Aparat ‘Aparat’ CD (Exit) 5/5

aparatAn improvisation-based album, in my view, tends to hang on the palette rather than the performance. Obviously, to a large degree, a wide ornamental, phrasal and dynamic vocabulary are beneficial elements, but the choice of instruments can be the strong foundation that is vital.
Aparat is a duo comprised of Marc Springer and Arthur Jeffes. Indeed, without any information, I had already felt a strong Penguin Cafe vibe to this record. And not in the new incarnation of Arthur Jeffes, but the one of his father’s. A throbbing harmonium and the occasional celeste give a pleasant parochial charm, evoking some rural chamber music. But there is more to this record than that.
Springer’s piano is the spine from which hangs a varied carcass. In “Annona” I heard strains of lounge, “Leger” pulled the toes of Brubeck, “Liga” has a pleasing child’s march or even a minuet, and on the closing “Matter”, the final note is suitably obtuse. An unsettling low note offering an awkward, unresolved feeling.
Peppering these vignettes are moments of vocal yelps (perhaps an owl on “Into The Moment”?), tricksy plucking of strings and woody bashing of surfaces. One of my favourite elements is the blending of the harmonium with the piano which can move from serene to funereal. It is a joy to hear the bellows driving in the background, an élan vital to the dry bones.

It is hard to know how much of this truly is on-the-fly and how much of it is a product of collaborative searching. It feels fluid and organic, however, so maybe this is a moot point. Parts wind in and out, dynamics rise and flow, suggesting a wider intention and effective collaborative atmosphere. The net result is that it makes sense. The constituent parts generate a tone of wandering a dale, to field-based chase scenes, misery in an inglenook, uncanny foreign factors in an otherwise familiar space, captured tension, wealth and loneliness…

If I had any criticism of this record, it’d be the length being just slightly too long for the casual listener. It has a hypnotic sensibility that may cause some minds to wander in the more extended sections. I think, however, the mainstay of the pieces are interesting, varied and original enough to carry most people. This is one that I will be returning to again and again, as I know there is detail I have missed and other stuff to stare at in the swelling noise.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Cannonball Adderley Quintet ‘You Got To Pay The Price To Be Free’ (Real Gone Music) 4/5

cannonball-adderley-quintetIf the title is familiar, the recording has been one of the harder to find albums that the band recorded on Capitol, produced by David Axelrod, capturing the quintet at a crossroads in their career, and thus the re-issue comes as a welcome relief, and follows on from previous albums from that same era when both Cannonball Adderley’s band and jazz more generally were in a state of flux. The band were soaking up new influences by the time this recording was being made and Brazilian music was uppermost among them. In fact, Cannonball’s love of Brazilian grooves goes back a decade or so to the early 1960s and a Riverside album recorded with the Sergio Mendes band (minus the later trademark vocalists, but scintillating nonetheless). This time round the sound is decidely funkier in hue and with a discernible social commentary element creeping through. A young Nat Adderley Jr (late to be guitarist in Luther Vandross’ 1980s band) delivers a social rap of sorts on the avowedly anti-Nixon title track, but it is his riff-laden acoustic guitar playing on ‘Down in the bottom’, that impresses most of all. Of interest to fans of modal jazz is the Joe Zawinul composition, ‘Painted desert’, that is impressionistic in tone, while Cannonball diversifies on soprano saxophone on, ‘Some time ago’, which does not sound as though it is the same number as the same titled piece on Return to Forever’s epic ECM debut recording just a couple of years later. The album was recorded live in the studio which gives it a slightly rougher edge and both Miles’ electric period (‘Bitches Brew’) and early Weather Report influences can be heard on repeated listens and indeed this was the very last Adderley band album that Zawinul recorded on before co-founding the groundbreaking jazz-fusion pioneers. Of note to those new to jazz is the soulful and funky treatment of ‘Bridges’, a Brazilian classic penned by Milton Nascimento that has subsequently been sampled by hip-hop artists.

