Various ‘The Magnificent Seven’ / ‘Rough Road’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

Trawling the reggae archives for quality compilations is what the Burning Sounds reissues series is also about and in this case two Phil Pratt produced various artist sets that both date from 1978. The stronger of the two is the former and is devoted to some of the best and lesser known DJs of the roots reggae era. A real discovery and gem of a tune is ‘Master of All’ by King Sighta, that features a classic riddim. Only marginally less enticing is ‘Jah Jah Children’ by Big Youth. Phil Pratt certainly had some impressive networking skills and managed to secure the great I-Roy for the smoothest of deliveries allied to some stabbing horns on ‘Musical Air Raid’. Pratt is in fact a gifted musician and the eldest of seventeen children, one of whom made it as a musical teacher at St. Alpha’s school for boys, an institution that nurtured some of the finest of all Jamaican instrumentalists.

The second compilation draws attention to the singers and of these Al Campbell was a particular favourite of Pratt and here is heard on three separate numbers, of which the minor horns of ‘Version of Love’ is the pick of the bunch. Veteran Lord Creator was around during the ska craze, but was still producing quality music in the late 1970s, as with ‘Precious Time’. The only pity is that some of Phil Pratt’s finest vocal productions such as Dennis Brown’s ‘Black Magic Woman’, and Pat Kelly’s ‘Soulful Love’, are not included. However, these are easily available elsewhere and regularly find their way onto 45 reissue.

Finally, full marks for the quality of the printing in the inner sleeve notes that puts some re-issues companies to shame. Terrific facsimile album covers and labels adds just the right touch of authenticity and excellent references provide further reading tips as well.

Tim Stenhouse

Cornell Campbell ‘Sweet Baby’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

Falsetto singer Cornell Campbell will forever be associated with his Studio One reggae classic ‘Queen of the Minstrel’, and with roots fans for his 1970s opus ‘A Dance in a Greenwich Farm’. However, his late 1970s albums continued to be of a high quality and this one, recorded at Harry J’s studio, was produced by singer/producer Linval Thompson. It is noteworthy in that, similar to Sugar Minnott, Campbell was sensitive to new developments in UK reggae and more particularly, a gentler form that embraced soul music, and this new style was known as ‘Lover’s Rock’. The album here adopts some of the lover’s rock innovations, while featuring the cream of roots reggae musicians, notably Sly and Robbie, with Skully and Sky Juice, ensuring the instrumentation is heavy on percussion. As a result, the hybrid of roots and lover’s combines from start to finish, with a gorgeous opener in ‘Blinded by Love’. Creative covers of soul gems include a more uptempo reading of Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’, while the 1970s Philly influenced smoother soul is paid homage to on ‘Gonna Take a Miracle’. A softer, more fluid interpretation worked especially well at the ‘blues’ dances that sprouted up all over the UK as impromptu and, generally speaking illegal, parties at which music was played.

The consistent quality of the music here places Cornell Campbell in the lineage of other reggae singers noted for their soulful influences and these include Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. To round off an excellent release, the music is supplemented by a four page article from Black Echoes journalist John Masouri who provides a comprehensive historical overview, and places the music within a wider context including why the Burning Sounds label played an important role in disseminating quality roots reggae music when Jamaican pressing plants were unable to promote the music.

Tim Stenhouse

Dee Dee Bridgewater ‘Memphis …Yes, I’m Ready’ (Okeh/Sony Masterworks) 5/5

Now then. Under normal circumstances I steer well clear of albums that simply cover what has preceded the artist, I view it as pretty lame, I mean if you can get into a studio with a house band why would you not seize the moment and provide some new songs? But hang on… this is Dee Dee Bridgewater, the possessor of a phenomenal jazz/soul voice with a myriad of classy recordings behind her! I just had to give her some laser flicker time, and guess what… WOW. I take back what I said – I’m hanging my head in shame.

She’s gone back to her southern roots, throughout this album you can hear Memphis Tennessee, from the songs chosen to the very tight band she’s got behind her. She was born in the city known for its pivotal part in American culture, music and the Civil Rights struggle. Bridgewater was/is part of an American legacy. After moving to Flint, Michigan, Bridgewater’s childhood nights were spent tuning into Memphis WDIA, the first radio station in the nation featuring all-black programming. It was also the station where “Matt the Platter Cat” spun tuneage.

