Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra ‘On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971’ (Dusk Fire) 4/5

Arguably the finest British jazz composer of his generation, Neil Ardley has been re-discovered by a whole new generation of listeners thanks to the pioneering efforts of the indie label Dusk Fire and this is the third instalment, following on from his finest work, ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ from 1968, and the lesser-known ‘Camden ’70’.

This recently unearthed recording originates from the BBC archives which are proving to be a mini treasure trove of cornucopias (does the BBC, for example, have the complete recordings of the late 1960s ‘Jazz Scene’ programme at their disposal? This might include live footage of Miles Davis from his November 1969 concert(s) at Ronnie Scott’s as well as the Mary Williams Trio at the same venue) and, while not on a par with the 1968 album, it is superior big band music all the same. Who other than Ardley would be ambitious enough to attempt interpreting a George Russell composition, ‘Stratusphunk’, which is the only group non-original. A personal favourite is the Mike Gibbs original, ‘Time Flowers’, augmented by strings, with the stunning use of flutes and larger brass ensemble, a fine trumpet solo, and yet still sounds contemporary with the use of electric guitar. Arguably, the strongest orchestral ensemble performance comes on the more sedate ‘Tanglewood ’67’, where the repetitive melody is re-emphasized and is closest to a more classical jazz big band sound, possibly inspired by the Gil Evans sound, though with a thoroughly modern twist that is an Ardley trademark. Here a subdued trumpet solo from, perhaps, Ian Carr, precedes a gorgeous soprano saxophone.

Challenging material, yet expertly delivered from a consummate composer and arranger, and performed by the very pinnacle of British jazz talent including Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, guitarist Dave Clempson, bassist Jeff Clyne, brass including Barbara Thompson and Mike Gibbs. On a few numbers, Humphrey Lyttleton introduces with his usual finesse and panache, which only enriches the listening experience. More of the BBC archives, please!

Tim Stenhouse

Christian Balvig, Frederick Bülow, Adrian Christensen ‘Associated With Water’ (AMP) 3/5

Scandinavian piano trios have become increasingly prominent in European jazz over the last twenty plus years, and this latest offering from Denmark, with Balvig in the central role of pianist, offers a good deal of promise. Denmark is a low-lying land surrounded by water and thus there is a natural preoccupation with water. This is the underlying inspiration for the album. The title track is actually quite bleak in tone, but reflective nonetheless and retains a dreamlike quality in spite of the faintest touch of the avant-garde and that is, perhaps, an aspect of their performance that they could develop further. The pieces as a whole are relatively short, with only two out of the eleven original trio compositions exceeding four minutes. Conciseness is a virtue, but in this case the compositions would benefit from a tad more depth, and this will probably come naturally as the trio become more confident in the studio and in live performance. By far the longest number is ‘Fictitious Conversations’, and this writer immediately warmed to the empathetic rapport between the trio members here and this is one example where lyrical simplicity and improvisational conversations come together in harmony. A staccato stop-start intro greets the listener on ‘Motor Neurons’, that thereafter slips into a more sedate tempo.

Folk-based or inspired pieces are a forte of Scandinavian piano trios going way back to the 1960s and this may just be a source that this new trio can draw upon in future album releases. While ‘Swedish’ displays some nifty brush work and a delicate piano solo intro, it is ‘Bulgaria’ that stands out with its Satie-esque beginning, lovely floating piano throughout and shuffling drum rhythms. Classical influences are apparent with both Debussy and Satie and twentieth century Romantic piano playing a leading role, while in terms of piano trios Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau spring to mind. Inventive bass and drums combine on the melodically repetitive ‘Disturbingly Pure’, with the most straightforward of piano motifs. A trio to chart the progress of in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Nubya Garcia ‎’Nubya’s 5ive’ LP/CD/DIG (Jazz Re:freshed) 4/5