Tim Stenhouse

BADBADNOTGOOD ‘IV’ LP/CD/DIG (Innovative Leisure) 4/5

badbadnotgoodBADBADNOTGOOD or BBNG in the shortened form, are a Toronto based quartet of musicians that amalgamate their jazz, hip hop, funk and electronica influences to create a fresh, young and vibrant sound that has led to a certain amount of success for the group so very early on in their career.
Established in 2010 as a trio, they originally met as students and much of their early work and performances centred on the group remaking hip hop classics and other contemporary pieces but within a live perspective. These included covers of ‘Fall in Love’ (Slum Village), ‘Mass Appeal’ (Gang Starr) and modern day electronic classic ‘CMYK’, an early James Blake 12” on R&S. They have also displayed their respectable jazz chops on all their previous recordings, of which there are now four studio LPs, two live LPs and a collaborative album project with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah in 2015 with ‘Sour Soul’ on the UK’s Lex Records.
BBNG currently consist of Matthew A. Tavares on keyboards, Alexander Sowinski on drums and samples, Chester Hansen on upright and electric bass and previous regular contributor, Leland Whitty, has now become a full-time member of the band providing saxophone, guitar, violin and viola.

The very appropriately titled new album ‘IV’ on the LA-based Innovative Leisure Records reinforces BBNG’s contemporaneous notion of jazz, by incorporating numerous elements but maintaining strong musical performances, and here, the group have written all the songs but have also for the first time utilised guest vocalist on 3 out of the 11 tracks. These include Future Island vocalist Sam Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, a sombre bluesy soul number that has a slight Bobby Womack feel, Charlotte Day Wilson, who’s an interesting folk-come-soul vocalist also from Toronto on ‘In Your Eyes’ for another soul stirrer and finally rapper Mick Jenkins performs on ‘Hyssop of Love’. Personally I would have preferred an instrumental here, although lyrically, the Chicago MC is competent enough.

There are also a number of downbeat instrumentals with ‘Chompy’s Paradise’, ‘And That, Too’ and the Axelrod-esque ‘Structure No. 3’. But their jazz background returns in ‘Cashmere’, with some fluid piano movements and the additional trumpet parts work well with the composition. And ‘Lavender’ which features another fellow Canadian and man of the moment Kaytranada, sounds like a funky John Carpenter movie cue from the early 1980s.

BBNG’s music does possess a slightly demo quality – but in a good way. There are imperfections, not musical ones, but more holistically. There are better jazz musicians out there, the mixes are little unbalanced, the studio recording not perfect, but for a young four-piece instrumental funk/jazz/hip hop group their success has been astounding. The album is young, fresh but also a bit grimy – which reflects their musical upbringing. You can hear a bit of Dilla in there, a bit of The Headhunters, moody film soundtracks, Southern soul licks, modern electronica, dusty 45s – it’s all very well acknowledged, presented and slightly twisted on the album.

I would argue that BADBADNOTGOOD are still growing and evolving and are very much a work in progress. This is a very strong set, but they are still very young and hopefully have a long career ahead of them.

Catch them live at Electric Brixton, London on 1st November.

