Adrean Farrugia / Joel Frahm ‘Blued Dharma’ CD/DIG (GB) 5/5

Juno Award winning pianist, Adrean Farrugia, has been an active member of the Canadian jazz music scene since the late 1990s. He has appeared on more than 40 recordings and performs locally with the Bob Brough Quartet and Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop among others. He also tours internationally with vocalist Matt Dusk, American trumpeter Brad Goode, and recently, Adrean also leads his own bands Ricochet (whose debut album was nominated for a Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz recording in 2011) and the Adrean Farrugia Trio. Adrean is on the faculties of Mohawk College and York University.
A regular on the New York City club circuit, Joel Frahm has appeared alongside musicians such as Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap and Matt Wilson and has recorded with Diane Schuur, Kurt Elling, Jane Monheit and other top jazz artists. Fans know him for his big tenor sound — fluid, inventive and filled with passion. Downbeat Magazine’s critics’ poll has named him a rising star.

Adrean and Joel have been playing together for around ten years and this is their first album together.
When I first heard this album I thought… “TV/film music”. I remembered the sound track of the film “The Firm” scored and played by the great Dave Grusin. It was solo blues/jazz piano, the whole film – it was brilliant!
I think this combination of tenor or soprano sax and piano in the various styles of jazz, blues and pop rock gives this a really wide appeal and some definite commercial potential.
You might think that an album of original material and a couple of jazz standards would be difficult with no bass and drums – but – this works… It works superbly well.
The interplay between the two players is unimaginable until you hear it, and then you realise what can be achieved with two great players with an almost transcendental connection between them so they produce a sound that I would say only a few people could achieve. You can hear sounds and shades from so many musical styles in each track it is bewildering how just two players could create this. Some of the recordings have a real live ‘one take’ feel about them. You get brilliant improvisation from both which sometimes takes your breath away and other times fills you with pure joy – the joy they must have felt during the recording.

The stand out tracks for me have got to be ‘Blued Dharma’, lovely melody from the soprano sax doubled up on the piano, really well composed track. ‘For Murray Gold’ beautiful ballad dedicated to the BritishTV/film composer Murray Gold, shades of Joni Mitchell I can hear. ‘Half Moon (for Sophia)’ I really like the Soprano Sax, this one is full of melody and rhythm, energy and vitality.
I have been listening to this album over and over trying to find something I don’t like, something to criticise – but I can’t find anything I don’t love. The writing is brilliant, the individual performances are outstanding but most of all, the interplay between the two of them, the commitment and dedication is what makes this a work of genius!

David Izen

Dinosaur ‘Wonder Trail’ LP/CD/DIG (Edition) 3/5

“Wonder Trail” is the follow-up to this highly rated quartet’s 2016 debut “Together, As One”. As with many of her projects, band-leader/composer/trumpeter, Laura Jurd, does not rest on her laurels, once again looking forward with a restless invention, rather than repeating what has gone before.

And yet to move forward, sometimes one has to look back, and with its heady dose of 80s synth-pop, combined with Miles Davis inflected inquisitive themes, it’s fair to say that past adventures combine with future sounds on this intriguing album.

Trumpeter Jurd wrote all of the tracks on this recording, yet the music being created sounds very much a group effort. Jurd is joined by Elliott Galvin on synths and keyboards, Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Corrie Dick on drums. Together they spin a web of creativity that flits between synth-led jazz, pop and folk music. At times the instruments being played make for slightly uneasy bed-fellows, whilst moments of surprise and splendour still manage to take the listener on a musical journey of discovery.

Several of the tunes have an infectious funk-like groove, with Chaplin’s bass and Dick’s drums underpinning Galvin’s melodic yet fragmented techno thrills and spills, with Jurd’s often mystic subtlety of playing hovering in and out effortlessly as the music rises and falls, breathing a unique life of its own. Some of the tracks also feature sung words from a variety of voices that add an almost other-worldly character in a strangely traditional folk-song sense, bringing a warmth and sense of humility to the proceedings.

“Wonder Trail” takes in an array of musical influences and interests, combining a quirkiness and headstrong frivolity with sincere and intelligent luminous soundscapes to create a uniquely living, breathing, musical entity. It is however, the use of the synth as the core sound that brings it all together, the other instruments queued in by its stabs and swirls, energised and contextualised. For some, this music may be the opening of a dream-like door. For others, it may simply be a silent ship that passes quietly in the night.