We picked up the vinyl of this at the annual UK Vibe excursion to the excellent Jazz Re:freshed event in London in August 2017. Unfortunately, too good of a time was being had to write a cohesive review for this year, but it was a very enjoyable day! But at the event, Nubya and her band performed and it was this project that the group mainly performed live. For this short LP (so an EP then?), the musicians involved included Birmingham Conservatoire alumni Daniel Casimir on Bass, Joe Armon-Jones on keys (who also has another project with Maxwell Owin) and on two tracks Theon Cross (Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross Trio). Drummer and man of the moment Moses Boyd is featured on three cuts with Femi Koloeso playing on the others. And finally, Sheila Maurice-Grey has a trumpet solo on the first track ‘Lost Kingdoms’. But the star of the show is composer and tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Released on Jazz Re:freshed’s own label, Nubya’s 5ive showcases Nubya and her team, displaying both conventional jazz compositional work with more contemporary ideas and themes. ‘Lost Kingdom’ maintains a neo-soul quality, but just slightly looser in feel, with Nubya’s at times hypnotic playing style working well alongside the rest of group. ‘Fly Free’ which is a more ensemble affair, heads in a slightly more spiritual jazz direction featuring some excellent interaction between Boyd, Casimir and Joe Armon-Jones. The vaguely Dilla-influenced ‘Hold’ maintains a melodic centre until about the midpoint where the playing becomes more frantic and unattached, especially via Theon Cross and drummer Femi Koloeso. Track four, ‘Contemplation’, begins with some meandering upright bass before Nabiya’s sultry but not cheesy playing weaves between the trio of piano, bass and drums, and ‘Red Sun’ is more of a bop workout for the guys. Finally, an alternate version of ‘Hold’ is provided, with its slight increase in tempo to the original and with more pronounced Afro beat leanings within the rhythm section.

Many of the musicians featured have already previously worked together over recent years. And this cross-pollination of all these young UK players is the key to creating and maintaining a musical infrastructure and culture. A few dozen musicians all working simultaneously within a particular geographical location, working on each other’s projects as well as having their own groups is obviously not new in jazz, but I can’t remember a time when I could name so many young jazz musicians. And even here, Nubya’s 5ive moves slightly away from the more heavily contemporary work of some of her peers. But the future looks bright.

And concluding, this was released digitally a few months prior to the vinyl being issued but digital releases can sometimes get missed, so having vinyl pressings is to be commended and positively encouraged!

Damian Wilkes

Dave Askren / Jeff Benedict ‘Come Together’ (Tapestry) 5/5

Both new names to me. Askren, the son of a church organist/piano teacher. Saxophone and piano played a part in his early musical development but it was hearing George Benson and Pat Martino which inspired him to switch to the guitar. Study at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston followed, where he later became a tutor. Jeff Benedict is a saxophonist who lives by the maxim ‘less is more’. He truly tells a story with his horn. He turned professional at the age of 14 and his credentials include working with Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Gary Burton. Benedict is equally at home playing jazz or classical music. In addition, he is Professor of Music at California State, Los Angeles.

For this date, Askren and Benedict are joined by Paul Romaine at the drums and Joe Bagg on Hammond B3 organ. Contrary to what one might expect from the album title, this isn’t a Lennon and McCartney tribute album.

The opening track ‘Cheese Grits’ is firmly in the Blue Note Records mould. Think of the likes of Jimmy Smith and you will get the idea. Whilst the saxophonist plays alto on this piece, I’m put in mind of the tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. This is a powerful and yet gracefully swinging piece of music. ‘Come Together’ gets a suitably original makeover and works well. Played in 7/8. ‘Nardis’ follows and the familiar theme is transformed into a funky outing for the group. After disposing of the theme statement, the band alternates between swing and funk passages to great effect. ‘Moments Notice’ opens with a beguiling drum pattern before the tune appears. Recast imaginatively differently from what John Coltrane came up with all those years ago. ‘Hear This’ is more funky fun. In places I’m reminded of the work of fellow guitarist John Scofield. ‘Pineapple Head’ is a calypso-style piece and is great fun. ‘Willow Weep For Me’ allows the organist to break out with a powerful performance and somehow seems to inspire the saxophonist to even greater things. I imagine it is difficult to do anything other than pay respect to this familiar ballad and the group do it total justice.

