Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra ‘Black Sun’ LP/CD/Dig (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Far Out are not simply adept at re-issuing material with a Brazilian tinge, but have made it their vocation to facilitate new hybrid sounds, and the Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, is but one illustration, fusing Brazilian musicianship and the head days of disco. The CD version is the preferred option on this occasion for this writer since the orchestra operates best as an instrumental unit, with occasional background vocals where necessary. The CD version is just short of eighty minutes, with lengthy instrumental versions of five vocal tracks from the original album. All three original members of Azymuth are present with Fernando Moraes doubling up on various keyboards. An authentic retro disco ambiance is generated on ‘Step Into My Life’, with punchy brass and subtle Fender, while the disco workout of, ‘Black Sun’, builds into an epic number with catchy and repetitive riff. If anything co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Maunick sounds as if he has been taking notes from the Ashford and Simpson songbook of building into a crescendo-like intro and this is evident on ‘Flying High’. Syndrums and flute combine effectively on the 1970’s old school disco of, ‘Give it to me’, the title of which has graced many a disco/funk tune in its time. A second release, then, from the collective that previously released a self-titled debut album back in 2014, which then received the remix treatment. Likely to feature on many a dance floor in the months to come.

Tim Stenhouse

Tim Maia ‘Disco Club’ LP/CD (Mr Bongo) 4/5

An authentic slice of Brazilian disco from the vaults and a timely reminder of what a soulful singer Tim Maia is. This album dates from 1978 and that means whirling disco strings, female background choruses, but above all this the voice of Tim Maia stands out. A funk-tinged ditty in , ‘Acenda o farol’, emerges as a contender for the album’s choicest cut, with another catchy chorus. The English language, ‘All I want’, hints at what Maia could have achieved had he descended the Atlantic Ocean down to North America, and this could have been re-titled, ‘To be happy’, because it is chanted by the female singers so many times. Irrespective, it is a soulful groove with moody Fender Rhodes into the bargain. For this project, Maia needed a change of direction, since he was financially destitute and had joined a religious cult. Not the obvious backdrop to recording a disco album, perhaps, but he created a new band with quality session musicians (such as drummer Paulinho Braga) who were the equivalent of say the Funk Brothers in Detroit and the jazzy arrangement and keyboards of Lincoln Olivetti. Gospel influences come to the fore on the otherwise brass and hand clapping accompaniment to, ‘Sossego’. Side two on the vinyl is where the music diversifies and a lovely song composed by Cassiano, ‘Murmu ú rio’, showcases the gentler side to Maia’s work that is further exemplified on the guitar-driven number, ‘Juras’. Earth, Wind and Fire harmonies are a feature of the downtempo, ‘Se me lembro faz doer’, and the mid-tempo, ‘Jhony’ (sic) that ends the album on a more uplifting note.

Luaka Bop did a fine job of compiling Tim Maia’s work for an international audience, and hopefully this fine example of his craft will lead to further re-issues of his original albums. Part of an ongoing series of Mr. Bongo classic re-issues, with West Africa. Mexico and Brazil all likely to feature in this review section in the forthcoming weeks and months.

Tim Stenhouse

Ayalew Mesfin ‘Hasabi – My Worries’ (Now-Again) 5/5

If it wasn’t for Now-Again and Vinyl Me, Please, Ayalew Mesfin’s voice may never have been heard outside of Ethiopia.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, where the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by communist Derg forces, Ayalew was a musician frustrated by the oppressive regime. In an act seen as disruptive, he gave 4000 cassettes of his music away for free to voice his discontent, becoming a spokesman for the people. He was jailed for three months.

Upon release he was assigned a parole officer for thirteen years, and banned from creating music. However, Ayalew would not be silenced, continuing to record in secret with an ever-transforming Black Lion Band.

An anthology album, consisting of 7” singles and reel-to-reel tapes from his personal collection, is to be released for the first time. In eleven tracks Ayalew combines tizita, a form of Ethiopian ballad, with rock, funk, and soul.