Damian Wilkes

Masabumi Kikuchi ‘Black Orpheus’ CD/DIG (ECM) 4/5

masabumi-kikuchiSix or seven years ago my musical odyssey, that seemingly never-ending quest for new and exciting sounds, found me digging deeper into Japanese Jazz from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. This particular interest (some might say hawkish obsession, others waste of money, depending on whether you were interested in my mental health or my pecuniary status) was sparked by hearing Fumio Itabashi’s symphonic version of “Watarase” on Gilles Peterson’s show. Admittedly this version of “Watarase” was a later recording, but one that served as a gateway to the Japanese domestic market and great albums by the likes of Akira Miyazawa, Takehiro Honda, Sadao Watanabe and the artist behind this album, pianist and composer Masabumi Kikuchi. Affectionately known as “Poo Sun” or simply “Poo”, his early albums, modal jazz masterpieces like “End of the Beginning”, “East Wind” or “Hollow Out” with Elvin Jones, remain firm favourites. Like many jazz musicians of his generation electric era Miles was a significant influence and as the ‘70s progressed Kikuchi’s albums veered into jazz fusion/funk territory, although still retaining an idiosyncratic charm.
In later years Kikuchi resolved to find his own sound and his music became a personal journey, performing with kindred spirits like Paul Motian, moving away from traditional song forms towards self-realisation in music.

“Black Orpheus” is a solo piano recital recorded at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall on 26 October 2012, Kikuchi’s final album before he passed away last year at the age of 75. Without wishing to sound overly sentimental it’s fitting that his last album should be recorded in his hometown, as he’d moved to New York in the ‘70s.

The album comprises of 9 wholly improvised pieces, sparingly titled Tokyo, Parts I through IX, and two arrangements, the title track (actually “Manhã de Carnaval” the main theme from Black Orpheus), a version of the Brazilian classic penned by Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria, and “Little Abi”, written by Kikuchi.

This is not an easy listening experience, but under the right conditions it is utterly spellbinding. For me it requires a single-minded focus on the music, working best when you can block out other distractions. Stripped of additional instrumentation it’s music at it’s purest, an almost spontaneous expression of ideas, feelings and emotions. It’s intensely personal, an insight into Kikuchi’s inner monologue, a ‘conversation’ that occasionally spills out audibly as he grunts and murmurs whilst performing. I get the sense that Kikuchi found an inner peace during this performance; yes, there are passages of energy, some discordant (during “Tokyo III”, or “..V” for example), unsettling even, but overwhelmingly the sense is of tenderness, sensitivity and contemplation, expressed through unhurried passages of play, of long, lingering notes, moments of silence and gentle melodic phrases. Tracks like “Tokyo Part IX” and “Little Abi” are quite stunning in their beauty. Kikuchi first recorded the latter, written for his daughter, on saxophonist Kohsuke Mine’s 1970 debut; it’s a composition that he has returned to over his career.

On the face of it the choice of “Black Orpheus” seems a little incongruous. In Kikuchi’s hands however it is eminently sympathetic retaining a lot of the sadness inherent in Samba-Canção, but without being overly sentimental.

For me listening to this album has a transformative quality. I’d liken it to watching a film at a cinema in the middle of the day; without realising it your mind is taken elsewhere, an impact that only becomes apparent when you leave and re-enter the world going about it’s business. Masabumi Kikuchi, you will be missed, but fortunately your music lives on.

Andy Hazell

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band ‘Got A Mind To Give Up Living: Live 1966’ (Real Gone Music) 4/5

paul-butterfieldPreviously unissued, this live gem from ace Chicago blues band captures the band in the intimate setting of the Unicorn Coffee House in Boston circa 1966 and was taped by an aficionado. It is important historically firstly because the band were never officially recorded live and the classic R &B, blues-rock, jazz influences, and mixture of clovers and band originals stand the test of time and follows on from the group’s major national breakthrough at the Rhode Island Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Secondly, the band were symbolically making a significant statement of resistance to segregationist philosophy with a visibly racially integrated band, and in their own way, of similar intent and persuasion to Sly and the Family Stone. This was a never repeated line-up with Billy Davenport on drums, Jerome Arnold on bass, as well as the tried and trusted Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield on guitar and vocals with the leader doubling up on guitar, blues harp and vocals.
From a strictly musical perspective, in spite of sound quality limitations which is a tad tinny in parts, the atmospheric live feel more than compensates and the musicianship is second to none. This varies from a rollocking reading of the blues, ‘Born in Chicago’, complete with electric guitar, ad-libs and powerful lead vocals, to some funky New Orleans R & B flavours on the Allen Toussaint penned, ‘Get out of my life woman’, which features fine interplay between rhythm guitar, organ and tambourine percussion. A mid-tempo groove is created on ‘Got my mojo working’, while horn riffs adorn the drum roll intro to, ‘Comin’ home baby’. The versatility of this band is demonstrated on the jazz standard, ‘Work song’, where Butterfield adopts a surf-style guitar over the instantly recognisable chorus riff and with a gorgeous harmonica solo intro.

