamuz Nissim is currently working on a second album, which should hopefully be released very soon. Her many performances on the New York jazz scene these past couple of years should undoubtedly add an interesting twist to it.

Nathalie Freson

Benjamin Faugloire Project ‘Birth’ (Jazz Family) 5/5

benjamin-faugloire“Birth” is the third album from this Marseille based French trio, following up on their 2008 debut “Premiere Nouvelle” and the 2012 release “The Diving”. Pianist Benjamin Faugloire is joined by double bassist Denis Frangulian and drummer Jerome Moriez, and together this exciting trio weave a tapestry of characterful, emotionally driven textures and colours, reminiscent perhaps of EST in their earlier years.
The trio have spent the last few years developing their own feel and sound, and this comes over in the recording. There’s a togetherness to their playing that suggests they’ve reached that place as musicians where they don’t need to think too much about what each other is doing, the delight and surprise is a natural cause and effect. The superb musical interplay and understanding can be heard throughout the session, with a brightness and freedom to it that is, at times spellbinding.
“Birth” is one of those albums that evokes thought and imagery through its music; at times contemplative, at other times wild and exciting, but always through a richly melodic, lyrical and spirited musicality. The opening track “Foundations” acts as a stunning introduction, bold and confident in its intensity. There’s a power to this music that might have been inspired by bands such as Radiohead or Portishead, enjoying a similar emotional pull yet in a jazz way. It’s as if the trio are putting themselves on the line here, bearing any scars they may have for all to hear. It works brilliantly, pulling the listener in to witness a hidden world they want us to see. “Beautiful Day For A Birth” is a journey that seems to evoke long-lost memories. A key feature to all of the trio’s music is how it can go from light to dark and back again in the blink of an eye. Melodically exciting passages of sound are interspersed with thoughtful, touching and sensitive moments, like the rise and fall of a heartbeat, the listener’s pulse either racing with passion, or calm in its meditative repose. The gentle touch at the beginning of “Heavy Idea” soon develops into some excellent interplay from the threesome, as the music drives foreword, twisting and turning as it goes, taking everything in its stride. Clocking in at a mere 1 minute 40 seconds, “In A Loop” is basically that; a simple piano riff looped or repeated, one that gradually builds and comes to life as the bass and drums grow in strength. It is a stunning piece of music. A brooding melancholy fills the air on “Breathe”, one which evokes a deep, almost desperate feeling from within; intense and powerful. “Euphoria” brings out the classical elements of Faugloire’s playing. The melody hangs in the air, as if waiting, eyeing up its surroundings, knowing something special is about to happen. And when it does, it’s fearless and all-encompassing. “Depression’s Promises” has a tenderness to it that highlights just how well this trio are able to communicate musically, even on such a sensitive level. There’s a deep yearning to this piece of music, yet it holds a warmth within it that suggests an eternal hope. As the mood of the tune gradually lightens, so does the trio’s playing, becoming looser and freer. “Reaction” burns brightly, with the light and dark, the loud and the quiet, like a rainbow exploding its colours across the evening sky. “Think Larger” highlights the virtuosic skills of the pianist in a fantastic way. This could be a classical master at the piano, playing out his life in musical form, baring his soul with abandon. It is beautiful. This listener felt an emotional energy coursing through his body as he connected with the music he was hearing. This leads into the final track “Alive”. The drums and bass are lively and effervescent, before holding back once again as the trio’s energy is channelled into a though-provoking, reflective communication as the album draws to a close.

“Birth” is a stunning album, one which will hopefully launch Benjamin Faugloire Project into the limelight. It takes some of the best influences from pop/rock and classical music, yet is ultimately a wonderful jazz trio recording, the likes of which I have rarely heard since the discovery of acts such as EST, The Bad Plus, or even someone like Marcin Wasilewski Trio. The writing and the performances are right up there. One to savour and enjoy.