She’s backed here by the Stax Academy Choir and recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. Co-Produced by Bridgewater and Kirk Whalum. She’s recut in her own style “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” by the Staple Singers and what a corking version it is. Special mention must go to “Yes I’m ready” which starts off very close to the original but then morphs into a totally fresh jazz influenced opus, but paying close homage to the original, on every track she gives an inspired vocal performance, some lovely jazz inflections and oozing soul. I’m also taken by her version of “B.A.B.Y.”, such a well known song and an accepted classic in the soul world, but she’s done it again and I love it. She’s also provided a funky strolling version of “The thrill is gone” which really is poised for radio plays, very Ann Peebles. Not a duff track on display.

Musically it’s what we have come to expect from this icon, a very tight band, honking horns, some sort of Wurlitzer/Hammond popping up, thumping bass and excellent percussion.

Her career has spanned four decades, a 2017 NEA Jazz Master and three-time Grammy and Tony award winner, plus she’s a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Enough of me, sorry, got to go and play this again loud, which is what you should be doing.

P.S. Does anyone remember her stunning performance of “Let’s do it again” from the 2002 BWB ‘Groovin’ album, Kirk Whalum on Sax, simply wonderful.

Brian Goucher

Brian Molley Quartet ‘Colour and Movement’ (Bgmm) 4/5

The Glasgow jazz scene does not receive its full due from the rest of the United Kingdom in spite of an internationally recognised jazz festival that has annually welcomed the very finest. However, in tenorist and multi-reedist, Brian Molley, it has unquestionably unearthed a prodigious talent whose skills in composition and open-minded approach to incorporating other world roots rhythms into his music set him apart from the rest.

This is in fact Molley’s second album on his label and features his regular quartet including Brazilian guitarist and bassist Mario Caribé. It is, however, the music of the Indian sub-continent rather than that of Latin America that most informs his music outside of modern jazz with Monk, hard and post-bop all featuring, and, interestingly, the sound of ECM being gently weaved into a distinctive voice. On the driving ‘Lexington 101’ there are shades of early 1960s Johnny Griffin on Riverside, but that contrasts with the sparse sound and sedate pace generated on ‘The Pushkar Push’, which is far more akin to ECM in tone. What really impresses is the natural flow of the music with nothing rushed and no need to overly impress with technical challenges on the instrumentation, a lesson that other young jazz musicians would do well to heed.

A modal bass line from double bassist Caribé leads into a subtly flavoured slice of acoustic Indo-Jazz fusion on ‘Saanj in the Blue City’, and the leader enters into a relaxed excursion here. While some might have expected, ‘A Borboleta’, to be a homage of sorts to the 1974 Santana album with a strong Brazilian input, it is in fact a tribute to the Brazilian folk choro genre and a fine one at that, with Molley here reverting to flute and sounding not dissimilar to Hermeto Pascoal on a breeze of a tune that is an album highlight. New Orleans grooves with a Monk-esque piano riff from Tom Gibbs offer some further variety on ‘Picayune Slinky’, with Molley on soprano saxophone. Scandinavian oriented folk-jazz is not altogether surprising given the proximity to Scotland and the parallel landscape with the Highlands at least, and perhaps subconsciously, this has seeped into the music on the lovely ‘Jacksonville’, with a repeated bass motif.

Standing apart from the rest and placed chronologically towards the very end of the album are three standards and none are treated as one might expect and have carefully thought through and imbued with an individual touch. Who would have expected Duke Ellington’s ‘Solitude’ to be performed with overdubbed horns including bass clarinet and as a solo vehicle for Mollery’s mastery of the horns, this is something out of the ordinary that works a treat. The Bricusse/Newley number, ‘Cheer up Charlie’, is performed as a straight ballad, but as a duet between piano and tenor and so compelling is the reading that a future duet album, or at the very least several examples of the duet format, should be seriously considered for a one-off future project. Indeed, such is the quiet assurance of the group as a whole that this album veers off in several directions that can be usefully followed up on and explored in greater depth on future recordings. A most promising album and one that some of the majors should be listening to. Watch out for a a forthcoming blog from the musician, introducing us to his musical influences, experiences and collaborations.