Formerly a bootleg, this recording is now officially available to a wider public and a key marker to an era. Seven pages of informative inner sleeve notes by Chris Morris are accompanied by some excellent black and white photos of the band at their peak in live performance plus a lovely DIY Hootenanny flyer that speaks volumes of the era. An important historical document of where both the blues and race relations were at in mid-1960s in the United States.

Tim Stenhouse

Amp Fiddler ‘Motor City Booty’ (Midnight Riot) 3/5

amp-fiddlerFor the uninitiated, Joseph ‘Amp’ Fiddler is a bit of a Detroit legend. After studying jazz in his younger years, Amp began working with local soul group Enchantment before joining George Clinton’s P-Funk All Stars in the 1980s on tour and later in the studio. During this time he was also actively working with a variety of other notable artists including Prince (on ‘Graffiti Bridge’), Seal and Was Not Was. But Amp has also never been afraid to work with underground artists and producers, especially Detroit’s electronic pioneers Moodyman, Theo Parrish and he was also part of the excellent Detroit Experiment project in the mid 2000s.
And it was in 2003 that Amp released ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’, not his debut album, but the record that put him into the consciousness of many DJs and music fans especially in the UK, where the toured extensively during this period. Amp’s Detroit mix of funk, soul and hip hop grooves, with contributions from J Dilla, Raphael Saadiq and John Arnold struck a chord with music listeners, and is probably seen as the pinnacle of his solo material, with the album being one my favourites of that decade.
But Amp has continued to release music since this zenith and it’s here that we have his new album, ‘Motor City Booty’, released on Midnight Riot records, owned by UK remix and production team Yam Who? This 11-track set features a blend of styles and sounds, from 80s boogie references, 1960s soul shuffles, soulful house grooves and modern funk licks – so a very mixed bag, with production duties held entirely by Yam Who?

So covering the album, and ‘Return of the Ghetto Fly’ (using similar chords to Sade’s ‘Nothing Can Come Between Us’) with its boogie bassline and warm guitar riffs was a highlight and a nice follow-up to the track that gave him so much attention in 2003. ‘Superficial’ is a remake of a track with the same name also from the ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’ album, so a little bit of a strange choice, but enjoyable nonetheless. ‘Stepping’ and ‘Your Love Is All I Need’ will both very much appeal to the soulful house crew and will do well on Trax Source and Beatport. And ‘I Got It’ returns to boogie flavourings with its rich Moog-type bass, electric pianos and catchy chorus hook.

Not as successful is ‘Soul Fly, Pt. 1’, the 1960s Detroit soul return, but the featured vocal trio Dames Brown are charming, but sonically it lacked authenticity. And the ‘1960 What?’ remake, Gregory Porter’s monster hit did not work with its static four-on-the-floor drums sounding old fashioned and static.

I feel that generally the production on ‘Motor City Booth’ is not poor, but a bit stiff, a little straight. It needed greater use of bridges; more musical changes and a bit more of that rugged but smooth Detroit-ness – more Motor City (Booty). I would have loved a track produced by Moodyman, a loop by Theo, maybe Amp over an old J Dilla beat like he did with ‘Unconditional Eyes’ and ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’, a co-lab with Andrés, and so on. It’s not to say that Yam Who? are not great producers as I have loads of their re-edits, remixes and productions, but Amp sounded confined at times, a little boxed in, but his performances and playing, both on vocals and keys, are always impeccable – but the music around him stunted his expressiveness.

