Various ‘Jazz in Italian Cinema’ LP only (Jazz on Film) 4/5

For a brief period in the late 1950s until the early 1960s and the rapid emergence of rock and roll, cinema regularly drew up on jazz music as its evocative soundtrack and, in the case of Italian cinema, this coincided with a particularly fertile period in Italian cinema. All of the ‘big three’ of post WWII cinema composers in Italy (Piero Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Piccioni) used jazz music as the background to their film soundtrack work and this provides a good deal of the material on this single vinyl set. Unlike in France, where swing jazz was closely associated with resistance to German occupation, in Italy jazz did not fare as well since under Mussolini and the fascists the music was banned altogether. It was only really from the mid-late 1950s onwards that jazz began to be heard in the country. Arguably, the first example of jazz and cinema combining harmoniously is to be found in the young Rome born composer, Piero Umiliani who, in 1957, released the influential album, ‘Da Roma a New York’. A further EP yielded, ‘Blues for Gassman Pt.1’, that is included here. While the single vinyl offering only provides the briefest of glimpses into the musical universe of Italian cinema, and a more comprehensive overview of jazz in Italian cinema is urgently required, similar to CD box set projects on French and Polish national cinemas (and that is indeed a feasible endeavour), this very first incursion into the musical world of Italian cinema is not without its significant merits, not least because it introduces us to some obscure and extremely hard to find music that has remained largely unknown to jazz aficionados. Who for example has previously sampled the delights of Chet Baker as invited guest with Italian octet performing in 1959? Even the most seasoned of Chet fans would probably only be familiar with his later 1962 studio release, ‘Chet in Milan’. Elsewhere, Argentine tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, then a resident in Italy, is the only international jazz musician of note to be showcased here. Of course, he would be the composer and performer of the 1972 Bernardo Bertolucci film, ‘Last tango in Paris’, that won plaudits for its musical content as well as the controversial nature of the film. How many non-Italian jazz musicians sought refuge in Italy over the decades? France is well chronicled, but that would be an aspect that a future edition could potentially address. Baker re-emerges as a guest on, ‘Oscar is the back’, part of the soundtrack by Dino Risi to the 1959 film, ‘The Widower’.

Interestingly, the majority of the music was composed by Italian pianists who were attracted to jazz, with Giorgio Gaslini a prime example who performs on the Michelangelo Antonioni classic, ‘La Notte’, with Jeanne Moreau (who features on the vinyl sleeve front cover) and Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni. The moody, ‘Blues All’alba’ is a definite highlight here. The music was in fact recorded live on set and in this respect the improvised nature of the music is comparable to jazz. Some five years later, Antonini would call upon pianist Herbie Hancock to compose music for the title to his London-based cult film, ‘Blow up’. The theme from this was recorded on a 1967 Blue Note album under Bobby Hutcherson’s leadership, ‘Oblique’, that featured Hancock on piano and came out on vinyl only in Japan and, more generally, on CD in 1990. A question does need to be raised of how committed were the composers to jazz beyond this narrow period of interest. In other words, did they ever use the idiom of jazz again, or was it more of a case that jazz was no longer perceived as in-vogue and rock and roll flavours held sway with younger directors as well as the evergreen attraction of using western classical music to accompany films?

The album is likely to appeal to broad-minded jazz fans who are curious about the relationship between jazz and cinema on the one hand, and cinema fans on the other, who are interested in soundtracks and how the two art forms interact. What helps to bring them together here is the quality of the digitally enhanced black and white photos and the loving care of the presentation with great credit due to the in-depth sleeve notes of Jazzwise writer Selwyn Harris and Sienna-based jazz archivist and author, Francesco Martinelli. This is an Anglo-Italian collaboration we would very much wish to encourage and hope for further fruits. This helps greatly to compensate for the brevity of the musical time. What we now require is a meatier follow up that takes the story further and begins to fill in some of the key questions that this releases raised: at what point do more contemporary Italian jazz musicians of the calibre of trumpeter Enrico Rava, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and even drummer Romano Mussolini enter the equation? Was the period 1957-1962 a mere one-off, or did jazz musicians at a later stage equally engage in soundtrack work? For the time being, this worthy release opens up a pandora’s box of fascinating questions, and Italian jazz is still very much outside of the country and its close neighbour in France where Italian jazz musicians, like actors, have always been welcomed with open arms.