Mike Gates

Jason Rebello ‘Held’ CD/Dig (Edition) 4/5

jason-rebelloBritish pianist Jason Rebello first emerged in the early 1990s and at the time was pigeonholed in the fusion category with critically acclaimed albums on the BMG label, that nonetheless failed to capture the wider public’s imagination. Thereafter, Rebello focused more on sideman work, touring with Wayne Shorter’s band, then going on to replace the late Kenny Kirkland as keyboardist in Sting’s band. However, Jason Rebello has always been a devoted advocate of the acoustic piano setting and this has brought him back to two of his seminal pianistic influences, namely Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock who have recorded numerous solo albums separately and together, the latter of which served as a major inspiration to Rebello. This welcome new recording is an all original set bar the cover of a Lennon and McCartney evergreen, ‘Blackbird’, that has regularly been revisited by jazz musicians, in particular the wonderful rendition by fellow pianist, Brad Mehldau. Here, the Rebello reading of the standard has something of a Bach-esque quality in the introduction, following a separate riff and then goes into the famous main theme. While not quite as direct or compelling as the Mehldau interpretation, this nevertheless marks a distinctive personal imprint on the recording.

What comes across overall is the sheer melodicism of the playing and this is beautifully illustrated on a piece such as ‘As the dust settles’, which is expansive in outlook and has a slight Latin vibe to it. Ideally, this reviewer would like to hear this number with a full band also. The quasi-choral hues of the opener, ‘Pearl’, hint at the early 1970s ECM solo albums of Corea, and this is reinforced by the quiet, reposing nature of the piece. That tone is continued on the gentle contemplation of ‘Tokyo dream’ with a hypnotic riff into the bargain. Rebello as a mature musician does not feel the necessity to overly impress with dazzling technique, though he possesses that virtuosity in abundance, but instead had gone beyond that stage and is now firmly focused on communicating the musicality of his craft and that he achieves especially well here. This marks a new episode in Jason Rebello’s career and one that hopefully will catapult him into the higher echelons of jazz pianissimo. A fine debut recording for Edition from a now seasoned musician.

Tim Stenhouse

Aldevis Tibaldi and London Jazz Ensemble ‘Twentysix Three’ (Galetone) 4/5

aldevis-tibaldiItalian saxophonist Aldevis Tibaldi makes his debut here on a recording that embraces both modern and mainstream jazz, and was recorded live in analogue. He was trained classically in his native north-eastern city of Trieste and dabbled in rock, fusion and world roots genres before focusing firmly on the jazz idiom during the 1980s.
Stylistic influences include Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and it is the latter who comes to mind on the opener, ‘Hunting goose’, which, in addition, has a distinctive Jazz Messengers feel in the collective phrasing, while John Eacott takes a muted trumpeter solo and this is taken at a more sedate rhythm. The 1960s have clearly exerted an influence upon the leader and the soprano-led number, ‘La lunga notte’, has all the hallmarks of the ‘Song for my father’ riff that Horace Silver composed, though taken here at a significantly slower pace. For fans of 1950s big band, the Basie-flavoured ‘Dinner Jacket’ will appeal and with phrasings on piano by Liam Donoghue that recall Ellington from that era.
Tibaldi has made London his adopted home and has performed with Paloma Faith, the Guillemots as well as with London-based trumpeter, John Eacott, who is an integral member of Tibaldi’s band. Interestingly, Tibaldi attempts no less than three covers, with a take on Mingus’,’World Nightmare,’ an intimate duet between double bassist Richard Sadler while Ellington’s, ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’, is unquestionably a vehicle for Tibaldi’s tenor playing to shine and this has a 1930s Cotton Club atmosphere with the interesting use of staccato piano. A reworking of Monk’s ‘We see’ features the leader on soprano in a largely trio format devoid of any piano intro, and this piece sounds as though Tibaldi has been listening intently to Steve Lacy. Once again on the repeated piano and tenor riff to ‘A Gardenia in Dean St.’, the collective horns take a leaf out of the Jazz Messengers repertoire. A well-balanced set that risks alienating no-one and attracting a diverse public within the field of jazz.