Ethiopia has always been strong in its traditions; as the only country on the continent never to have been colonised, Western techniques have not had much effect on the production of music. Despite naming Wilson Pickett and James Brown amongst his idols – you can faintly hear their influence on tracks ‘Ewedish Nebere (I Used To Love You)’ and ‘Yetembelal Loga (Tall and Grateful)’ – the enduring Ethio-Groove is prevalent throughout Ayalew’s music.

Title track ‘Hasabi (My Worries)’ begins with angry, punchy guitar before the bass line retreats to a mellow bomp, and Ayalew commences to glide effortlessly up and down registers. Later on, ‘Ambael’ and ‘Zebeder (Mesmerizing)’ further demonstrate his ability to pour his heart out in the cantabile, singing about social issues and commentating on politics.

Describing the release, Ayalew says ‘this is not my story, this is an Ethiopian story. If you were there, you are a part of history, you are a part of Ethiopia, and, of course, you are a part of the world.’ He now stands alongside Mulatu Astatke and Getatchew Mekuria as Ethiopian musicians who have captured our hearts.

Forty years is a long time to wait to have your music played to the world. We’re thankful to be around to see it happen.

Sam Turnell

Aaron Comess ‘Sculptures’ (Innsbruck) 5/5

It’s hard to describe how much I like the drum beat in ‘Sculptures,’ opening track on Aaron Comess’s new album of the same name. Is it jazz? It is if you take into the account the amount of times it changes. There’s a little bit of backbeat, a stomping of hip hop, a burst of blast beat, and a hint of something straight out of your town’s local marching band. All packed and pummelled in 3:55 fantastic minutes to the sound of Leon Gruenbaum’s lovely Aurora evoking samchillian.

In an intentional move, the samchillian takes centre stage in many of the songs. For those unfamiliar with this instrument, it is an invention of Gruenbaum’s himself. Looking very much like a deconstructed qwerty keyboard with a paint job, this MIDI controller is based on changes of pitches, rather than fixed pitches. The performer is given the opportunity to perform extremely quick, rhapsodical lines.

After all the science, Sculptures is one of those albums which could pass many people by, but if listened to will surprise with every track. Altruistic acoustic guitar lavishes throughout second track ‘Berlin.’ ‘Dogs’ is full of barking, gloopy synth. Oli Rockberger slinks around with a Fender Rhodes on ‘Whaky.’ Track 5, named ‘The Beast’ is a dancey, trancey number which could have been played by LCD Soundsystem, but thankfully wasn’t. John Davis teases with his bass on ‘Soundcheck-Oceans,’ whilst Grey McMurray supports throughout on the electric guitar.

There’s rhythm, there’s blues, there’s folk, there’s atmosphere.

Having played with the Spin Doctors, Joan Osborne, and James Maddock, Comess has now established himself as a first rate composer.

If you’re a fan of Tortoise, Mogwai, or The Sea and Cake, you’re probably, definitely, going to like this.

Sam Turnell

Jon Balke, Siwan ‘Nahnou Houm’ (ECM) 4/5

Once again ECM comes up trumps with a recording that brings together the Sufi mysticism of Iran, baroque music from the English and Spanish traditions, and a strong nod to the Al-Andalus musical tradition. This album takes a leaf out of the superb explorations of Jordi Savall when investigating the early music folk traditions of the Mediterranean, and leader and arranger Jon Balke and Siwan take this a step further, by heading on across the desert of North Africa. Recorded in Copenhagen, a thriving alternative venue to Oslo, the project began back in 2007 with a desire to examine the musical aspects of Andalucian culture and then extended to other domains ranging from art, culture and science, to the effects of the Inquisition. This is music at the crossroads of civilisation, and is illustrated by the wondrous, ‘Duda’, with a plethora of strings, vocals and the whirling sound of the kemençe percussion instrument. Sparse instrumentation with a folkloric guitar plus sweet vocals from Mona Boutchebah dominate on, ‘Desmayor se’ (‘Swooning’). All but two pieces are originals, with, ‘Ma kontou’, an Andalusian traditional number which features a percussive solo in the introduction. A heart-rending and intimate piece, ‘Itimad’, ends the album on a high with vocal and percussion in the ascendancy and lyrics dating from eleventh century Spain. This is a delightful listening experience and one to be consumed alongside ‘Blue Maqam’ by Anouar Brahemm, where the voyage is into the Orient. Faced with the political impotency of ‘super power’ leaders to many of the world’s global problems, this intimate riposte advocates a different and more productive path of peaceful co-operation and indeed co-existence.