Tim Stenhouse

Lee Fields ‘Lets Talk It Over’ (Angle3) 5/5

Now then, Lee Fields should be no stranger to UK Vibe patrons, he’s currently riding a wave of interest and we’ve mentioned him before and he’s been interviewed a couple of times too. So let’s go back to 1979, Angle 3 Records put out this funk/Soul album and it bombed, once again it didn’t stand a chance at the time but to become one of the Holy Grails in album collecting today. At the time James Brown was on every playlist around, his albums were bought in their millions, you can’t get away from the fact that Lee Fields sounds not unlike Brown and the funky music he presented wasn’t a million miles away from Brown’s sound either, so it didn’t stand a chance, a small label out of Plainfield USA was never going to get a distribution deal of any substance and so it died. The funk tracks on here are perfect for what is being played at some venues now and it will only take one of the new breed of funky jocks to get hold of this album and its value will rocket even further.

Contained in this album is also “Mighty Mighty Love”, a wonderful free-flowing dancer which among a small clutch made it to 45, it became huge on the modern soul scene and has over the years become very sought after in its own right. The original album and sleeve contain virtually no information other than the album was self-produced by Lee himself; no change there then is there. Now for the surprise, the original platter had only 7 tracks on it but you lucky people have 15 tracks, it looks like they have pulled together assorted 45’s including the other grail “Take Me Back”. The funky strutting “Cutting Out On Me” is new to me and it’s a cracker, the sought after deep soul wailer “Bewildered” is also here in all its majestic beauty. The album finishes with another mix of the excellent “Cutting Out On Me”. The fresh new album cover also fits in with his modern day persona.

Talking about the two albums in today’s spotlight, in more recent times the Bobby Hutton album has become an auction item and I can’t remember the last time I saw the Lee Fields for sale so these releases are timely and it allows the casual listener to join in the same fun of listening to soul music that some of us have been doing for some 50 years. Essential purchases at any cost in my world.

Brian Goucher

Bobby Hutton ‘Piece of the Action’ (ABC) 5/5

What a fabulous reissue this is, having been in my collection for some 30+ years now, Bobby Hutton’s “Lend a Hand” off the album has been a constant play on the Northern Soul scene for what seems an eternity, in fact it was one of the first ‘modern’ sounding tracks to gain recognition with the 60’s crowd, a crisp beat with a lush production still fills dance-floors today however, it isn’t an easy album to find and never has been, it never got past demo stage, I’ve expected over the years to see an issue come to light but it never happened, so assuming this only made it to a few radio stations, one can only assume due to the sound presented it died a death. Remember this was 1973, the sound of the 60’s was only just beginning to recede, at the time this was a thoroughly modern album, strings ‘n’ things arrangements, mainly in the dance mode, almost Philly in sound. Bobby Hutton has a superb voice which fits perfectly with the sound presented, “Lend a Hand” became so in demand that it was released by ABC on a 45 over here in the UK, this has disappeared too and the value rising steadily. Produced by Dee Irvin and arranged by Clarence Johnson an array of musicians are listed and an even bigger list of backing singers which include Betty Jean Plummer no less. A wonderful snap shot of what was to become the norm music wise later on in the years to come and rightly is considered one of the finest 70’s soul albums to surface.

Brian Goucher

Abatwa (The Pygmy) ‘Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’ LP/CD/DIG (Glitterbeat) 3/5

Berlin-based indie label Glitterbeat have made it their lasting objective to showcase the supposedly commercially unviable musical projects that other labels would simply ignore. In so doing, they have performed the vital task of bringing hitherto unknown artists with important stories to tell about themselves and in this global village in which we all now inhabit, that is an extremely worthwhile endeavour.

Rwandan roots music has been given a boost in the last fifteen years with the unexpected success of Konono, but the music within this project is and definitely no glossy studio refinement either, though the recording quality is excellent on state of the arts equipment. Rather, producer Ian Brennan, has played the role of a latter day Alan Lomax, travelling to the most places in order to chronicle the folk music and seek to explain how it relates to the socio-political surroundings.