Tim Stenhouse

Myele Manzanza ‘OnePointOne [Live at the Blue Whale]’ LP/DIG (First Word) 5/5

November and December tend to be fairly quiet for new releases as our collective attention turns towards the festive season. Indeed, I doubt whether I would have known of Myele Manzanza’s latest album if it wasn’t for, of all things, an ad that popped up in my Facebook feed. Qualms about the evils of data sharing to one side, on this occasion I was thankful for the heads up. As you can tell from our 2016 end-of-year charts so were the rest of the team.
Manzanza’s debut, “One”, was originally released in New Zealand in 2012 before being picked up and given a wider distribution by BBE Music in 2013. “One Point One”, as the name suggests, is not an entirely new project, but an iteration stemming from the creativity ideas and musical vision expressed in the original. It’s a live recording of Manzanza’s first show in the US, featuring tracks from “One”, several covers and the odd original thrown in for good measure. The intention had only been to capture a live video of the song “City of Atlantis”, but on listening back to the whole set Manzanza felt it was strong enough to release as a long player.

Manzanza was formally schooled in Jazz, but has an outlook that extends well beyond this into hip-hop, beats, dance and electronica. “One” summed this all up nicely, but it’s definitely a studio production and one that needed adjustments to work live.

To help translate this into a live experience, Manzanza brought together fellow Kiwis, Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys), who’d played on the album, and Ben Shepherd (bass) to form the core trio. The addition of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s Quartetto Fantastico (Chris Woods and Paul Cartwright (violin), Peter Jacobson (cello) and the man himself (viola)) is a masterstroke as their sound adds further depth and texture.

The album begins with “A Love Eclectic”, the bait that Facebook used to lure me in in the first place. It’s a take on “Acknowledgement” from “A Love Supreme”, with viola leading the way instead of saxophone, surrounded by shimmering waves of sound from piano and drums. The drama and energy it gives off creates a great opening statement.

Later on, Atwood-Ferguson’s lead works even better on another jazz classic, the Bobby Hutcherson number “Montara”. This tune, a favourite of Manzanza’s, perfectly highlights the symbiosis of the old and the new; it’s classic Blue Note, but it’s also been reworked by Madlib. Drums replace the metronomic percussion of the original, the soothing sound of the strings stretching out and taking wing. It’s a wonderfully sensitive, warm moment.

“Absent Fade”, another of the string pieces, features an energetic solo from Mark De Clive-Lowe on piano that builds and builds. I’ve tended to think of Mark outside the Jazz genre, but it’s clear from his playing on this album that he’s got what it takes.

“7 Bar Thing” is the first of the tracks from “One”. In it’s original form it’s an out-and-out dance floor tune; this version retains all the vitality, with forceful drums and heavy bass, but pushes it a bit more into jazz funk territory, with some nice piano fills.

“Circumstances” gives Manzanza a chance to show us what he can do before the interval. Throughout this track and the album as a whole his playing is on point; punchy and driven where it needs to be, open and more communicative at other times.

The second half opens with a Theo Parrish cover, “Love is War for Miles”. Like “7 Bar Thing”, Manzanza’s arrangement maintains that sense of direction and purpose of the dance floor, whilst adding colour and variety to the melody.

The album ends with “City of Atlantis” featuring the whole group, plus Nia Andrews and Charlie K on vocals. Both strings and keys echo like recorded loops, only with more emphasis and tension. It’s a fitting climax to an enjoyable and varied album.

Myele Manzanza is playing at the Archspace in East London on 13 April.

Andy Hazell

Michel Polnareff ‘A L’Olympia 2016’ 2CD + Limited edition 3CD/4LP (Blue Wrasse) 5/5