Tim Stenhouse

Detroit Rising ‘A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure’ (Down Jazz) 3/5

Detroit collective (with other cities, notably L.A. mixed in) Detroit Rising are an ensemble of original studio members of the P-Funk school including both Funkadelic and Parliament. Their no-nonsense approach to music has extended to individual work with the likes of Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and on the jazzier side of the tracks, Herbie Hancock and Theo Parrish. Stylistically, the group embraces old-skool funk from the 1970’s (Slave) as well as the kind that Prince in the 1990’s might have conjured up and the group needs to be slightly wary of not being perceived solely as a Prince tribute band; they are good enough musicians to stand on their own. Vocals are shared between Steve Boyd and various guest singers, and the temperature is hot from the outset. The Prince-esque ‘Lashing Out’ opens up the album on a mini-jam session complete with wailing saxophone, whereas it is Steve Arrington and Slave that are most obviously evoked on the nine and a half minute uptempo groove of ‘Little Bit’. Where this kind of re-enactment of funk history falls down is in reinforcing the point too many times and, with four tracks alone weighing in at over nine minutes, this is an album in need of a severe trim. Some variation is available on the Prince-like vocals to ‘My Heart Is Frozen’, which is more melodic, but it is a pity that their jazz credentials were not more on display on some moody, laid back pieces, and these are sadly conspicuous by their absence. Distributed by the Light in the Attic indie label, this releases is strictly for funk enthusiasts who like their extended jam session with large doses of bass line and crashing drums.

Tim Stenhouse

Nina Simone ‘The Colpix Singles’ 2CD/LP (Stateside) 5/5 for CD, 4/5 for LP

While many fans of Nina Simone have focussed on her late 1950’s album, ‘My baby just cares for me’, for which she never received any royalties and has been endlessly plundered, a more accurate portrayal of the young singer still searching for her songwriting talents comes in the shape of this delightful 2 CD package (available as a single LP with selected tracks from the CD anthology) that captures her singles for the Colpix label. They date chronologically between 1959 and 1963, after which she moved over to a major label in Verve and enjoyed her greatest commercial success as well as blossoming into a songwriter of great promise.

Rewind to 1959, however, and Simone was still under the influence of classical piano having studied this subject at the Julliard School of Music in New York, before competing for further study only to be confronted by racial bigotry. Instead, she signed for Colpix, recording a flurry of 45s in addition to recording live performances, especially the one at Carnegie Hall, that came out on Stateside in the early noughties. Of the singles, eternal favourites are to be found in, ‘Blues is the colour of my true love’s hair’, and in folk-blues interpretations such as ‘Gin house blues’ and ‘Cotton eyed Joe’. Billie Holiday was not long departed from this world when Nina recorded these side and a fitting and uplifting tribute to Holiday comes in ‘Fine and mellow’. Other composers/musicians who caught the young woman’s ears were tow sets of brothers, the Gershwin’s.

While the singer-songwriter in Nina Simone had not yet fully matured, four lovingly crafted songs are offered here and they include the mini masterpiece that she would sing throughout her lengthy career, ‘I want a little sugar in my bowl’, an adaptation of ‘Little Luisa Jane’, a co-written ‘Blackbird’ (not to be confused with the Beatles Paul McCartney composition) and a short version of ‘Under the lowest’.

