Major Lance ‘Ain’t No Soul (In These Old Shoes): The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-67’ (Soul Music/Sony Legacy) 4/5

A major figure on the northern soul scene in the UK and much-loved among soul aficionados across the board, Major Lance enjoyed his greatest success with Okeh records in the mid-1960s and this is the focus of this expanded double CD anthology. Moreover, it is a compilation that improves upon previous efforts that have tended to be single LP./CD offerings of approximately sixteen or so songs. The new re-issue offers a comprehensive selection of fifty-three songs and draws upon the authoritative writing of Chicago soul writer Robert Pruter.

What may surprise some is that for a period in the 1960s, Major Lance was second only to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions in terms of soul selling ability in the Windy City. However, there was a close connection between Lance and Mayfield and it was indeed the latter wrote a large number of songs that Lance subsequently covered, and some of these were backed by members of the impressions on backing vocals. Equally, however, Major Lance drew inspiration from the ace Motown songwriting talents of Norman Whitfield, William Stephenson, Clarence Paul and not forgetting Marvin Gaye. Producers varied, but included the likes of Johnny Pate, Carl Davis (later of The Chi-Lites, Curtis Mayfield and Ted Cooper).

Sweet harmonies predominate with, ‘Gonna get married’, ‘Sweet music’ and the ever catchy, ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’, just some of the choicier songs on offer as well as the famous number that is the title of the compilation. Creditable alternatives to Impressions’ originals include a shuffling rhythm to, ‘It’s all right’. An interesting aside is a reading of a Latin soul classic in, ‘Watusi’, which, here, has far more of an R & B than a strictly Latin flavour.

Of course, some were tailor made for the dancefloors of northern soul such as the stomping, ‘Investigate’, while uptempo numbers such as, ‘Delilah’, featured inventive piano licks. This writer especially warmed to the understated hues of, ‘Think nothing bout it’, and the lush production of, ‘Without a doubt’. Johnny Pate was always a classy producer and this is showcased on the gorgeous bass to the mid-tempo, ‘Gotta get away’ from 1965. Lance’s somewhat gentle vocal delivery was ideally suited to the medium tempo songs. While there might be other candidates for the mantle of Chicago’s greatest ever soul vocalist, with Curtis Mayfield in prime position, and Gene Chandler and Walter Jackson, close behind, Major Lance will be forever associated with the 1960s Chicago soul sound and this overarching anthology does an excellent job of illustrating the key songs in his career.

Detailed liner notes are written by Clive Anderson who leaves no stone unturned.

Tim Stenhouse

King Curtis ‘Soul Twistin’ with the King!’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Better know for his sideman duties with Aretha Franklin, rhythm and blues saxophonist King Curtis (aka Curtis Ousley), recorded some memorable sides as a leader and, while, ‘Memphis Soul Stew’, will remain his most impressive and lasting legacy, this new re-issue pulls together some fascinating music that draws heavily on the ‘twist’ dance craze that spread like wildfire across the United States around 1960 and beyond.

The complete, ‘Soul Twist’ album makes up for the first part of the CD and includes Curtis’ own take on soul-jazz titan Cannonball Adderley’s, ‘Sack o’ woe’ and here tenor and guitar combine to provide a lighter version that has a prominent piano vamp. Ray Charles scored a major hit with, ‘What I’d say’, and King Curtis offers up a hi-hat cymbal rendition with a meaty tenor solo in ‘Part 2’. The album also includes a self-penned hit 45 that went to number one in the R & B chart in 1962, ‘Soul Twist’.

In fact the whole ‘twist’ music and dance phenomenon came about somewhat by accident since the song was originally a B-side to a Hank Ballard 45 that nobody paid any attention to until Chubby Checker heard it, re-recorded it as an A-side and scored a major hit in the process. King Curtis certainly milked the dance craze for all it’s worth and the blues-driven number, ‘Twistin’ with the King’, features some tasty guitar licks.

A second selection of an album Curtis recorded with girl group The Shirelles adds variety to proceedings (and with thirty tracks in total, you do need some vocals to complement the numerous instrumentals). The best of these songs to this writer’s ears is, ‘I still want you’.

The final part of the CD is made up of King Curtis providing instrumental support to an album ostensibly under the leadership of dance teacher Albert Murray and once again devoted to the twist dance craze. A latin-soul gem in, ‘Midnight blue’, is not in fact the more famous Kenny Burrell composition, but rather a Curtis original. Of interest also is a take on, ‘Alright, you win’, which Nancy Wilson would transform into a swinging jazz number.

It should be stated from the outset that the music contained within emphasizes the fun nature of King Curtis’ music and pre-dates his recordings for Atco. The saxophonist would die in tragic circumstances in 1971, aged just thirty-seven.