In the case of the Abatwa, or Pygmy peoples, they are an endangered community that have been marginalised by the larger nation-state and their music is a genuine plea both for help and greater understanding. The instrumentation is as basic as it gets, but in some ways this harks back to the origins of the blues in the United States, which does share common roots with west Africa, and from this perspective alone musicologists will be fascinated by some of the sounds that they hear within.

Resembling more a surfboard than musical instrument, the eleven-string icyembe, conjures up the Delta blues on a wonderful vocal duet with call and response elements on, ‘Umuyange’ (‘Protect the environment’) by Teonesse Majambere who also happens to have composed the piece. An outstanding example of the Abatwa’s musical heritage. Another instrument, the one-string fiddle, or iningidi, curiously has echoes of the folk roots of the Appalachian mountains and male vocalist, Jean-Baptiste Kanyambo cooks up a storm on, ‘Nyirandugu’ (‘The hard worker’). Needless to say modern technology is something in short supply in such a rural setting, but the Abatwa are nothing if resourceful and on a battery operated loop machine comes their unique take on rap, with the young teenage voice of Bihoyiki Dathive who improvises on, ‘Igira hino’ (‘Come closer’) and this creates a lovely bass-synth sound plus handclaps with a rap that makes even 1970s US rap sound somewhat passé. In the Abatwa community, music is something to be shared between generations and they can teach western society a thing or two in this respect, with, ‘Urwanikamiheto’ (‘War song’) a song performed by a sixty-seven year old mother and her sons. In the government designated villages, the Abatwa community are left to their own devices and this, sadly, results in alcohol addiction and depression. This mirrors the plight of Native Americans in the United States and it is to be hoped that projects of this nature will finally shed some much-needed light on the community and their desperate need for a hand up and greater recognition of and remedies to the difficulties they face. .

A very worthwhile project, but one point deducted for the paucity of time. Under thirty-five minutes for a CD, especially one compiling various artists, however interesting, is selling the listener short.

Tim Stenhouse

Elektrojazz ‘New York Tribute’ CD/DIG (Giant Sheep) 4/5

Not at all what it may first seem, this is a Danish band, now Harlem based and with American collaboration and input, who have come up with a pictorial twenty-first century fresco of contemporary life in the Big Apple. Composer and trombonist, Anders Larson, would appear to be the band’s leader, and the all-Scandinavian quartet form the nucleus of the band with additional guest vocals supplied by Cary Goldberg and Michael Stephenson (who also doubles up on saxophone and writes the lyrics).

The sound is a lovely mixture of acoustic jazz with electric piano and beat-box, but the name of Elektrojazz is actually misleading and one that the band would do well to drop if they wish to attract the audience that would be interested in their music. They excel on the Fender-led ‘East Village Blues’, which is one of the strongest pieces this writer has heard this year and gives off the jazziest of vibes on the repetitive riff. A jam session groove permeates, ‘Midtown Madness’, with Fender once again in the ascendency. Another real favourite is the soulful beat ballad of ‘Imaginary Love’, with some lovely trombone accompaniment from the leader, a laid back Headhunters’ type rhythm and vocals that recall early Bobby McFerrin. One final gripe, and it is a minor one. The inner sleeve writing is difficult to decipher because of the background photos. That aside, this is a group with a very promising future and the support of the Danish Arts Foundation is worth every penny, or make that every euro. A highly creative concept of soaking up all the everyday noises of the city of New York and Elektrojazz have definitely succeeded in communicating that hustle and bustle milieu. How about giving themselves a New York influenced rename?

Tim Stenhouse

Paul Tillman Smith ‘A Beautiful Heart’ CD/DIG (Chump Change) 5/5

“Having basically started my music career as a starving avant-garde jazz drummer, 19 and almost penniless on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side in 1967. Jazz drummer Norman Connors and I were best friends and roommates for a while, the difference being he could run home to his momma in Philly to eat and my momma was way in California. Rent was like 40 dollars a month, and I was lucky if I had that. Kenny Dorham and Cecil McBee whenever I would see them on the streets always bought me food. Playing the angry experimental jazz of that era mainly with saxophonist Sonny Simmons, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler was definitely economically dangerous.”