Amp Fiddler is a unique artist in that he bridges the gap between the old and the new. Amp was mentored by George Clinton, and in-turn he mentored J Dilla. He’s been a solid contributor to most members of the Detroit electronic music fraternity over the last few decades, but he still makes great music himself. I was luckily enough to talk to him once after a gig and chat about Dilla (he was still alive then), George Clinton (he’s part of George’s current touring band) and Enchantment and he was such a cool guy. And I feel he still has another classic album in him, but he was let down a little production-wise here on ‘Motor City Booty’.

Damian Wilkes

Yana Bibb ‘Afternoon in Paris’ (Dixiefrog) 4/5

yana-bibbA real grower of an album that blues fans would be wise not to overlook Yana Bibb is none other than the daughter of present day blues singer-songwriter Eric Bibb. Unlike her father, Yana has carefully avoided covering identical terrain and instead what comes across is a wide-ranging interest in essentially the black American musical experience. The fact that Yana Bibb was born in Manhattan, grew up in part in Sweden (she is in fact Swedish-American and doubtless has a similar open-minded approach to different cultures that Neneh Cherry has, with a Swedish-American heritage herself), but studied in New York means that the album has a wider audience in mind and will surprise. Recorded in Stockholm by Steffan Astner and with top Swedish musicians on board, the soulful R& B influences intermingle nicely with more conventional blues. Indeed Bibb impresses on the jazz standard, ‘Black Coffee’, with sensitive accompaniment on piano by John Rangel and on a swinging and breezy rendition of ‘New home’ and having John Lewis of the modern Jazz Quartet as your great uncle probably helps improve your knowledge of the jazz tradition. Her voice is versatile, but delicate and wispy in tone and that serves her well on the downtempo ‘For you’. If one had to compare her to any other current vocalist, then Norah Jones would not be far off the mark and with sufficient promotion, the album has significant potential to reach well beyond the confines of a broad-minded blues audience. That Bibb is aware of her family’s towering contribution is left in doubt on, ‘Before you go’, which is a heartfelt tribute to her grandfather, Leon Bibb. The voice will only improve with time, but at this juncture the future looks rosy for Yana Bibb and the repertoire is extremely varied, with the chanteuse confident enough to include two songs in Swedish which are gentle and reposing.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Boombox: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 1979-82’ 3LP/2CD/DIG (Soul Jazz) 5/5

boomboxHip Hop has clearly changed a great deal since 1979 when the first rap records were being released. But a monumental paradigm shift production wise came in 1982 with Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’, which was to give birth to a more technology driven genre that led on to the ubiquitous use of drum machines and synthesisers, such as the Roland TR-808, Oberheim DMX and the Linn Drum. This more electronic production style was to dominate until Marley Marl began sampling in 1986.
But in the early years from 1979 to 1982, rap records reflected the live and organic sensibilities of those park jams and block parties. MCs would rhyme non-stop for 15 minutes, there were no vocal hooks or choruses and lyrically the content was very much party driven, even during the height of Reaganomics.
And importantly prior to 1982 – Hip Hop was made by musicians. The process of making hip hop records pre-‘Planet Rock’ was achieved by assembling a bunch of studio session musicians, who would then create the instrumentals for the MCs to rap over. These instrumentals were commonly replayed grooves and breakbeat elements of records that the DJs at the time were playing in the parties around New York. So thus, there was a sense of integrity and authenticity from recordings made during this early period that I feel has never returned.

And this is how ‘Rapper’s Delight’ came about in 1979 and changed the world, but except for a few records on Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill Records, and some of the more popular pieces on Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Funky 4 and The Treacherous Three recorded for both) many of the records from this somewhat forgotten era are unknown to most.