Tim Stenhouse

Olli Hirvonen ‘New Helsinki’ CD/DIG (Edition) 4/5

Formed in 2008, Edition Records describes itself as a “..British record label with a European sensibility and global presence”. This statement tells us not only about their roots, but also something about their vision and the scale of their ambition. A distinctly European approach is nothing new and is quite bold considering it puts them up against more established counterparts like ECM and ACT. Edition’s impact has been significant and demonstrates that their strap line is more than just words. In the past 12 months alone, albums by Jasper Høiby, Eyolf Dale, Verneri Pohjola and Alexi Tuomarila have been given top marks here at UK Vibe. The label also had three albums in Jazzwise’s top 20 of the year, including their number one pick, “One” by Tim Garland.

Olli Hirvonen is further evidence of the strength within Edition’s roster. Winner of Artist of the Year at the Pori Jazz Festival 2011 and more recently the Jazz Guitar competition at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival, Hirvonen moved to New York from his native Finland in 2011 to complete his formal musical education, staying on past graduation to mix it in Jazz’s capital.

This is Hirvonen’s second album. His debut, “Detachment”, revealed a talent for composition and catchy riffs, but for me it felt like it paid a little too much respect to the tradition of jazz guitar. “New Helsinki” is quite different. Not only does it marry Hirvonen’s past with his present in space and time, but musically as well, revealing a rockier side to his sound revealing earlier influences. As a creative statement it’s bold and forward sounding. Hirvonen fuses jazz and rock, in the way of the likes of Larry Coryell, but with a contemporary edge.

This vision is apparent from the outset. “ARPS” builds quickly round a fast, infectious, circulating theme into neat overlapping layers of Hirvonen’s rocky guitar licks and pianist Luke Marantz’s elegant phrasing. Think of contrasts that work – I can’t get past salted caramel – and you get the idea.
The sense of drive, powered by a machine-gun rhythm is even more apparent on longer tracks like “Gravity”, “Fundamental” and “Absolute”. Here there is more scope for soloing; Hirvonen is generous in his arrangements giving the other front of stage players, Marantz on piano and Rhodes, Walter Smith III on tenor sax and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, room to add their own voices, introducing different textures and tones to the arrangements. Smith III plays with a passion and spirit that reminds me of Kamasi Washington. Oh, and if the O’Farrill name may ring a bell; it’s because he’s from good Jazz stock, the son of pianist and composer Arturo and grandson of bandleader Chico.

“Fundamental”, as the title suggests, is focussed, raw and direct, energetic, urgent and quite funky. “Absolute” creates tension as it builds feverishly and then just as you think Hirvonen is going to let rip with the mother of all guitar solos he drops the tempo into a blissfully open and mellowed out finale. The interest and variety within this tune alone are worth the price of admission.

Throughout Hirvonen demonstrates genuine skill and touch. Even within the rockier solos he plays without excess and with an intricate and intimate style that is both fluid and natural.

Edition Records strike again!

Andy Hazell

Nomade Orquestra ‘EntreMundos’ LP/CD/DIG (Far Out) 3/5

Sao Paulo-based collective Nomade Orquestra return with another self-produced recording that builds on their previous effort for Far Out, the self-titled debut from last year. Once again the musical influences are eclectic and take on board Afro-Brazilian, Indian and Ethio-jazz elements as well as 1960s film soundtracks and even contemporary hip-hop.

In parts the music can be quite dense and it does require a few listens for the whole to come together and for the listener to fully appreciate the multiple influences that have been weaved together. Psychedelic blues (harmonica) meets avant-garde with funk-tinged guitar on, ‘Rinoceronte blues’, which is an eclectic mix to say the least. This writer enjoyed the oriental feel to, ‘Terra fértil’, which is something of a dervish-like groove with soprano saxophone overlaid to excellent effect. For funkier flavours, ‘Madame Butterfly’, combines full-on brass (a five piece brass section) and sensitive keyboards. The explosion of styles come together on the rock-blues guitar soloing on, ‘Vale de boca seca’, with fender and collective horns, and a wonderful bass line underpinning it all. More intricate big band arrangements are a feature of, ‘Jardins de Zaira’, which has a strong psychedelic film soundtrack component, and with a flute solo incorporated.

With a UK tour looming, now is as good a time as any to check out the sounds of the Nomade Orquestra.