Tim Stenhouse

Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa ‘Eros’ (Bonsai Music) 3/5

Paolo-Fresu-Omar-Sosa“Eros” is a new work by acclaimed Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. The follow-up to the duo’s successful release “Alma”, the new album is a conceptual set of tunes, composed around the sacred emotional ideal that leads beauty towards the divine. True to the duo’s past history, the music enjoys a refined sensitivity and is articulately produced. Based around the two musician’s instruments, the vocals, strings, samples and percussion are interwoven and combined, making for a lush, slightly exotic sound that plays easily on the ears.
Listening to “Eros” as a whole, there are some lovely moments to enjoy, with the general feel being one of laid-back musical sensuality. Yet as much as I’d like to describe it as ‘divinely beautiful music’, at times I can’t stop my thoughts from slipping into a more critical phrase; ‘Smooth jazz for lovers’. As good as some of the tunes undoubtedly are, for this listener it doesn’t reach any spiritual depths of love and associated themes, but it does offer a calming, thoughtful and peaceful set of tunes that can be enjoyed for what they are, even if they’re not perhaps as inspiring as one might have wished for.

The album begins with its strongest track, a wonderful interpretation of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. Featuring Maghreb singer Natacha Atlas, her gorgeous vocals bring a fresh, colourful and uplifting presence to the tune. There’s such a cool, mesmeric vibe to the production that it successfully draws the listener in to its subtle groove. The arrangements and use of strings are at times stunning throughout this recording. Jacques Morelenabum features on cello, along with Quartetto Alborada, comprising of two violins, viola and cello. There are some wonderful moments where the strings are combined with piano, Fender Rhodes, samplers, effects and percussion, all coming together to create a unique landscape of sound. None more so than on the track “What Is Inside”, an excellent piece of music. The gorgeous, thought provoking “What Lies Ahead”, written by Peter Gabriel and his son Isaac, is performed close to its original form with the addition of Piero Salvatori’s violin. Peter Gabriel listened to the song and gave his consent for its release, in spite of the fact the song will most likely be included on his own new record. The sonic soundscapes offer a relaxing and welcome rest bite from the usual hurly-burly of daily life, with “Zeus’ Desires”, “My Soul, My Spirit”, and “Eros Mediterraneo” standing out as particularly enjoyable pieces of well-crafted music. I also really liked the hidden track at the end of the album, “Kypris”. It’s well worth waiting for this track as it has a slightly different feel to the other tunes, and for me does in fact offer more to the listener than some of the other music heard on the album.

“Eros” is beautifully produced and has some excellent moments, but for this listener doesn’t reach the heights I had hoped for. It does have some lovely infectious grooves and the duo’s intelligent use of their instruments combined with samples, noises and strings does work really well, even if a handful of the tunes sound somewhat superfluous to the proceedings. Enjoy it for what it is, an easy-listening, laid-back and romantically hued album.

Mike Gates

Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu teams up here with Cuban pianist (but British based) Omar Sosa for an album that is in some ways a musical trip back in time to the early 1990s. There is an interesting blend of influences that includes Arabic classical, Latin, western classical and jazz, with late period Miles Davis hovering in the background. Adding to the mix are the vocals of London-based, but of Egyptian descent vocalist Natasha Atlas, the cello accompaniment of Brazilian musician Jacques Morelenbaum (who has regularly been the arranger for Caetano Veloso among others), and the added strings of Quartetto Alborada.
At first, the music seems fixed in both time and mode, but there are interesting things happening musically just below the surface as on, ‘Eros Mediterraneo’, which features a marvellous duet nad interplay between Morelenbaum and Fresu, with pianist Sosa assisting the Middle Eastern percussion in the background. If only there were more of this fusion of styles. A cover of massive Attack’s, ‘Teardrop’ receives a creative eastern-flavoured makeover with the added Arabic song, ‘Ya habibi’, and the vocals of Atlas most certainly blend in well here. On the Sosa composition, ‘Brezza del verano’, the layered keyboards of the pianist and ascending trumpet work well in tandem, and the use of strings creates an altogether dramatic backdrop.