Among the genuine French pop musicians who came to prominence in the mid-1960s, Jacques Dutronc, Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy are generally considered to be the most successful and ones genuinely capable of rivaling their British counterparts. However, one name is missing from that list and that is Michel Polnareff, nicknamed ‘L’Amiral’ (‘Admiral’) with his trademark white sunglasses and outlandish dress sense. His eponymous 1967 debut recording became a cult classic, with ‘Love me, please love me’ capturing the flavour of late 1960s Paris, and indeed Polnareff continued into the early 1970s. At which point, he decided to move ship to the west coast of the United States and stopped recording altogether. Thirty-five years later in the mid-noughties, he made a well publicised come back tour with a series of ten concerts at Bercy in March 2007 and culminating late that year on 14 July with a concert in front of the Eiffel Tower. This more recent concert captures him live at the prestigious Olympia venue once again on Bastille Day 2016, the very same day as tragic events unfolded in Nice.
Available in multiple formats (a slimmed down single CD also exists, but the more generally available 2CD contains the entire two and a half hour concert), some have noted that the concert unfolds more in the manner of a documentary on Polnareff than the standard ‘Best of’ repertoire and for those who can understand beyond basic level French, there is an amazing and close rapport between singer and audience. To be precise, Michel Polnareff is a gifted singer-songwriter who has an ear for sensitive melodies as well as more uptempo material. However, he became seriously ill during 2016 and at one stage it was feared he would not make a recovery. Thankfully he did, and another overriding impression of this concert is of someone who is simply happy to still be alive and making quality music. What a non-French audience will have to understand is that while the lyrics and content are French, Polnareff has soaked up diverse American musical influences while resident there and thus elements of gospel, soul, blues and rock all enter into his musical universe. That he is well respected among British musicians is indicated by the presence on his debut album in 1967 of a young Jimmy Page (then with the Yardbirds) and of future fellow Led Zepplin bassist John Paul Jones. For the concert, several current American musicians make up his band including bassist Reggie McBride.

From the early period of his singing, the soulful groove of, ‘Sous quelle étoile suis-je né?’ (‘Under what star was I born?’) reveals an angelic voice and a sensitive keyboardist who, at various stages, solos at length and improvises on his most memorable themes. Polnareff has clearly spent a good deal of time listening to harmonies and the female background vocalists provide wonderful support throughout, but no more beautifully than on, ‘Qui a tué grand’Maman?’ (‘Who killed grandma?’).

Sometimes the rock element can become a little too prominent for this writer as on ‘Tam-Tam’, or ‘Dans la rue’, which felt like gatecrashing a party to which one was never invited. However, there is so much to admire elsewhere that the odd rock guitar can be accommodated. The sheer musicality of the songs comes shining through on several songs and is illustrated on, ‘Goodbye Marylou’ and the lovely piano riff to, ‘Ame Câline’, which is ideal singer-songwriter terrain. Jerry Lee Lewis and early rock ‘n’ roll must have been a seminal influence on the young Polnareff and the mixture of early rock and even boogie-woogie surfaces on, ‘Impro piano’, while the singer is in playful mood on the wordless, ‘Tbili’. A medley of his own composition, ‘Je t’aime’ with the late Prince’s, ‘Purple Rain’, is an unexpected surprise that actually works and the laid back groove of, ‘Holidays’, has a Californian flavour with falsetto vocals that again conjur up the sound of angels.

The concert proper ends with an encore of three songs of which ‘Hey you woman’ is sung by those stunning female vocal harmonies plus a funk-tinged Marcus Miller bass solo from McBride before Polnareff finally enters. A picture postcard French tradition singer he is not. However, if you can accept the authentic American influences in his music, then listening to Michel Polnareff in a live context will prove to be a truly thrilling experience.

Tim Stenhouse

Dorado and Amati Schmitt ‘Sinti du Monde’ (Stunt) 4/5

Jazz manouche (‘gypsy jazz’), as it is called in French, is in the direct lineage of the great Django Reinhardt and is a key element in understanding why the French have developed such a passion for jazz music, and equally why jazz in France is equated with the battle for freedom and against totalitarian regimes. The Nazis in particular were scathing of music that they dismissed as ‘decadent’ and ‘perverse’ and from a minority group that they sought to systematically eliminate. In the 1930s the bal (dance) musette tradition of working class French life combined with the swing jazz prevalent at the time in the United States met head on and the major practitioner of this vibrant new from was of course guitarist Django Reinhardt. Father and son Dorado and Amato Schmitt are the modern day inheritors of this tradition, but have sought to give the tradition a uniquely modern twist while not losing anything of the essence of its source. Both in eastern France in Lorraine in 1957, guitarist, violinist and vocalist Dorado was influenced as a teenager by the guitar sounds of Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix, but in 1978 formed his own trio that included Gino Reinhardt on acoustic bass. A decade later, a serious car accident left Dorado in a coma for eleven days, but he was determined to come back from this adversity and in 1990 reformed the band. They have gone from strength to strength ever since.This new recording with a five piece band (four of whom are guitarists including Danish musician Esben Mylle Strandvig and minus any use of drums) was actually recorded live without any editing after having performed at a live concert. It is the second album for the Stunt label and is the follow up to the well received, ‘Amati and Dorado Schmitt live’ that came out in 2014. What is interesting about the sound created is that the virtuosity of the guitar work is such that the solos at times replicate the great saxophonist of the be-bop revolution, with Charlie Parker coming to mind. A groovy interpretation of, ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ is equalled by the highly melodic ‘For Francko’, where the guitar seemingly sings to the listener.

