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

Antonio Adolfo ‘Viralata’ LP (Far Out) 4/5

In what has been a relatively quiet year for Brazilian re-issues, this late-1970s comes as a pleasant surprise and a name this writer knew little about. Very much in the Brazilian fusion of jazz with rootsier elements, the music has a lightness of touch with Fender Rhodes to the fore, and, while not earth shattering, the music as a whole is atmospheric and quite varied in parts. Multi-keyboardist Adolfo can be compared in outlook with José Roberto Bertrami, even though the compositions are not quite as intricate, nor as memorable.

The melodic opener, ‘Cascavel’, features a distinctive bass riff and then leads into a melodic mid-tempo percussive number. Book ending the re-issue is the larger ensemble of brass, drums and percussion, and funk-tinged bass guitar collectively create a shuffling march rhythm on the excellent ‘A Marcha’ and this just has the faintest hint of the Banda Black Rio sound and ends the album on an engaging and uplifting note.

More typical of the rest is the Fender-led mid-tempo groove of ‘Diana e Paulo’, with soprano saxophone and flute combining effectively, taking a leaf out of Weather Report, and with rhythm guitar taking a more prominent role. Classic jazz samba is conjured up on the female vocals plus Brazilian cavaquinho (small rhythm guitar that traditionally accompanies classic samba song repertoire) song ‘Alegria de Carnaval’. that is a light and breezy number. For more reflective flavours, ‘Paraiba do Sul’ displays a lightness of touch on keyboards and this is repeated on the western classical influenced number ‘Brincandeira em Ré’. Worth checking out this solid set of mainly instrumental pieces and yet another small piece of the larger jigsaw of Brazilian popular music.

Tim Stenhouse

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