Gospel rears it’s head on a tune from the repertoire of the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and ‘Groove Merchant’ is the ideal vehicle for this combo. Simply more funky blues from masters of the genre with Benedict on tenor saxophone. An up-tempo blues ‘Deed I Bu’ brings a thoroughly enjoyable set to a satisfying conclusion and the added bonus is to hear Benedict on soprano saxophone.

If you are looking for a contemporary reference point for this group check out the recent releases of Dave Stryker reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Alan Musson

Web Web ‘Oracle’ LP/CD/DIG (Compost) 5/5

Providing very little information prior to its release, Web Web’s ‘Oracle’ is a live 14-track album on Germany’s influential Compost Records, who are now unbelievably in their 23rd year of operation. The album was recorded in one day with only first takes being used. The line-up has been heralded as being a super group featuring a quartet of very experienced and prominent musicians from Europe. These include Roberto Di Gioia (piano, synth and percussion), Tony Lakatos (tenor and soprano saxophone), Christian von Kaphengst (upright bass) and Peter Gall (drums). Sonically, the album embraces the various late 1960s and ‘70s jazz aesthetics of modal, fusion and spiritual jazz soundscapes, but ‘Oracle’ isn’t a Strata East or Black Jazz tribute record. This is very much a contemporary affair with its richness emanating from the group’s varied musical tastes and sensibilities and it favours an entire listening experience.

The title track ‘The Oracle’ which is the longest piece of the set at over 7 minutes, contains an unyielding bassline underneath the evolving piano and saxophone parts, with light percussive elements before the more frantic drum section around the midpoint. ‘Journey To No End’ uses the almost essential 6/8 time signature that is so often associated with spiritual jazz, and provides saxophonist Tony Lakatos with space to create the musical backbone of the piece. ‘Kings of Forbidden Lands’ is very melodic and possibly the most accessible piece on the album with its strong tenor and soprano sax parts and absorbing piano section towards the end. Personal favourite ‘The Ring Of’, which is presented as a five-part suite with all parts being under 3 minutes in length, focuses on its more pronounced drum and synth elements. This is maybe the most loose, interesting and modern aspect of the album and something that I would like to see more of from the group (apparently their 2nd album has already been recorded).

‘Unreal Prediction’ progresses from its subtle Fender Rhodes chords in the intro, to meandering soprano sax and almost free ensemble playing during the final third. ‘New World Trinity’ has an obvious African influence with its stark but pulse-like percussion, with again, some effectual electric piano additions. The relatively sparse and downtempo ‘Alternate Truth’ drifts along harmoniously over its duration, but the arrangement is never predictable or lacking interest. Thus, the album is engaging and fascinating in equal measures.

Being overly negative, I would have preferred the album to be a touch more spiritual in nature than maybe has been presented in the (limited) marketing of the LP, but it does state that it is a ‘spiritual-jazz type’ release. And there has been a lot of focus on the fact that the album was recorded in one day using one takes in a ‘jam session’ like fashion, but isn’t that how most jazz albums pre-1970 were created? And trying to offer similarities with other artists is somewhat difficult, but Japan’s Sleep Walker are possibly a decent alignment – but they had a more straightforward and dense approach to their arrangements and recordings. And singular albums within the very fast moving cultural landscape of music can get lost or ignored if there are no other contemporaries, but with flourishing (jazz?) scenes in LA and in London via Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, Henry Wu and the like (but it’s a shame Yussef Kamaal have now split up), the album could be embraced by those outside of the established and traditional jazz communities.

The musicianship is exceptional throughout and with only a brief search online you will see their respective histories and accomplishments. And after nearly a quarter of a century and ‘Oracle’ being Compost’s first live jazz album, the label must have identified something special within this project.