Tim Stenhouse

Lou Rawls ‘The Rarest Lou Rawls: In the Beginning 1959-1962’ 2CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Born in Chicago in 1935, Lou Rawls cut across black music boundaries and was equally adept at jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and smooth soul genres. This latest re-issue captures him early on in his career with some of the earliest, and thus rarest, 45s, paired with an EP of the ‘Black and Blue’ session on Capitol from 1962 and also including from the same year a gospel album Rawls recorded with the Pilgrim Travellers. Of interest with the pre-Capitol 45s are producers of the calibre of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. However, fans of rhythm and blues are more likely to warm to the production of H.B. Barnum for whom Rawls recorded, ‘That lucky old sun’, and ‘Above my head’. As a lovely addition, Rawls the background singer to the late, great Sam Cooke is included as a fascinating bonus on a 1962 RCA offering, ‘Bing it on home to me’.

Capitol released EPs to cater for the then burgeoning jukebox market that was key to attracting attention in the inner city areas and of these, ‘Everyday I have the blues’, ‘Kansas City’ and the boogie-woogie influenced, ‘Roll ’em Pete’, impress with big band accompaniment from musicians of the calibre of a young Joe Sample on piano, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes’ on Hammond organ, and Clifford Scott on saxophone.

CD2 focuses squarely on the two complete Capitol albums, with ‘Stormy Monday’, being regularly re-issued, but for anyone unaware, a definitive slice of soul-jazz with Les McCann Rawls’ co-companion throughout. Some of these readings have become the standard and blues and jazz never criss-crossed as effectively as here. From a heartwarming, ‘God bless the child’, and, ‘Willow weep for me’, to, ‘Ain’t nobody’s biz-ness if I do’, these interpretations have stood the test of time and then some. A rousing rendition of, ‘I’d’ rather drink muddy water’, rounds off a superb album. Last, but by no means least, Lou Rawls in gospel mode on, ‘The soul stirring gospel sounds of’, and here he excels on, ‘Wade in the water’, a composition that Ramsey Lewis would make a hit instrumental out of for Chess (via Cadet), ‘Motherless child’, and ‘Sweet chariot’.

The two-CD set covers the period just before Lou Rawls hit the big time in the United States, with the 1966 album, ‘Lou Rawls live’, that went to number four in the pop charts. If you do not already possess any of the aforementioned recordings, this re-issue is more than worth the purchasing price.

Tim Stenhouse

Mulatu Astatké ‘Mulatu of Ethiopia’ LP/CD/Dig (Strut) 5/5

Formerly only available as a vinyl re-issue, Strut have seen fit to make this highly influential album available in several formats and the listener is very much the winner. For those not already in the know, Ethiopian keyboardist Mulatu Astatké studied music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in the 1960s and while there soaked up myriad musical influences that ranged from the orchestral genius of Duke Ellington (a seminal influence upon Astatké) to the emerging sounds of Latin New York. Astatké regularly attended the mecca of Latin dance music at the Palladium as well as live jazz at the Village Gate and collectively began to form in his own mind a distinctive new pioneering sound which would come to be termed Ethio-jazz, the contents of which make up this album. Three key elements combine: Ethiopian; American; Puerto Rican.

Elements of 1960s psychedelic guitar surface on the lovely, ‘Mulatu’, with unison horns, percussion, a wailing saxophone solo and some haunting vibes. It is a sound like no other and over time has attracted attention way beyond the confines of music, with independent film director Jim Jarmusch picking up on the musician and basing the musical soundtrack to, ‘Broken flowers’, around it. The modal-flavoured, ‘Dewel’, is mightily impressive with an intro that John Coltrane could have conjured up, while the subtle use of layered textures takes a leaf out of the innovative work of Bobby Hutcherson. In general, the music is other worldly with a stunning Ethio-Latin workout on, ‘Chifara’, complete with Latin piano vamp, while the flute-led, ‘Kasalef ku-hulu’, is heavy on percussion.

The single CD edition, which forms the basis of the review here, interestingly includes both stereo and mono versions of the album. A lavish gatefold edition is equally available in extremely limited quantities.

[This album was also available separately on a very limited edition triple vinyl release]

Tim Stenhouse

Vibe Out: Argentina

Tracklist:

Agustín Pereyra Lucena – Espontaneo
Gato Barbieri with Lonnie Liston Smith – Merceditas
Luis Alberto Spinetta – Telgopor
Francisco Rivero – Buenos Aires – New York
Aaron Goldberg & Guillermo Klein – Human Feel
Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos – Ninos
Martín Robbio – Jocoso
Norris Trio – Transmisión Oral
Pablo Aslan – Derviche
Juan Carlos Cáceres – Cumtango
Gato Barbieri – To Be Continued
Hugo Fattoruso & Tomohiro Yahiro – La Papa
Fatto Maza Fatto – Cravo e Canela
Martín Robbio Trio & Los Guevarista – Elvin (Sir) Jones
Ara Tokatlian & Enrique Villegas – Maritimaria
Johnny Hodges with Lalo Schifrin – Buenos Aires Blues
Alex Conde – Think Of One
Pablo Ziegler Quartet – Michelangelo ’70
Pablo Ziegler – Imagenes 676
Adrián Iaies – Chiquilín of Bachín
Fefe Botti – Lavand
Richard Nant & Argentos – 70s
Agustín Pereyra Lucena – Guayabas
Mono Fontana – La Culpa No Se Lava Contra La Piedra

George Colligan ‘More Powerful’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Whirlwind Recordings are rapidly becoming the premier label in the UK for contemporary jazz both home-grown and also from ‘across the pond’. I imagine that UK based USA bassist and label boss Michael Janisch is utilising all of the contacts in his address book.

