Benjamin Biolay ‘Volver’ (Barclay/Universal France) 4/5

A rapid return to recording duties after the well received, ‘Hollywood Palermo’ album of last year, this is very much a part two of the Paris-Buenos Aires divided music and it stands up remarkably well with a timeless feel just like the black and white photo cover of the 1970s gatefold sleeve. A potential summer hit beckons in the dance floor oriented, ‘Roma (amor)’ that is an infectious slice of retro disco complete with instrumental breakdown, rap in Spanish and percussion plus strings dramatic accompaniment. Two attempts at reggae come off reasonably unscathed with, ‘C a vole bas’, the stronger of the two and featuring Sofia Wilhelmi on vocals. Biolay as he is now known as performs on various instruments and displays a subtle use of fender on the ballad, ‘Arrivederci’.

This is French music with a strong dose of Latin Americana aimed at a mature listening audience and there is a good deal of substance to the music beyond the strong melodic hooks. A cover of Léo Ferré’s, ‘Avec le temps’, indicates Biolay’s espousal of the chanson tradition, but even here he gives the music a refreshing modern update. There is even a nod towards chilldown electronica on, ‘Hyper tranquille’, though nothing that would repel devotees of acoustic instrumentation.

Of interest, is that the title track of the previous album, ‘Hollywood Palermo’, is actually found on this new album. In keeping with its predecessor, this number has a strong film soundtrack quality to it with just the right touch of strings and yet another female guest vocalist in the unlikely sounding Ambrosia Parsley.

A real grower of an album that could just become one of the summer’s most compelling albums.

Tim Stenhouse

Andrew McCormack ‘Graviton’ LP/CD (Jazz Village) 3/5

British pianist Andrew McCormack returns with a much heralded new album and with a fine ensemble of UK musicians on board including vocalist Eska Mtungwazi and tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings who alternates between tenor, clarinet and bass clarinet. In parts, the new album has been compared to a homage to the early period of Chick Corea in Light as a Feather, and it is true to say that there are elements of that sound, especially in the wordless vocals of Eska who impresses throughout, as illustrated on the opener, ‘Breathe’. However, in general, this recording is far more geared towards contemporary beats and influences, and dub-step surfaces on the urgent sounding, ‘Escape velocity’, which is an uptempo number that deploys a repetitive piano riff to good effect. Collective choir voicings greet the listener on, ‘Andromeda’, which is a groove laden piece with Eska once again offering up wordless vocals. The singer in fact is a major contributor to the album and adds lyrics to three of the compositions, all of which are originals penned by McCormack.

A brief sojourn in New York seems to have enthused McCormack and encouraged the pianist to search more deeply. On, ‘Aurora’, McCormack performs on both piano and glockenspiel on this brief number, while on the sparse sounding, ‘Kalamata’, he commences on solo piano before exploring other keyboards. If one were to cite pianistic influences, then Brad Mehldau would immediately spring to mind, but also Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and even shades of Monk.

The combination of influences he has soaked up is not quite his own yet, but he is most certainly heading in the right direction and the inclusion of collaborative work with Eska is one that he should return to. Eska for her part, revels in this jazzy setting.

Tim Stenhouse