Jeff Parker ‘New Breed’ LP/CD/DIG (International Anthem) 3/5

jeff-parkerJeff Parker’s take on music is most succinctly articulated by the artist himself on the landing page of his website – “I’m mainly a guitar player. I like to make music in many different ways”. This pick and mix approach took hold early on. As a kid he played in jazz and rock bands and whilst fellow Berklee graduates Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner took the well trodden route to New York, Parker decided to go in the opposite direction, to Chicago. Here he found himself actively involved in a number of different scenes, loosely connected by their experimental nature. Parker’s resumé to date encompasses improvised jazz with fellow AACM members Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell and Ernest Dawkins, avant-garde sounds with the Chicago Underground Collective, as well as post-rock, with bands like Tortoise and Isotope 217°. Most recently Parker featured heavily on label mate, Makaya McCraven 2015 release, “In the Moment”.
“New Breed” is Parker’s fifth album as a leader. The compositional process started out as a series of beats and loops that Parker has been working on whilst he was learning how to edit and sample like his hip-hop heroes Dilla, Premier and RZA. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013/14, in part because he needed new musical challenges, and revisited these projects, building the compositional ideas and sharing them with his collaborators, bassist Paul Bryan, drummers Jamire Williams and Jay Bellerose (who appears on one track, a cover of the late Bobby Hutcherson’s “Visions”), saxophonist Josh Johnson. Parker enlisted his daughter Ruby to sing on the only vocal track, “Cliche”.

Overall the sound has a low tech, DIY feel to it, looped samples embellished with a mixture of composed and improvised playing. Tracks like “Here Comes Ezra” and the aforementioned “Cliche” retain that art-pop/post-rock vibe Parker has picked up during his time with Tortoise. Elsewhere the tone is funkier, with emphatic drumming underpinning Parker’s jazzy, lyrical stylings (think Grant Green or early George Benson) on “Get Dressed” and “How Fun it is to Year Whip”.

I have to admit that having read generally good media reviews before listening to the album I was somewhat underwhelmed by the results. The tone is a little too low-key, and as a whole isn’t really expansive or colourful enough to elevate any of the tracks beyond a fairly half-hearted OK. “Jrifted” is a good case in point. It samples a personal favourite, Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming”, and therefore could easily have been the track to turn round my apathy, but it seems to run out of ideas towards the end looping into a repetitive round of drums and guitar licks. A sure sign that my attention was not being held was that after a while I found myself getting slightly distracted by the heavy, metronomic drumming on this and other tracks.

For me this album throws out some interesting ideas without blowing me away in their execution. The search for the perfect cross of jazz with hip-hop continues..

Andy Hazell

Coffee – Slippin’ and Dippin’ (BBR) 3/5

coffeeBest known in the UK for the disco stormer, ‘Casanova’, included here in its full length 12″ version, Coffee were in actual fact a deeply soulful trio of female singers (not dissimilar in some respects to The Emotions) hailing from that most soulful of cities, Chicago, and were far more adept and diverse at soul music than at first appears. If anything, the success of ‘Casanova’ conceals their true musical roots and confined them at the very end of the disco era. What should have been a modern soul classic in ‘Mom and Dad (1980)’ with classy spoken intro became resigned to a medium hit in their home city, reworking the 1969 original by The Lovelites. The same re-interpretation would result in their defining moment for ‘Casonova (Your Playing Days Are Over)’ was first of all a 1967 hit for Ruby Andrews who made a top ten R&B hit out of it, before a second and, for some definitive version, was cut by then deep southern soul diva Loleatta Holloway (soon to be crowned a disco diva) in 1975 on the superb album, ‘Cry to me’. Coffee modernised the sound again with a driving, relentless percussive beat and the rest is history.
In truth nothing on the album’s uptempo numbers eclipsed ‘Casanova’, but a close second choice can be found in, ‘Can’t you get to this’, which has a proto-boogie bass line. It was, however, the title track that became the actual follow up and once again was a heavyweight slice of disco on the soulful side, but not quite on par with its predecessor. A second album followed for De-Lite records that failed to deliver a hit and the group were subsequently dropped from the label. Had Coffee been nurtured by an independent soul label, then we might have heard a great deal more of their music and they briefly recorded for the Chicago Midwest label directly prior to signing for De-Lite in 1979. As it is, their modern soul credentials were lost in the hedonistic disco era and their true soulful vibes somewhat overlooked and undervalued.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘DJ Spinna presents Wonder of Stevie Vol. 3’ 2LP/2CD/DIG (BBE Music) 4/5

DJspinnaRe-workings of Stevie Wonder classics is very much de rigueur this summer with the man himself performing for some four hours live in London, performing, ‘Songs in the key of life’, in its entirety. This latest volume by musician, producer and vinyl crate digger, DJ Spinna further delves into the archives and proves, if nothing else, that there is a seemingly bottomless pit of alternatives to the original compositions. However, DJ Spinna goes one step further by including a Billy Preston original in the Stevie Wonder tradition that features the latter on harmonica and background vocals.
One of the enduring elements of the Wonder magic from the 1970s was Stevie’s ability to soak up new musical trends and incorporate them into his own distinctive sound. Latin music in New York was enjoying a new golden era with Salsa and ‘Pastime Paradise’ reflected that infectious percussive beat. While Ray Barretto’s take on this is still the definitive re-take (arguably even stronger than the original), Sunlightsquare offer up a wonderful updated Reggaeton meets Salsa interpretation, with a stunning bass line coupled with beefy Latin percussion. Bossa hues are evident on ‘Golden lady’ from Reel People featuring Tony Monrelle on vocals, with fender and synths an affectionate harking back to the 1970s even though this version dates from 2011.