Colligan is a pianist and educator of some repute. He has been quite busy during his 47 years. This is his 28th CD release as band-leader and his debut for Whirlwind. He has more than 130 albums to his credit as accompanist and has had a long association with drum legend Jack DeJohnette. His band mates on this occasion are Linda Oh on bass, Rudy Royston on drums and Nicole Glover on tenor and soprano saxophones.

The album title and the cover art is as impressive as the music to be found within.

Colligan’s keyboard influences range from Chick Corea to Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner. Add to the mix Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and a liking for everything from show tunes to funk, from free improvisation to modern classical music and you have all the ingredients for today’s complete jazz pianist.

In terms of genre, Colligan is a jack of all trades and master of all of them. Readers might recall that he toured the UK with Andrew Bain’s ‘Embodied Hope’ band to great success last year.
The opening track ‘Whiffle Ball’ gets things off to a powerful start with swinging contemporary post-bop sounds and a declamatory statement from the drummer.

‘Waterfall Dreams’, in contrast, is rather more contemplative. It contains a fine showcase for the bassist.

‘Effortless’ is a trio outing. A complex piece of music and the Corea influence is in evidence here. The trio working as one to great effect.

Glover is a new name to me. I particularly enjoyed his centred, hard edged and powerful tone. Hear him at his best on ‘Today Again’. ‘Empty’ ventures into free-jazz territory and is another feature for Glover. ‘The Nash’ has echoes of another of Colligan’s influences in the form of Thelonious Monk. But a 21st Century Monk.

It’s not often that contemporary jazz contrives to be both powerful and accessible as is the case here. The power can sometimes be a little wearing on the listener. However there is no denying that this is exciting eventful music performed by musicians operating at the highest level of their craft. Their confidence is almost overwhelming, but they are at the peak of their creative powers. One is left with the feeling that the music is somewhere between being in the tradition and pushing powerfully towards things to come.

Alan Musson

Fraktal ‘Polarisation of Light’ (QFTF) 3/5

Fraktal’s debut album title, ‘Polarisation of Light’, has a rather scientific ring to it. It could lead listeners to the false assumption of being a sterile, heavy and brainy Jazz album. Where its protagonists, fresh out of school, present what they learned, deliberately avoiding to sound pleasing or accessible. But swiss born bandleader, composer, arranger and guitarist Jan Herzog presents his music in a genuine lively and stylish fashion. His compositions drive from the strong performances of his bandmates, who know how to make the most out of their individual showcases, yet manage to appear as a strong and unified group.

Herzog never seems to run out of ideas of how to set his players, or how to tell a story. Forming intimate and fragile instrumental settings, that wind to waves of sound and groove, drawn by a magnificent large ensemble. Simple and straight forward rhythmic and harmonic arrangements alter into complex, entangled tapestries of sound design. Above all, the beautiful and crystal voice of Andrea Nydegger and Christoph Mahnig’s well tempered trumpet.

Furthermore Herzog doesn’t miss the chance to prove himself as a fantastic guitar player with remarkable instrumental skills. His solo adventures are another picture book of prolific melodic invention. Fraktal is yet another great example for the admirable Swiss Jazz Scene. ‘Polarisation of Light’ shows a deep understanding for the possibilities of modern jazz.

SHG

Vibe Out: ISRAEL

Tracklist:

Rimona Francis – Debka Druze
Ziv Ravitz – Avishkess
Itamar Borochov – Jaffa Tune
Avi Darash – Happiness
Shlomi Goldenberg – Blowing
Tete Montoliu Trio – Israel
Oran Etkin – Distant Sounds Of Change
Welch / Chatsav / Zelman – Na’ama feat. Faustina Abad
Jazz Work Shop – Hamichtav
Richard Davis – The Rabbi
Avrey Sharron – O Morro
Odeon – Alone
Talk – The Growl
Trio Shalva – Sova
Amos Hoffman – Abe Baby
Tammy Scheffer – I Can’t See You Now
Yotam – Bye Ya’ll
Nadav Remez – Untitled
Amit Friedman Sextet – The Archaeologist
Yaron Herman – Side Jump
Omer Klein – Mixtape