But hundreds of hip hop 12” singles were released between 1979 and 1982 after the success of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, most issued on tiny independent labels that are now very obscure, and as this is where this Soul Jazz compilation comes in. The one point I would make is regards the compilation title and the use of the word ‘Electro’, as none of the tracks here are what I would call Electro and so this is a bit misleading.

It’s difficult to pinpoint highlights as they are all worthy, but Bon-Rock & The Rhythm Rebellion ‘Searching Rap’ is a remake of Unlimited Touch ‘Searching To Find The One’, and so will appeal to boogie enthusiasts.

Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous Three ‘New Rap Language’ from 1980 is probably one of my favourite hip hop records of all time and was one of the first import 12” singles I ever bought. It was produced by Pumpkin (not Bobby Robinson as the label states), who was a young but very influential musician and producer who worked on many early rap records, and here, he also played drums on this much sampled and revered record. Pumpkin unfortunately died of pneumonia in the early 1990s before his contribution to hip hop was fully realised and acknowledged.

Willie Wood & The Willie Wood Crew ‘Willie Rap’ is another rap remake, this time it’s the pretty obscure Johnson Products ‎‘Johnson Jumpin’ instrumental, which were both released on the now sort after Sound of New York label, one of Peter Brown’s family of disco, boogie and early rap labels.

One track that merits some attention is Mistafide ‘Equidity Funk’ which uses Rhythm Heritage ‘Theme from S.W.A.T.’ for its backing – the classic breakbeat staple. Original copies of this record on Land of Hits (another Peter Brown label) fetch between £2000-£4000. I’ve never seen a copy and so I bought the reissue a few years ago for £7. I’m not sure why it warrants this price as it’s a good record but others on here are technically better and more influential.

This compilation underlines this crucial but relatively undocumented time in hip hop history and is very accessible to most music fans and not specifically the hip hop community. It’s pressed on double CD and triple vinyl, and apparently the CD version contains a 40-page booklet of notes, which Soul Jazz are traditionally very good at.

Very recommended.

Damian Wilkes

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life ‘Nihil Novi’ CD/DIG (Blue Note) 3/5

marcus-stricklandSax man Marcus Strickland has been making some noise on the US jazz scene for a little while now and I first heard of him when he released his ‘Open Reel’ album back in 2007. He has obviously impressed someone at Blue Note as this is his proper debut release in conjunction with Revive Music.
The success of Robert Glasper still looms large at Blue Note and I am sure they hope to find the next Mr. Glasper. On first glance, this album does have 3 or so tracks with vocals on, does feature Robert Glasper himself on a couple of cuts as well as Robert’s sometime drummer & touring drummer with Erykah Badu – Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave. Plus a majority of the songs are nice and bite sized at under 5 mins a go. Not that those are negative factors but to the trained cynical eye, it could mean something.
My fears were mostly allayed due to the huge talents of Meshell Ndegeocello on the production duties. I wasn’t wrong there because what you have is a modern, hip jazz album with a subtly funk and hip-hop aesthetic (and I do mean ‘subtly’).
For those of you who want a jazz album where instruments are played and not simply played with, then this is your album. For those who like some soulful vocals, then that’s here for you also.

I think the strength of this album is that Marcus has not amassed a huge array of people in the studio. What you get for the most part is a quartet or quintet and the odd guest such as Glasper, Dave or the vocals of Jean Baylor.

Cuts to look out for are the first one ‘Tic Toc’ with its chanting vocals, ‘Alive’ with Ms Baylor on vocal and a lovely saxophone solo from Strickland; ‘Drive’ which is very nice instrumental showing off what the author can do.
‘Celestulude’ is also worthy of a mention – featuring Keyon Harrold on trumpet and Robert Glasper.

The album rounds out with ‘Mirrors’ with Ndegeocello on electric bass. This has a nice African dance feel to it before coming to a halt midway and taking the tempo right down to a slow soulful groove.

A good debut for Blue Note which should earn him some praise.

Sammy Goulbourne