The music is easily accessible and a wider audience will be interested in hearing it provided that the music is sufficiently exposed. Dorado Schmitt is an undervalued artist with a direct link to the very roots of jazz manouche. In the current world order riddled by uncertainty and anxiety, it is reassuring to hear genuinely uplifting music that has stood the test of time remarkably well and expanded its roots to incorporate new elements.

Tim Stenhouse

Joan Baez ‘Three Classic Albums plus’ 2CD (Avid Roots) 5/5

The folk revival of the late 1950s and early-mid 1960s has been much heralded in recent years with biopics on the seminal figures such as Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan viewed as the figurehead, however reluctant he might have been to take on that daunting mantle. One singer who is sometimes overlooked, yet was an active participant alongside Dylan in the folk movement is Joan Baez and this fine retrospective groups together the early, and arguably the very best recordings that Baez cut both as a leader and with others. The recordings she made for Vanguard capture her voice at its zenith and this includes the eponymously titled debut from 1960. A famous interpretation of, ‘House of the rising sun’, probably influenced the Animals to record their now famous version of the folk standard. One of the loveliest songs here is the near six minute reading of, ‘Mary Hamilton’, and other favourites include, ‘Fare thee well’ and ‘John Riley’. Baez’s own Mexican and Scottish roots (a certain US President should take note here of the harmonious rapport between Mexicans and Scots. Singer Lila Downes is another fine example) made her receptive to a wider Spanish language folk tradition that Linda Ronstadt would at a much later stage use as an inspiration, and Baez delivers a beautiful folk tune in, ‘El preso numero nuevo’. Added to the first CD is an earlier 1959 recording of Baez from a various artists release in May 1959. Again the repertoire draws on the folk tradition and includes, ‘Black is the color’, a favourite of Nina Simone no less.

Her second album is divided between the two CDs, but is in keeping with the rest of the music. Baez is joined on two songs by the vocals of the Greenbriar Boys who are worth checking out on their own recordings. Here they provide gorgeous harmonies to, ‘Banks of the Ohio’ and ‘Pal of mine’. The lesser know material works well and includes a French language, ‘Plaisir d’amour’. Clearly, the young Joan Baez was soaking up all manner of musical influences. The remainder of the second CD is devoted to a live solo concert that Joan Baez recorded at various locations in 1962 with ‘Matty groves’ (which Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention would make a seminal reading of in 1969 after bluegrass folkster Doc Watson had recorded it in 1966) and ‘Kumbaya’ highlights and very little overlap with the studio recordings, apart from a new rendition of, ‘Black is the color of my true love’s hair’. Baez makes a further forage into world folk roots with the Portugese language, ‘Ate Amanha’.

As ever with Avid two-CD sets, the timing is incredibly generous with the first CD just lasting just over seventy-eight and a half minutes and the second only barely under the seventy-seven minutes mark. When the music is this good, there are absolutely no excuses for exploring the art of Joan Baez. If Shirley Collins is rightly fêted as the doyenne of English female folk singers (with the likes of Sandy Denny and Anne Briggs only marginally below), then Joan Baez is surely a prime candidate for the foremost American female singer of the postwar generation.

Tim Stenhouse

Deodato ‘Night Cruiser’ / ‘Happy Hour’ (Robinsongs) 3/5

Better known for his production talents, notably with Kool and the Gang, Eumir Deodato hails from Brazil and first made his name in his native country as a gifted arranger for the likes of Marcos Valle, Milton Nascimento and not forgetting Astrud Gilberto and the late great Tom Jobim. As a performer in his own right, he cut some moderately successful albums, but first caught the eye ans ears of an international audience when he signed for Creed Taylor’s CTI label. A series of critically acclaimed and commercially popular albums ensued, with an unexpected pop hit that went to number two in the charts, ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’. A less successful period with MCA in the mid-1970s was followed by a new contract with Warner, which is where this re-issue fits in. While a more comprehensive Warner Brothers retrospective that included his late 1970s disco hits ‘Whistle bump’ and ‘Shazam’, would have made for a stronger and indeed more cohesive overview, this pairing of Deodato’s two early 1980s albums for the label captures him at the height of his commercial success as a producer and this is reflected in the shift of emphasis from a streetwise end of era disco and lighter from of jazz-funk in the first album to a more avowedly poppier sound in the second.