At best this album is atmospheric, but overall does not rise above a certain level and is just a tad too laid back for this writer, with not enough of the Middle Eastern content that would have catapulted the album into a different stratosphere. That said, there is no denying either the musicianship, or melodicism of the music and fans of the ‘Tutu’ and ‘Amandla’ albums will feel very much at home here. For fans of album cover design, this one come across as an in-between of a classic ECM cover with the Rolling Stones lips logo.

Tim Stenhouse

Steve Lacy ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 5/5

steve-lacyIf you have not already sampled the delights of jazz re-issue label Avid, then prepare for a real treat. This independent label has the jazz connoisseurs best interests at heart and aims to provide optimum quality re-issues with the additional attraction of a bargain price differential and maximum time allowance nearing eighty minutes per CD. However, this is where the lowest common denominator ends because Avid have gone well beyond the essential jazz repertoire (though it most certainly is in evidence) to embrace musicians whom, for a variety of reasons, have not received their due, and this reviewer for one would like to redress the balance in their favour.
In the case of Steve Lacy, the musician has devoted his life to the study and practice of the soprano saxophone and this wonderful selection covers his early years from the late 1950s through to the early 1960s when Lacy was in hallowed company. Two magical Prestige albums grace the first CD and these are by far the more conventional of the albums with pianists featured on both. However, Steve Lacy has always been a musician capable of revisiting the jazz tradition while simultaneously embracing the avant-garde and his interpretations of the jazz masters is anything but standard.

The first album, simply entitled, ‘Soprano Sax’, dates from 1957 and included a rhythm section comprising Wynton Kelly on piano, Buell Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on drums. Hearing these sides again once cannot fail to reflect on whether John Coltrane was influenced by hearing Lacy on soprano or vice-versa. Irrespective, the music stands the test of time wonderfully and offers a stunning reading of ‘Alone together’ while there is a brooding intensity to Monk’s opus, ‘Work’. One thing is for sure. Lacy’s lifelong love of and devotion to the work of Thelonius Monk is captured beautifully on the second album, which focuses squarely on the compositions of the pianist and Mal Waldron accompanies him on piano for what would prove to be a partnership spanning several decades. Indeed, Lacy is in scintillating form on ‘Four in one’ where Waldron stays out in parts while the two duet magnificently on ‘Reflections’. It should be stated from the outset that Waldron is that most sensitive of accompanists and with Elvin Jones on drums in his prime and Buell Niedlinger once again on bass, this is one stunning album. Collectively, they positively cook on a bustling, uptempo take on ‘Skippy’, with Lacy in a hurry and Waldron only too happy to maintain the pace.

The second CD makes for a fascinating contrast with the piano out completely. This reviewer was immediately attracted by the pairing of Lacy with trumpeter Don Cherry on ‘Evidence’ and the album does not disappoint (especially with Billy Higgins on drums who clearly is having an absolute ball), though it is not quite as ground breaking as one might expect. That said, how many musicians would have the courage to choose Cecil Taylor’s ‘Louise’ as a composition to cover? A swinging rendition of Ellington’s ‘The mystery song’ is eclipsed by a stunning Cherry solo on Monk’s ‘Evidence’, and interestingly the trumpeter sounds not dissimilar to Miles from the same era. This is not the pocket trumpet sound we have become accustomed to with Ornette Coleman and Cherry well and truly excels here.

For the second album, the 1960 Candid album, ‘The straight horn of Steve Lacy’. this is a pairing of Lacy with Charles Davis on baritone saxophone, John Ore on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. While probably the least satisfying of the four albums, this is still fine by any other standards for all that. Monk’s ‘Introspection’ is the most free sounding while be-bop hues are evoked on Parker’s ‘Donna Lee’. Of all the pieces, ‘Criss Cross’ is arguably the best known and taken at a brisk tempo with the saxophones playing in tandem. There are no extras included, but none are required when you have seventy plus minutes per CD. Of great help to the listener are the complete back cover notes (make that mini essays) by writers of the calibre of Ira Gitler, Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams. Essential listening.