Damian Wilkes

People’s Choice ‘Any Way You Wanna: The Anthology 1971-1981’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

Philadelphia was world renowned in the 1970s for its distinctive brand of smooth soulful harmonies coupled with jazz instrumental grooves to accompany. However, the funkier sides of the tracks could also be emphasised with panache and People’s Choice were one example of a self-contained group that lasted the distance and scored hits with soul, funk and disco idioms.

This well researched anthology celebrates a decade of the group’s output and reveals how the dancefloor sounds evolved as the 1970s decade progressed. The band had an early hit in 1971 when they signed to Phil-L.A. of Soul and released ‘I Like To Do It’. In contrast to The O’Jays and the smoother Philadelphia International (P.I) sound, People’s Choice aimed squarely at the dancers and they followed up in the same year with ‘Magic’. By 1974 the Philly sound was proving irresistible and the band signed to P.I. off-shoot label TSOP, or The Sound of Philadelphia. From this new collaboration, a rare 45 surfaced, now much prized by collectors, and this was the groovy ‘Love Shop’ with the accompanying ‘Party Is A Groovy Thing’. Disco was starting to take over and the People’s Choice were more than ready to deliver. That came in 1975 in the form of the title track to this anthology and ‘Do It Any Way You Wanna’, which proved to be a major R & B, disco as well as pop hit. It topped the R & B charts and was just outside the top ten of the Billboard pop charts. Furthermore, it was a hit both in the UK and throughout Europe. Finally, the band had established themselves internationally.

Their morphing into a fully fledged disco outfit was accomplished partly with the help of disco remixer par excellence, Tom Moulton, and as a wonderful bonus, the extended Moulton reworking of ‘Do It Any Way You Wanna’ is included here and features one of those trademark extended instrumental intros. An even rarer 12″ is added in ‘Turn Me Loose’ from 1978, and to this classic dancefloor pair can be added ‘Jam Jam (all night long)’, which was simply elongated musical pleasure personified. Tom Moulton produced a final dancefloor smash for the band when they moved to the Casablanca label in 1980 and released ‘You Ought To Be Dancin’. Sadly, the disco bubble had largely burst by then and a further single, ‘Hey Everybody (party hearty)’ on West End pretty much sank without trace. People’s Choice represent a golden era in the history of dance music and for that alone, we should be thankful for their contribution. Colourful illustrations and insightful notes are once again the order of the day.

Tim Stenhouse

Ms. Jody ‘(I Got That) Thunder Under Yonder’ CD/DIG (Ecko) 3/5

First up, this is a southern soul album with weak production values (there have been countless numbers of those over the years in soul music), and so long as you approach it with that in mind, you’ll be okay. As is the case with a lot of these albums the simple inclusion of a real drummer and some horns would elevate most of these albums considerably. There is never any information on these albums as to where it was cut and who played on what so it’s down these ageing ears, I seriously doubt there are any live musicians behind Ms. Jody, sounding like synthesisers of sorts all the way. But let’s deal with the music we have been presented with, rather than how it was constructed.

Ms. Jody has a very commanding voice but at times shows some vulnerability, in the past, her albums have had a mixture of good solid numbers with her more up-tempo tracks falling below par, mindless thumping music which lacks any musical quality. So we have to approach it differently as all is not lost. The the mid tempo “Another Other Woman”, with its subject matter, steeped in black history via Barbara Mason and Shirley Brown (to name but two who explored this subject) is where Ms. Jody does a mighty fine job, with her voice showing signs of cracking at times (that’s not a critisism), lyrically very powerful and commanding your attention. Musically this has some nice touches too, “Let It Flow” is another mid tempo tune with a vocal that grabs your attention. Radio shows like that of Big Daddy who cater for souther soul will jump on to this for sure as there are some stand out pieces. One track that has gotten under my skin and into my head is “You’re Letting A Good Man’s Lovin Go To Waste”. One of those ageless tales of one woman not looking after her man and another waiting in the wings to do just that, all set to a toe tapping head nodding pace. Of the uptempo tracks try “I’m So Confused”, which is very danceable and melody mixed in, unlike some of the other one-dimensional tracks on the album. A voice that can not be ignored, but an album that leaves the listener hoping it had human beings playing instruments rather than machines – we really do need those albums to be a thing of the past.