The keyboardist was still only in his late thirties when ‘Night Cruiser’ was released in 1980 and by this stage he had scored a major disco/pop hit producing ‘Ladies night’ for Kool and the Gang. Their early-mid 1970s funk tinged jazz had been smoothed out with a new lead vocalist. As far as ‘Night Cruiser’ was concerned, this was Deodato’s third album for the label and the one that resonated most with a dance oriented audience. ‘East Side Strut’ contains elements of the Earth, Wind and Fire horns, with strings added by Kermit Moore and a funk-inflected bass, and as a whole comes across as a kind of catchy neo-Bob James composition. Long-time fans of the Brazilian musician will recognise the title pattern since in 1973 he cut ‘Super Strut’ and in 1974 ‘Havana Strut’, and even a ‘Watusi Strut’ from 1975. The title track was a minor hit in the UK and was a classy disco instrumental. of more interest is, ‘Uncle Funk’, which sounds very much like an updated son of, ‘Pick up the pieces’, by the Average White Band, and that includes a rasping saxophone solo from Kool and the Gang horn player Ronald Bell. A much sampled, ‘Skatin’, features a percussive intro and then funky bassline, but both the handclaps and synths sound a tad dated to these ears.

Two years later in 1982, Deodato released, ‘Happy hour’, and this time round female vocals became more prominent in his sound, with the daughter of Latin percussionist Ray Barretto, Kelly taking on the main vocal duties. The first single, ‘Keep on movin’, remains true to the sound of the previous album, but it was the second single and title track, ‘Happy hour’, that fared better commercially and was aimed squarely at the pop as well as the dance charts. Hints of the classic Chic sound and Nile Rogers rhythm guitar emerge on, Keep it in the family’, which is possibly the strongest cut on the album.

In general, Dedoato the keyboardist was less interested in the virtuosity of say George Duke or Lonnie Liston Smith, both of whom became legends in the jazz-funk idiom. Rather, he was more interested in the commercial side and the two albums are testimony to his creative talents of creating a catchy tune and turning it into a dancefloor hit with wider pop potential. He merely repeated the winning formula in his productions of others.

Tim Stenhouse

Deniece Williams ‘Black Butterfly. The Essential Niecy’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

Blessed with an instantly recognisable and pure voice, Deniece Williams effortlessly oscillated between soul, pop and gospel music and this excellent anthology that begins in the mid-1970s and goes up to the late 1980s captures her at her finest. Reading through the authoritative sleeve notes from Christian John Wikane, it becomes evident that she was especially popular in the UK and at a time in the mid-late 1970s was disco was all the rage, Deniece Williams, with one notable exception, went counter to this trend.
Her debut solo album shares a prestigious place alongside those of Luther Vandross and Bill Withers in that they immediately made an international impact and were regarded as instant classics. Williams, like Vandross, gained useful experience as a background singer and this on a trio of Stevie Wonder albums that culimnated in, ‘Songs in the key of life’, and thus when ‘Niecy’ was released in 1976, she was far from being overawed by the recording studios. She scored a major number UK hit with ‘Free’ and if the several octave voice was sublime, then the co-production work by the sadly departed Charles Stepney and Maurice White was no less stunning. In this writer’s view the song, ‘That’s what friends are for’, from the same album is equally as strong with sublime harmonies and instrumentation supplied by Earth, Wind and Fire no less. A slow burner of a tune from the same album that is included on this anthology is, ‘If you don’t believe’. Arguably, ‘This is Niecy’, was the singer’s crowning achievement and a definitive slice of quality 1970s soul.

A year later, Williams would pair up with crooner Johnny Mathis for a classy touch of Philly-influenced soul balladry for what would become a smash UK and US pop hit, ‘Too much, too little, too late’, and the duo would continue to record together in the following decades. Interestingly, in reaching the top with this single, Mathis and Williams managed to knock off the number one spot, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack with,’The closer I get to you’. The duos are very much comparable. At this stage in Deniece Williams’ career, producer Thom Bell played a key role. Out of kilter with the rest of her repertoire, Williams cut one out and out disco number in, ‘I’ve got the next dance’, and while formulaic in nature, it was still good enough to hit the number one spot in the disco charts and the extended 12″ version is contained here.

