Peter Jones ‘Under The Setting Sun’ (Howlin’ Werewolf) 4/5

British singer Peter Jones typifies the pioneering spirit of many jazz musicians from the United Kingdom who have modelled themselves on one of more of the American greats, yet have gone on to forge their own identity. In this case, Mark Murphy has served as major inspiration among others, and in fact, Jones will next year publish a book devoted to that singer, and that should be one of 2018’s most welcome publications for this avid reader and many others who have long venerated Murphy as a superior exponent of jazz singing, with the ability to ad-lib at will, and with a wider intellectual hinterland.

As for the music on offer here, the all-original compositions feature a quintet that includes Davide Giovannini on drums and some readers will be familiar with his work as part of master Latin percussionist Snowboy’s band. He is in a more restrained environment for this album, but nonetheless graces the recording with his tasty set of polyrythmic-propelled grooves. Of note equally is the presence of flautist Vasilis Xenopoulos, and the songs are executed with aplomb whenever flute and vocal combine. This is illustrated on the mid-tempo flute-led, ‘Baby and Hog’, with vibraphone and electric piano giving this a 1970’s feel. The title is a subtle reference to two historical characters, with major drug addictions, who used to feed their drug habits by entertaining customers at the Harlem-based Milton’s Playhouse.

A real favourite of this writer is the nearest Peter Jones comes to an out-and-out Latin-infused number, and that is ‘Remember Summer’, with a strong 1970’s feel in the use of Fender. Mel Tormé is probably another of Jones’ influences and that certainly comes across on the reflective ballad, ‘A Voice That’s Low, A Voice That’s Sweet’, with a lovely floating effect on piano from Neil Angilley. Indeed, the instrumental accompaniment throughout is impeccable and suitably sensitive in tone.

Peter Jones has titled his forthcoming book ‘This Is Hip’, and he might have been forgiven for providing that as an alternative title to this album before us. A lovely blend of tempos and a mature set of compositions that have been beautifully crafted and delivered.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Soho Scene ’61: Jazz Goes Mod’ LP/2CD (Rhythm and Blues) 4/5

Following on interestingly from ‘Soho Scene ’62’, this is the latest of a terrific series of classic 1960’s British jazz. If the idea of re-issuing mod-flavoured jazz is not necessarily a new one with ACE records BGP off shoot having pioneered a series of soul and jazz oriented mod music, the Soho Scene series does differ, digging a good deal deeper into the jazz side, and, moreover, offering the considerable bonus of rare as hen’s teeth UK jazz 7″/EP and LPs, with, as an addition, a second CD of American jazz. The first and ultimately stronger of the CD’s repeats the winning formula of focusing on the British jazz side and in this case that means quality cuts from Don Rendell with his take on the classic ‘Jeannine’, Tubby Hayes and Jack Costanzo combining on the big band Latino of ‘Southern Suite (pt.1)’, and the calypso favourite ‘St. Thomas’ by the Dick Morrissey quartet.

Some of the seminal jazz labels from the USA are showcased on the second side, with Hammond organist Brother Jack McDuff blowing up a storm on Prestige with ‘Sanctified waltz’, more big band action from Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland on ‘Charon’s ferry’. Elsewhere, Blue Note is represented by a lovely modal influenced cut from Freddie Hubbard and an early example of groove guitarist Grant Green, while artists on Atlantic, Decca, Epic all feature and the 45s offer a truncated version of the original album tracks.

Rounding off an excellent overview of the club scene are the terrific black and white photos and these capture the atmosphere to perfection. Full marks to Rhythm and Blues for including those. Extensive liner notes come courtesy of Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson. A fascinating insight into the kind of music that was played in the hipper clubs of the era, and of the 1980’s and 1990’s when a major revival of interest in jazz from the 1960’s was underway. Watch out for a forthcoming anthology review from the Harry South Big Band on the same label. A good, if expensive, time to be a 1960’s jazz devotee.

Tim Stenhouse

Esther Phillips ‘A Beautiful Friendship: The Kudu Anthology, 1971-1976’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 5/5

Singer Esther Phillips will remain immortal if only for one song, her devastating interpretation of ‘Home is where the heart is’. However, there is a great deal more to the singer than even that towering pinnacle, and as wonderful as this new anthology is, it only covers a brief period in Phillip’s illustrious career. However, within those boundaries, it is authoritative and as such a worthy addition to any collection.

Blessed with one of the most distinctive voices, and undoubtedly influenced by Dinah Washington (though no clone), Esther Phillips began her career as jazz and R & B singer, and on the first CD, it is the former, combined with blues and gospel flavours, that mark her out as a singer of distinction. She excels on the intimate ballads, such as the compilation title track, where her credentials on the intimate supper club jazz circuit come to the fore, or on the blues-inflected live performance of ‘Cherry Red’, with delicious keyboards and saxophone accompaniment. Phillips was listening to all the right people and these included Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, as well as Dinah Washington, whom she most resembles in approach. Indeed on songs such as ‘How blue can you get?’ and ‘I don’t want to do wrong’, one wonders whether Washington would have evolved in this direction had she lived on. Irrespective, the listener is in for a treat and a journey into the depths of urban black music.