Brian Goucher

Sugaray Rayford ‘The World That We Live In’ LP/CD (Blind Faith) 5/5

Big buzz on this from our editor in chief, Steve Williams, so you have to pay attention immediately and quite rightly too, from the outset this is serious black soul music with hints of the blues, not one for the faint hearted this.

So you think you’re into soul music, well this will put you to the test with real instruments, a voice that sounds like it’s been nurtured in smoke-filled, whiskey fuelled bars for decades, not unlike Little Milton in places which is right up my street. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a brand new 2017 release, and not some unissued album from back in the day. Of course, if like me you search for new product on a daily basis, then the fruits of your labour are there, St, Paul & The Broken Bones, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields etc. Well Sugaray is now sharing the stage with these icons. I kid you not.

Opening up with a mildly funky “Take Me Back”, and into the title track which is more of the same, the first track to really strike home is the glorious tripping “Don’t Regret A Mile”, lyrically sound and musically stunning – I can see this getting the feet slipping and a sliding on the more enlightened dance-floors of the scene. This is thinking mans soul music, percussion, bass, keys and a flute create a simply stunning backdrop. The bluesy stroller, “What Do We Own” fractures the silence with that smoky vocal doing battle with some intruding horns, the drummer demanding his presence be heard, I just love it. Dropping the pace for the horn led “Home Again” then, which allows for our man to excel vocally, drum, bass and some simple keys and then those muted horns arrive for the chorus, simple but so so addictive. The pace drops even further for the sublime “Keep Moving” and here’s where the Little Milton similarity comes to the fore – brilliant. I can’t get enough of this, sublime soul music. And so it continues into “Dig A Little Deeper”, the kind of tune that stops you dead in your tracks, it makes you listen, pay attention in anticipation as to what’s coming next, my track of the album so far, I just had to replay this several times loud, lyrically at the top of the game. Next up the Stax/Atlantic sounding “Ain’t Got No Business To Die”, which isn’t a million miles away from what Sam & Dave were knocking out in the halcyon days, a super little dancer. “The Boogie Man” is a fast shuffling dancer next before the album finishes with “Troubles”, kicking off with mournful horns before the thumping bass, percussion and what sounds like a Hammond/Wurlitzer and then were off on a very danceable ride.

Caron Nimoy “Sugaray” Rayford was born and raised in Texas in poverty. His mother raising three boys alone whilst battling cancer. The Church appears to have become his sanctuary attending every day with his musical career starting at the age of 7. The album was recorded at Italian soul ambassador Luca Sapio’s analogue studio in Italy, with racks of vintage gear and a killer house band they have created a timeless, simply wonderful southern influenced soul album. Without doubt my album of the year so far. Hats off to Blind Faith Records and the team behind this.

Brian Goucher

Latrese Bush ‘The Collection’ (Private Press) 4/5

This arrived together with the Irene Renee album but with holidays and the sheer volume and quality of soul arriving here it somehow got put back. Plus I thought if I left it a little longer some additional information about this lady might surface, other than the fact that she has had tracks featured on several Expansion compilations, but alas nothing other than a short mention of a concert on ReverbNation. As a companion to the aforementioned Ms Irene Renee, this is an excellent album, her voice is very Deniece Williams but with a slight earthy lived in tone at times. Musically it’s a treat too, an excellent production. Lyrically it lacks depth in places but hey, you can’t have everything.