By the early 1980s, quality soul was back in vogue (not that it had ever really gone out, just that dance oriented music had been in fashion since the mid-1970s and soul singers such as Bobby Womack suffered commercially as a result). In 1981 Williams released the underrated lovely mid-tempo song, ‘Silly’, that became a local radio hit in both Detroit and Philadelphia, but did not go on to major national success. She diversified with a return to her gospel roots on, ‘God is amazing’, taking a leaf out of Aretha’s twin gospel-soul heritage, while covering the classic Motown, ‘It’s gonna take a miracle’ and the top ten US R & B hit, once again reunited with Mathis for an early 1980s reprise of the Ashford and Simpson penned, ‘You’re all I need to get by’.

A change of producer in 1982 with George Duke breathed new life into Williams’ career and the classy, ‘Do what you feel’ that proved to be one of those rare critical and commercial hits with the wonderfully sensitive keyboard accompaniment of Duke and this was certainly one of her finest moments. The title track of the resulting album and in fact of this compilation, ‘Black Butterfly’, is an epic pop-soul ballad penned by another ace songwriter pairing, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, but it was in 1984 again under producer Duke that she scored a major pop hit in, ‘Let’s hear it for the boys’, that was mixed by Jellybean Benitez. This became a number once dance hit and crossed over to the upper échelons of the pop charts, capturing the flavour of the hedonistic 1980s. Thereafter Williams was re-branded as a dance diva which was too much of a straightjacket for a singer with such a wide range. A good deal of the mid-1980s material from that time onward falls into somewhat bland pop with a proto-Motown feel, typified by the underwhelming, ‘I can’t wait’. That said, such a naturally beautiful voice was always going to be capable of producing quality music under the right leadership and the string arrangements of Tom Tom 84 resulted in the lovely mid-tempo groove of, ‘The boy I left behind’. Excellent sleeve notes include numerous photos and label covers as well as page long tribute from Johnny Mathis.

Tim Stenhouse

Andrés Landero ‘Yo Amenicí’ 2LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 4/5

Colombian accordionist Andrés Landero is something of a hidden treasure in the rootsier side of cumbia music. Born in 1931 on the Caribbean coastline of Colombia in the town of San Jacinto, Landero has performed in a variety of folk styles and these encompass cumbia, gaita, merengue, pasebol, paseo and puya. He belongs to something of a golden era in Colombian music and unsurprisingly, then, joined the gold standard label Discos Fuentes in late 1965 after a first label spell with Discos Curo. This anthology covers the period 1966-1982 that includes classic material from the mid-1960s through to a second stage in his career when he returned to the Fuentes stable in 1979. As a whole, the sound is heavy on percussion, with melodious basslines and myriad rhythms that showcase the sheer variety of sub-genres performed within. Thus there is bubbling accordion and percussion on ‘La muerte de Eduardo Lora’ with vocals and also on the fast-paced, La Cigarrona’, whereas on, ‘Mi macheté’, the rhythm is a good deal choppier. One of the finest songs is, ‘Mara del Carmén’, which has a beautifully rustic staccato rhythm.At first some of the riffs may come across as repetitive, but with repeated listens that sensation soon gives way to a feeling of being engulfed in a hypnotic groove as exemplified on, ‘Cuando lo negro sea bello’. Nicknamed the ‘King of Cumbia’, Landero’s popularity spread not only across his own country, but equally beyond and was especially well received in both Bolivia and Mexico. Another compelling number is, ‘Virgen de la candelaria’, with a catchy percussive intro.

As ever with the Vampi Soul re-issue programme, evocative and colourful photos of original vinyl sleeve covers abound. Extensive bi-lingual inner sleeve notes paint a wonderful picture of the musician and provide useful historical context. If it is the truly authentic sound of Colombian cumbia that you are in search for, then you are likely to find your musical nirvana with this altogether sumptuous offering.

Tim Stenhouse

Misha Steinhauer ‘Dreaming With Eyes Wide Awake’ (Private Press) 5/5


Michaela, or Misha, as she seems to prefer to be known is a native of Germany but currently lives in New York. She says of her chosen art-form “Music? It’s my life: give me a microphone, and I am where I belong.”Misha combines her own song-writing skills with a sprinkling of well-known jazz standards, but nothing seems to be off limits in terms of repertoire.