Esther Phillips was versatile enough to take on board new updates, but always crafted them within the building blocks of blues, jazz and emerging soul, and it was this cross-boundaries open-mindedness that was her true forte and vocation. The second CD goes into overdrive on her more commercially successful period and that includes an edited version of ‘What a difference a day make’, a superior take on the disco genre, but equally thought provoking lyrics on the cover of ‘Disposable society’ and socially conscious ‘Can’t trust your neighbour with your baby’, and interpreting some of the classiest of soul writers such as Isaac Hayes and David Porter on the aforementioned number, or Caroline Franklin on ‘Too many roads’. Arguably, Esther Phillips should have enjoyed far greater success, but her sound went out of vogue in the late 1970’s, and she had passed away by 1982, just as a new generation were barely discovering her back catalogue.

A vast fifteen page essay by compiler David Nathan offers the reader a genuine insight into her life, and Esther Phillips was a singer who did not leave you indifferent. Graphical illustrations include the various 45’s and seven LPs and there are full discographical details. You simply cannot acquire enough examples of this wonderful singer, but if you do have to cut corners and focus on the essential, this is just about the first place to start. You will still want the complete ‘From a whisper to a scream’, which is available, and two pairings of non-Kudu albums are likely to whet the appetite of completists.

Tim Stenhouse

Tony Allen ‘The Source’ LP/CD/DIG (Blue Note) 4/5

Following hot on the heels of one of the summer’s most talked about 10″ EP’s, this new album does not duplicate a single track, but instead is an entirely separate project. Whereas the EP was conceived as a tribute to Art Blakey, reworking some of the classic Blue Note compositions, the new album is made up of entirely original numbers, though if there was to be a common denominator, then it would be the compelling fusion of jazz and Afro-Beat, and even more than the EP this is definitely a coming together of the two.

Accompanied by an eleven piece band, predominantly French (though with Damion Albarn on piano), the tone is Ellingtonian on the opener, ‘Moody Boy’, with clipped guitar from Indy Dibongue and bass the African component. In fact, the horn section is at times Mingus-esque with freer improvised passages, and descends into some deliciously controlled pandemonium, complete with an extended trombone solo. Horns dominate also on the repetitive riff that permeates ‘Cruising’ and the old-school feel is just one of the attractions.

The nearest that this recording comes to more conventional Afro-Beat is on ‘Bad Roads’, with unison horns. Another floating groove is created on ‘Cool Cats’, with stabbing horns and driving bass in the ascendancy. Sometimes, it is the combination of bop and Afro-Beat that works well, as with the appropriately titled ‘On Fire’.

Tony Allen is most certainly experiencing a deeply creative period in his lengthy career, and if this album is anything to go by, the band are likely to cook up a storm in a live setting. A triumphant return for the innovator of the Afro-Beat drum pattern.

Tim Stenhouse

Kingstonians ‘Sufferer’ [Expanded Edition] (Doctor Bird/Cherry Red) 5/5

‘Boss’ reggae does not come in more concentrated or purer form than this and it is one of the finest ever examples of early reggae, and a definitive slice of Jamaican harmony music, post-rock steady. Interestingly the original trio had various attempts at establishing themselves and all failed miserably, including with Coxsone Dodd at Studio One and with Sonia Pottinger, a timely reminder to young aspiring musicians. However, the fortunes of the band were utterly transformed when they rebranded themselves the Kingstonians, and this is where the musical story on this CD begins. Sadly, their first national hit on the Jay label, ‘Winey Winey’, is not included here, but thankfully the seminal ‘Sufferer’ is and it virtually serves as a social chronicle of the downtrodden in Kingston’s ghettos. The rest is almost as strong and includes the wonderful ‘Singer man’, ‘Winey, Winey (reggae)’ and the instrumental Crystalites number ‘Easy Ride’. Where this new re-issue becomes essential is with the generous helping of bonus numbers, and this amounts to an extra album of the dynamite Crystalites rhythm section as well as the extremely rare Kingstonians’ ‘Right From Wrong’, that was not originally released in any format in the UK until now, or the album only ‘Kiss a Little Finger’.

Lead singer, Jackie Bernard, would go on to record in his own right. Possibly, the Kingstonians were too associated with a specific era and ultimately this counted against them post-1971 when times were a changing in the world of reggae and the roots era seemingly left them behind. It is a pity that no up and coming roots producer acknowledged their talent and gave them a gentle update, as was the case for example with the Heptones, or the Gladiators who are primarily associated with the roots era. As it is, this superb CD offers a stunning overview of the group at their peak, and even seasoned listeners will want to pick up all the extras which are hard to find in their original Jamaican 45s.

Tim Stenhouse