To the music then. Kicking off with a monumental slab of modern day danceable soul in “Great Day”, which has the vibe and urgency to make it onto mainstream radio, especially MTV, who would love this with the appropriate video, starts off innocently enough then in comes a powerhouse production, choppy percussion ala the 90’s, tinkling vibes, cooing backing singers and a lead vocal that tells you from the off that we have a quality singer here, played loud, I mean really loud it really is a stunning tune, a great way to start an album. Another highlight is her duet with none other than Noel Gourdin titled “Because Of You”, a head-nodding foot-tapping weekender spin, perfect for radio plays. I really got into “The Best”, a meandering ballad that on first listen doesn’t hit you at all but it’s a real grower. Then we have “Love I Can Sing About”, one of those instant weekender anthems with strong repetitive rhythm a some nice chord changes and hints of Herbie Hancock in there too.

Now then, I don’t normally chase remixes but “Because Of You” has had a makeover in the shape of a Daz-I-Kue BB Boogie remix, who’s transformation is stunning and again along with the first track on the album could be a great crossover – if it made it to 7” or 12” it would be huge. Both these great singers are having a ball on this and it flows through to the listener. There is also a Tom Glide remix of “Love I Can Sing About” that some aficionados will enjoy. An excellent 9 tracker that deserves your support, it appears to be available at most black music sites, so go grab one.

Brian Goucher

Hank Jones ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 5/5

Hank Jones was unquestionably one of the all-time great pianists, spanning several decades and outlasting virtually all his contemporaries, and one of the most likeable and refined human beings you could ever wish to meet. His influence on the sadly departed and, in her own right, highly influential pianist, Geri Allen, cannot and should not be underestimated. Jones was one of the three jazz musician brothers including trumpeter and band leader, Hank, and drummer Elvin.

This overarching set of four recordings spans his early career between 1947 and 1956, and it captures him in blistering form. The earliest, ‘Urbanity’, is probably the best known, originally on the Verve label, and that is partly down to the lovely, if slightly racy, cover illustration of a beautiful lady looking out of a tenement window. The music is equally enticing and has a line-up that oscillates between trio and quartet formats, with Ray Brown on bass, Johnny Smith on guitar and Louis Hayes on drums. There is a noteworthy Jones original in ‘Blues for Lady Day’, and yes Hank Jones did accompany the great Billie Holiday in her prime. Elsewhere the selection and execution is quite simply impeccable, with ‘Little Girl Blue’, ‘Yesterdays’ and an intricate ‘Tea For Two’, the pick of a very distinguished bunch.

A trio only album greets the listener as the second part of the first CD and this continues the format of classy interpretations of the standard repertoire with two originals to start the album off on a high note. Wendell Marshall on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums make up the solid trio and it is the two lengthiest cuts, both from the pen of Rodgers and Hart, that impress most, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘There’s a Small Hotel’.

Guest musicians abound on the Trio Plus recording that is the introduction to CD 2. Marshall and Clarke are split only when Eddie Jones takes over bass duties, but the addition of brass in flautists Herbie Mann and Jerome Richardson, and trumpeters Donald Byrd and Joe Wilder, makes for a subtle and larger ensemble sound. A couple of originals include the wonderful ‘Hank’s Pranks’, while once again the standards are revisited, as on ‘How High The Moon’, and a second reading of ‘Little Girl Blue’. Flutes were clearly a favourite accompanying instrument of Hank Jones and the final album features a stunning line-up with Belgian flautist, Bobby Jaspar (the subject of a lovely re-issue by Avid this year), Paul Chambers on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. Extended versions of Parker’s opus, ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’s’ (Joe Henderson would cover this for Milestone in the 1970s) and of Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Spontaneous Combustion’, vary the tempo between the expert balladry work of the opener, ‘Moonlight Becomes You’.

This wonderful budget price series is wholeheartedly recommended to those on a limited budget, but nonetheless do not wish to skimp on the quality of the music. Excellent discographical notes and original album back liner notes (and generally legible) make for a superb package and a terrific learning experience for even the more seasoned students of the music among us.

Tim Stenhouse