Tim Stenhouse

Various Artists ‘Peace Chant – Raw, Deep and Spiritual Jazz Vol.1’ LP/DIG (Tramp) 3/5

peace-chant-vol1Whilst Tramp Records do release new music, the German label is best known for their compilations.
This is not an area where we are so easily impressed any more. Lots of good music from the pre-digital era has already found it’s way on to the re-issue/compilation market and Internet search engines have made it much easier to source some of the rare nuggets, although not necessarily any cheaper.
Tramp’s mission in this latest series is to explore “spiritual sounds through jazz, soul, funk, latin and afrobeat styles”. Laudably, on this, as with many of their releases, Tramp focus on music that has never been compiled before, the majority of the tracks originally appearing only on obscure 7-inch singles that were either pressed privately or by small, independent record labels in limited numbers. Many of these have subsequently become desirable within specialist collecting circles.
The selection is eclectic, pulling together music from different genres and from around the globe. Most of the tracks were originally released in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, with two exceptions, “Mozambique” from 1963 and a recent recording, “Don’t Give Up Your Smile Today”, which was previously unreleased.
Overall the album does what it sets out to do, although for me there are as many misses as hits.

With most of the material having come from singles the tunes tend to be more ‘immediate’, in the main funky, up-tempo numbers. The compositions are less distinctively spiritual jazz (although this term itself can be rather imprecise) but have broader spiritual influences, either in their message, inspiration or style of play.

The organ features heavily, whether it is the obscure Detroit jazz of the Nu Art Quartet, the Filipino jazz funk of William “Genghis” Kyle & The Horde’s “Bakit Ba” or The Milestones and their raw, energetic “Funk”.

There is also an exotic feel to the album – the aforementioned “Bakit Ba”, John Tinsey’s sensual “Freedom Excelsior” with it’s Moorish sax line, or Hozan Yamamoto’s “Spotlight on Sapporo”. Yamamoto is an interesting artist; he was a pioneer in pushing the boundaries of the shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute) beyond its use in traditional Japanese folk music. This track was originally titled “Yasuki-Bushi” and recorded in 1971 with the Big Band, Sharp and Flats. Philips Austria renamed it and released it as the B-side of a 7-inch with Wachauer Buam’s “Ja, So War’s in Sapporo” (a comment on Austrian skier Karl Schranz’s ban from the Sapporo Winter Olympics for admitting professionalism).

The most recent track is “Don’t Give Up Your Smile Today” by the German group Das Goldenes Zeitalter, a spiritual jazz side project of the group Poets of Rhythm. For me the vocals don’t quite work, coming across as somewhere between Edwyn Collins and Lloyd Cole. Given that the rest of the album comprises of tracks recorded at least a quarter of a decade beforehand it does feel out-of-place.

Putting the content to one side, the sound quality is patchy, either because the original recording/pressing or the sourced copy wasn’t great. This is particularly noticeable on quieter passages of “Mozambique” and “Bakit Ba”.

As a compilation, ”Peace Chant” lacks any real highlights although there are some interesting footnotes.

Tramp will release Volume 1 on vinyl and digitally, Volume 2 following shortly thereafter (with the pair being combined on one CD).