Carl Anderson scored an early 1980s underground soul hit with the breezy version of ‘Buttercup’, but interestingly the Jackson Five with Michael on lead had beaten him to it with an excellent 1970s interpretation that sounds as though the brothers were now past the Motown pop-oriented sound and entering more sophisticated musical terrain with Philly soul a next destination. For a left-field contender, look no further than the John Minnis Big Band and, You’re in need of love today’. The Donny Hathaway influenced lead vocals are a joy to behold and the jazzy keyboards add a new dimension to the song. Elsewhere the Latin shuffle in the drum intro to, ‘If you don’t love me’ by G.C. Cameron impresses, while Stax flavours emerge loud and clear from David Porter’s emphatic and gritty reading of ‘I don’t know why I love you’.

Finally, if this writer had to whittle down some memorable Stevie Wonder covers, then they would probably include Michael MacDonald’s ‘Living for the city’, The Players Association’s instrumental take on ‘ I wish’ in addition to the aforementioned Ray Barretto English language slice of Latin-soul. Part of the fun of this kind of compilation is that it immediately invites comparisons elsewhere and on this score alone, is more than worth the admission price.

Tim Stenhouse

Clarice & Sérgio Assad ‘Relíquia’ CD/DIG (Adventure Music) 5/5

clarice-segio-assadThis album got me thinking about the significance of family relationships in music. Am I the only one who thinks there must be something in the fact that there are quite so many familial connections in popular Brazilian music? The offspring of hugely successful artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Luiz Gonzaga have followed in their illustrious parent’s footsteps. There are also sibling links, take for example Caetano Veloso/Maria Bethânia, Quarteto Em Cy, Chico Buarque/Miúcha (who was also married to João Gilberto with whom she had Bebel Gilberto). Whatever the reasons for this, and I’m sure there are different stories to tell, I’m sure that nurture is an important factor. This sense seems to be validated by “Relíquia”, a magical album written and performed by Clarice and her father Sérgio as a “homage” to the musical legacy of their family. This idea is established before a single note has been played, by the evocative portrait on the front cover of a young Clarice staring off into the distance, either unaware of the attention of the camera or doing her defiant best to feign disinterest whilst her father tries to capture the perfect moment with his daughter.
Sérgio is one of the most eminent classical guitarists around today, regularly performing with his younger brother Odair, with whom he has won two Latin Grammys. His repertoire spans music from Brazil and elsewhere in South America as well as Jazz and Classical genres. Clarice’s musical path has taken a similar direction, with a string of jazz/brazilian albums behind her, as well as writing, performing and arranging classical music, working most recently as the resident arranger for the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

The music crafted for this album is at times spellbinding, an exquisite blend of Jazz, Choro, Bossa Nova and Classical. It’s uncomplicated, by which I mean it’s elemental rather than lacking twists and turns. Essentially it’s father and daughter and a couple of instruments. Making good music can be that simple at times. Okay, maybe I make this sound a little too simple; there are supporting musicians on some of the tracks but the sound and inspirations come from Clarice and her father.

Clarice sings and/or scats on five of the compositions. Her style is intimate, emotional, her phrasing and emphasis perfect. If you are looking for a point of reference then Joyce would be a good start, although Clarice’s timbres have stronger inflections of Jazz. Her use of scat and other vocalisation techniques, influenced by her aunt, singer/songwriter Badi Assad, adds different and interesting textures. Sérgio’s guitar playing is enchanting, creating wonderfully colourful and detailed melodies, conveyed with nuance, virtuosic subtlety and grace. Together there is an easy, unforced chemistry, not so much father – daughter, but a meeting of equals.

There are a couple of up-tempo numbers, the opener “Cidade”, and the lively “Capoeira”, which builds with the same speed, power and intensity as a jogo de Capoeira. Mainly though this is an album of sensitivity, sentimental without being cloying, of gentle songs that are most rewarding when you can give them your full attention, not on a packed train on the way to work or whilst mowing the lawn. The highlight for me is “Ventos”. It’s a stirring, wonderfully evocative piece featuring Clarice on piano and wordless, inventive vocals. It’s at once uplifting and flighty, before switching, as wind does, into something more ominous, and then just as quickly switching back again. I’ve listened to this album a lot over the past couple of weeks and this tune still has the power to stop me in my tracks.

The concepts of family and legacy are specifically addressed in two solo compositions written in the choro style, the self-explanatory “Song For My Father” featuring Clarice on the piano, and “Jorginho do Bandolim”, written by Sergio for his father, but in truth the whole album reverberates with sentiments of familial affection.

Too late I found out that Clarice was playing at The Pheasantry in Chelsea. Until she comes to the UK again I’ll have to content myself with as well-rounded and consistently strong album as I’ve heard this year.

Andy Hazell