Tim Stenhouse

Miles Davis ‘Ascenseur pour l’échafaud’ CD (State of Art) 5/5

Atmospheric jazz film soundtracks rarely impress as much as this timeless recording and this is one of the all-time classics. Director Louis Malle enlisted trumpeter Miles Davis, then a young aspiring musician, to view the rushes of the film in the studios and then imagine how that might be translated into musical form. The result is a superb excursion into the murky world of the thriller with beautifully crafted vignettes such as the rapid moving’Sur l’autoroute’ (taking a riff out of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’), specific scenes inside with ‘Julien dans l’ascenseur’, ‘Au bar du petit bac’, and the all too memorable title piece, or ‘Générique’ that seemingly goes on forever. Bassist Pierre Michelot in the inner sleeve notes alludes to how the session work took place at a time when the band were performing live together and consequently developed a close symbiotic rapport that can be heard in the tightness of the ensemble sound, with Barney Wilen operating on saxophone, while the brother of Miles’ then girlfriend, René Urtreger, plays gently on the piano, and there is sensitive accompaniment by Swiss drummer, Daniel Humair.

State of Art have once again spared no expense with a lovely gatefold sleeve that reproduces the black and white still of Jeanne Moreau in her absolute prime and included is both a review (outer sleeve) by French existentialist writer, jazz critic and contributor to the highly influential Jazz Hot, and jazz trumpeter Boris Vian, as well as an inner sleeve (in glorious red background) up-to-date revisiting of the release and how it surfaced first on 10″ vinyl and then on to 12″ LP, placing the releases in a wider historical context in relation to earlier soundtracks from Louis Armstrong and others on ‘New Orleans’ from 1947 and not forgetting its near rival, ‘Anatomy of a murder’ composed by Duke Ellington from 1959. More reviews of this premier league re-issue label will be forthcoming and they cover both blues and jazz, as well as cutting across major record label boundaries.

Tim Stenhouse

Shatner’s Bassoon ‘Disco Erosion’ (Wasp Millionaire) 4/5

We meet aliens everyday who have something to give us. They come in the forms of people with different opinions. Whether from the dark of space, or the deep of blue, there’s always someone, or something, with a different point of view.

They could be ions away, spanning stratosphere and nebula, or they could be right here, on earth. They could be amongst us right now, playing music foreign to your ears and mind, and we would be none the wiser. They could be from Leeds in the form of Shatner’s Bassoon.

Yes, that sounds correct. Shatner’s Bassoon: men from some unknown moon.

It’s the second time to tango, count to two. New album Disco Erosion exploring pastures new with a syncopated beat. This is not some ‘Encounters Of The Third Kind’ sort of jazz. There are no synths in this desert. We’re talking alien lifeforms, mindfarming that part of the brain stimulated by Cake. Listen to this and you’ll never ween yourself off.

They will tease you with metal basslines, and goad you with a blink of cowbell. Begin to listen and you’ll never stop, hypnotised by sax that shouldn’t work but does, and you want to hate it, but can’t because You’ve Got To Play The Game. You must play the game. After all, energy is the key to creativity. Energy is the key to life, or so a wise man once told.

Throw Darts to the wind, and they’ll be chucked straight back with razor sharp symbols, growing into an 11:19 free for all not satisfied with scoring bullseye. Close your eyes, see what life is like during a Derpa Day, then head in for Zuppa.

Shatner’s Bassoon. Shatner’s Bassoon. Shatner’s Bassoon.

Say their name three times and they’ll send down their transporter beams down at you.

Sam Turnell

Mildlife ‘Phase’ (Research) 4/5

Names don’t come more ironic than Mildlife.

Here’s a band of twenty-somethings from Melbourne releasing a debut album so hot it’ll melt your face off.

In six oh so groovy tracks the four piece inject rock, jazz, funk, disco, and psych. The new holy pentalogy.

Think of Django Django, then forget about them. Then think of Vulfpeck, and put them out of your mind. Then cast your mind back to that time in your apartment, when you got that new Herbie Hancock tape, and quickly let the thought slide away. Then listen really, really hard and realise that it’s still Mildlife in the now, and you may have heard something similar in the 70’s, but then realise you’re hearing it now and it’s all fresh, bliss.

Hear those pan pipes on Im Blau. Taste the bass on Zwango Zop. Take a great big inhalation of synth.

When it’s all over, lay back, and get ready to do it all over again.

These guys may be called Mildlife, but they’ve got loads left in them yet.

Sam Turnell