The above is the first paragraph from the liner notes of this classy fabulous album. And I found them fascinating. The production values on this set are at opposite ends to my normal Southern Soul fare, real instruments a variety of tempo’s and styles, and with various lead vocalists keeps you interested throughout, the songs are well written too. Two of my favourite under the radar singers are on here, Latoya London and Donnie Williams both of whom cut there teeth on American Idol, I was enamoured with Latoya London from the moment I saw and heard her and without doubt I thought Donnie was well ahead talent wise and should have won it. Latoya’s 2005 “Love & Life” set still gets some laser flicker time and in particular the sultry “More” should have made her a house-hold name amongst soul patrons, I remember playing “More” at Soul Essence circa early 2006 and the reaction set me believing we had a real star in the making. We also have the superb voice of Derick Hughes on here too, and a real bonus a composition that was put together in 1982 but never saw the light of day, well get your ears around Rosie Gaines and “Summer Skye”, a crisp dancer set for recognition over the coming months. The album was produced by Mr Tillman with a helping hand from one Norman Connors and it shows, in places this could be a Norman Connors album from back in the day.

A few highlights then “Out there in space” with Donnie at the helm, a sublime head nodding toe tapper complete with classy backing singers, the track that’s got me hooked is Latoya London and “Crying for love”, her voice appears to be not as strong as on her 2005 album, that’s not a complaint, I’ll take this lovely warm voice anyway I can get it. Tootie Williams gives us the stunning “April Fools” which carries on the slipping around tale in which she’s married but manages to get another man in love with her, the title gives away the rather sadistic notion that she’s enjoying the torment she’s piling on man number 2, so infectious. We have Derick & Tootie on a cracking version of “Sweet & Wonderful” as lavish as it gets. Soul radio will love every track and expect to hear this album plundered by various jocks, space is always at a premium, I’ve only scratched the surface here.

There’s a vast array of musicians on here far to many to name, buy the cd, read the liner notes and wallow in a very special album. Fish at Simply Soul has them, amongst other outlets.

Brian Goucher

Various ‘The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues’ LP/CD/DIG (Rough Guide Network) 4/5

From humble origins and more general compilations during the early 1990s, the Rough Guide to music series has developed its own momentum and grown into a far more specialised and, ultimately, more interesting set of to the roots of world music. This ongoing sub-series on the blues has generated a good deal of interest, not least because blues aficionados now have the luxury of choosing between vinyl and CD formats.

The names are, to a certain extent, familiar, but with some fiendishly hard to find rarer examples of early blues included and thus this is a compilation that will appeal to neophyte and long-term devotee alike.

The excellent liner notes rightly point out that an artificial distinction was made by US record companies in the 1920s between black (African-American) and white music. In reality, the distinctions were far more nuanced with musicians borrowing from one another. A major plus of this anthology is that it demonstrates by placing seemingly disparate musical traditions together how country blues and country folk were inextricably linked and inter-connected. Thus we have examples here of Doc Boggs and Charlie Poole who would not normally be associated with the blues, but whose repertoire was diverse and the specific songs selected here would comfortably fit into any reasonable definition of the blues. The Hawaiian slide was highly influential and Jimmy Rodgers storytelling quality comes to the fore on, ‘Mule skinned blues (blues yodel #8)’ and let no-one tell you that the stretched out vocals have nothing whatsoever to do with the blues.

One aspect of traditional folk music is that it follows on from the European late 1700 tradition of ‘parlour’ guitar and it is fascinating to contemplate how, while the white middle classes would perform light classical on the guitar, in the United States this filtered down via the so-called ‘lower classes’ into folk music with a wider world roots sensibility. Examples here are of John Dilleshaw performing a ‘Spanish Fandango’, and even the opener, ‘Guitar Rag’ by Roy Harvey and Jess Johnson.

More conventional blues interpretations are to be found on Sam McGee’s ‘Buck Dancer’s Choice’, and this writer would willingly welcome the opportunity to listen to a good deal more of his excellent sound. Likewise, Clarence Green impresses on ‘Johnson City Blues’. At seventy-five minutes, the quality and quantity of music on offer is evenly distributed and makes for compelling listening.

Tim Stenhouse