This album was recorded in Moscow and is ” a story of brokenness, depression and healing, of loneliness and learning to love and be loved.”

Here are eleven of Misha’s own compositions. The overall atmosphere is rather dark, low-key and contemplative. Although of German origin, it’s not easy to detect in Misha’s voice any trace of a Continental accent.

Hendrik Meurkens plays harmonica and vibraphone, Glauco P. Lima plays piano, Michal Jaros is on bass and Samuel Martinelle is behind the drums.

Much of the programme is taken up with ballads. However, ‘Hello, How Are You Doing?’ is rather more up-beat. I particularly enjoyed the more up-tempo reading of ‘Family Games’ with some nice bass-work from Jaros.

It is clear that Misha is a very skilled song-writer and lyricist. Although a new name to me, and I suspect to many readers, this is her seventh release. There is much to enjoy in this pleasantly varied set.

The opening track ‘Here Comes Autumn Again’ begins with harmonica setting the scene and sounds almost like a ‘standard’ song. The harmonica adds a kind of yearning to the performance.

‘No Cure’ follows and is a more up-tempo affair. ‘Where DO I Belong’ has more yearning harmonica. ‘Hello, How Are You Doing?’ features vibraphone in a variation of tone, and a slightly more funky rhythm. ‘She Wonders Why’ opens with atmospheric vibraphone. A song of sadness and of being unlucky in love.

‘Family Games’ opens with a lovely walking bass line and swings along very nicely.

‘Day and Night’ re-introduces the harmonica and is rather more up-beat than some of the earlier pieces.

‘The House is Quiet’ is much more contemplative and rather sad. The vibraphone is well to the fore once again on this one.

‘Dreaming With Eyes Wide Awake’ follows the formula set out in earlier selections, but is none the worse for that.

This is a concept album in that every song tells a story in the same way that Frank Sinatra’s album ‘The Night We Called It A Day’ did in the late 1950’s.

At times I’m reminded of the vocal delivery of Claire Martin. But more often, I’m led to think of Patricia Barber in the assured way in which Steinhauer approaches each song. In any event, this is a wonderful showcase for her writing. An album of quiet passion and power.

Alan Musson

Cat Toren’s Human Kind (Private Press) 4/5


This is the fourth release by the Vancouver born pianist Cat Toren. There is an obvious soulful spirit to the compositions and performances throughout the album, one that is clearly influenced by the free-form jazz of the late 60’s, which to my mind can be no bad thing. The band leader is joined by Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, Yoshie Fruchter on oud and guitar, Jake Leckie on bass and Matt Honor on drums.Human Kind has a vibrant, earthy and spiritual feel to it, which in no small part is due to the nature of the writing, coupled with some wonderful playing from saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo. Reminiscent perhaps of Charles Lloyd, his performance throughout this session enlightens and awakens something deep within. The compositions themselves also remind me of Charles Lloyd in some respect. I’m thinking of early Lloyd when he first burst onto the scene in the late 60’s and how his writing developed through the 70’s and 80’s, particularly on his ECM recordings with pianist Bobo Stenson. The tunes have an effortless time and space to them, with Toren fluently and skilfully leading the band into expressionistic and adventurous territory.

With a mix of acoustic piano and keyboards, the album’s six tracks sit nicely together, with the drums and bass underpinning everything nicely. The sax sparkles, offering both light and shade in abundance. My only comment is that for me personally, I did sometimes find the oud rather out of place here. There are times when it works well, being utilised as a textural addition to the feel of the music, but I often felt it sounded too out of step with the overall balance, sounding somewhat surplus to requirements in this particular setting.

Toren’s music is heavily influenced by a personal expression of how a resurgence of the civil rights movement is upon us, and this resonates in the music she makes. In the late 60’s John and Alice Coltrane and contemporaries were bringing jazz to new levels of experimentation and cross-culturalism, the sociopolitical climate at the time fraught with tension. Whilst Toren’s music shares the same sentiment as her predecessors, it is perhaps in some ways more easy to identify with, and ultimately to enjoy. This album certainly holds true to that tradition and will benefit organisations that fight for civil liberties and human rights. And when all is said and done, taking the music being made in isolation, this is one fine contemporary jazz album and well worth investigation.

Mike Gates