Andy Hazell

Esther Phillips ‘Capricorn Princess’ (SoulMusic) 4/5

esther-phillipsJazz and soul singer par excellence Esther Phillips recorded her seventh and final album for the Kudu/CTI label in 1976 when she was still aged just forty and this is the fourth in the series of re-issues of her classic 1970s period that Soul Music have wisely re-issued. With a top line-up of session musicians including the Brecker Brothers and Joe Farrell plus Pee Wee Ellis on various reeds, keyboardist Don Grolnick, percussionists Steve Gadd and Ralph MacDonald, and recorded at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder studios, this is an album that covers diverse territory in keeping with the eclectic approach to music of the lead singer. The newly emerging disco idiom proved to be a fertile terrain for an adaptable singer such as Phillips and the prototype disco of ‘Dream’ features the master drumming of Gadd, who propels the rhythm throughout. Meanwhile there is something of an impromptu jazz jam groove to ‘All the way down’, an Elton John original from 1973 that is reworked to good measure on this occasion. A major bonus on the expanded CD version is the inclusion of the 12″ medley version of ‘Magic’s in the air/Baby I really tied one on’, the former of which was originally composed by soul singer Ronnie Walker and MFSB/Salsoul Orchestra maestro and arranger Vince Montana. The latter song was of course a pop song by Janis Ian from the previous year of 1975. Phillips interest in fusing disparate styles is never better highlighted than on an updated reworking of Jackie Wilson’s immortal, ‘(Your love has lifted me) higher and higher’ which has a funky reggae guitar riff and lovely bass line. The left-field sounding ‘Dream’ has something of a Latin percussive element to it. As ever incisive inner sleeve notes which amounts to a mini essay, this time authored by A. Scott Galloway. The album reached the top forty of the Billboard R & B chart as well as the top thirty of the jazz charts which is testimony to her abiding versatility. Strongly recommended for music fans who like to mix their jazz and soul genres.

Tim Stenhouse

Kleeer ‘Get Tough – The Kleeer Anthology 1978-1985’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

kleeerFunk group Kleeer were capable of great subtlety in their music as well as utterly compelling dance grooves, and this is highlighted to the fore on this excellent value for money and well research anthology that spans the end of disco era, ending in the hi-tech era of the mid-1980s. Kleeer did not neatly fit into any one category and the evolving change in personnel helped to maintain a natural progression in their sound. Their first foray onto the dance floor came with the very first album which yielded a minor pop chart entry with ‘Keep your body workin’, which could almost be a summary slogan of the hedonistic late 1970s period. A second single, ‘Tonight’s the night (good time)’, made a brief entry into the R & B charts. With a stronger second album, the 1980 ‘Winners’ set, the band cemented their own sound and the title track was lodged just on the outside of the R & B top twenty. UK fans became more widely aware of their music with the 1981 album, License to dream’, which features the memorable dance floor stunner, ‘Get tough’, complete with a John Wayne sound alike impersonator and this was a top five US dance chart hit and made the top fifty of the UK pop charts. At this point new band members enlisted and the Kleeer sound took an another new dimension. While Slave had a distinctly harder edge and both Earth, Wind and Fire and Kool and the Gang softened their funk content in order to achieve major mainstream success, Kleeer remained a mainly underground band and released 1982’s album, ‘Taste the music’, with catchy synthesizer riffs on the title track and layered female vocals on top. From the same album comes ‘De Ting continues’ which has an amusing rap. Possibly the strongest track on the recording is the terrific funk-tinged boogie of ‘She said she loves me’, which deserved to be a bigger hit at the time, and here, is presented as the full 12″ version. A second album surfaced at the end of the same year, but failed to capture the public’s attention. However, with a further change of personnel and the inclusion of ace Brazilian producer Eumir Deodato, the band recorded was is generally considered to be their most critically acclaimed album, ‘Intimate Connection’, from 1984 that should have ensured pop chart success and it certainly reached the lower echelons. The title track is an epic slow jam which demonstrated how new technology could be utilised in a creative manner and the soulful male lead vocals top off what may be for some the ultimate Kleeer song. Equally soulful in intensity is the gorgeous ‘You did it again’, while soulful harmonies abound on the uptempo fender bass and synth-led ‘Go for it’, while the Earth, Wind and Fire’ influence on the harmonies is all too apparent on ‘Take your heart away’. Kleeer never quite managed to reach the dizzy heights of ‘Intimate Connection’ and the follow-up album, ‘Never cry again’, their distinctive former sound was swallowed up by the onset of synth bass and drums that led to uniformity in much of the dance world. That said, even here the group proved influential and it is arguable that a more pared down version of what Kleeer recorded on their final recording inspired artists of the magnitude of Prince to record a song such as ‘Kiss’.

Tim Stenhouse