Mike Gates

Live UK dates:

28th May – BBC The Biggest Weekend, Coventry
14th June – Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
15th June – Band On The Wall, Manchester
19th June – Watermill, Dorking
20th June – The Basement Jazz Club, York
21st June – The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
22nd June – King Tut’s, Glasgow
23rd June – Harwich Jazz Festival
28th June – The Garage, Norwich
30th June – Club 85, Hitchin
18th July – The Lescar, Sheffield

Creation Rebel ‘Dub From Creation’ LP (On-U Sound) 5/5

Feeling quiet nostalgic and honoured that this one came my way for a review as it is choc a bloc with memories of dubbist sessions from the late 70s and 80s, whence as a student of the I ‘n’ I music vibes I would literally close my ears to virtually everything else. As long as it was dub it was dubbed. If it wasn’t – it was not played or heard and would not come remotely near (at least a 1 mile radius) to my stylus needle. I first came across Creation Rebel’s ‘Dub from Creation’ (originally on Hitrun records) in a Record Shop in Colchester – of all places. Returning to my prison-like sized digs in William Morris Towers (it was a 13 storey high Tower Block on Essex University Campus) I stayed in for the rest of the day and night playing this LP, A-side, B-Side, flip again, start all over and never getting bored. The ‘neighbour’, a white NF voter banged the wall angrily but I did enjoy fighting down Babylon with Dub every time. Step forward some 40 years and those special slices produced by Adrian Sherwood and engineered by the mighty Dennis Bovell and Sid Bucknor have been re-issued in special limited edition clear vinyl to celebrate the recent Record Store Day. Repressed for the first time this re-issue includes a download card for full album plus two bonus tracks, and printed inner sleeve with a new essay by Steve Barker (The Wire Magazine/BBC Radio) telling the story of the recording in full.

So the year was 1978. A young Adrian Sherwood, on his first production mission, added the necessary dub stardust to the music at Gooseberry Studios after the riddim tracks were created in Jamaica. This was a process or formula many would follow; only 40 years on it is much easier through the wonderful world of the net and online music collaborations. Dennis Bovell engineered with Sid Bucnor, they steered the sounds, and the rest as they say is history. Every generation of dubbists from that time to this time will hold this one up as a starting point. Everything about the release hollered unique. From the mystical cover, with an embryo in the foreground coming out almost wired from the daunting dub kingdom in the background to the sonic frequencies lifting off with the opener ‘Dub From Creation’ a steppers riddim, solid bassline and that melodica mixed up there high in the mix. You can just see the band appearing out of the turrets and towers on the cover, with Dr Pablo on melodica on the highest tower summoning the masses to skank with every note. Sherwood rides by with a mixing desk on a camel and the rest of the band, who made up the Arabs (Prince Far-I’s band) are playing from different places. I am still in total awe of the closing piece, ‘Vision of Creation’, with its minimalism and far out-ness. The template was laid out, the carpet, everything else – rolled out – and once you stepped into the Kingdom of Creation you stayed a Rebel, for life. 10 out of 5!

Haji Mike

Billy Cobham ‘Magic’ / ‘Alivemutherforya’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

Arguably the fusion era drummer of jazz in the 1970’s (some might argue Alphonse Mouzon, or even still Tony Williams), Billy Cobham gained notoriety in the late 1960s as part of the Horace Silver quintet, and then came the big call from Miles Davis and participation on the seminal ‘Bitches Brew’ album, before then joining the Mahavishnu Orchestra and teaming up again with Miles alumni John McLaughlin. Exciting and heady times for sure. All this work as a sideman meant that when he finally branched out and decided to become a leader in his own right, major record labels were only too willing to oblige and the two out of print vinyl LPs contained here were both on a major, Columbia. The former, from 1977, is the stronger of the two with an interesting band line-up comprising Joachim Kühn on keyboards along with Mark Soskin (the latter would feature with Sonny Rollins) and, interestingly, New Orleans clarinetist Alvin Batiste as well as studio saxophonist extraordinaire, Tom Scott (Joni Mitchell and a whole host of others). While there is nothing particularly outstanding about the music on offer on the first recording, it is enjoyable music nonetheless and indicative of a period in time when jazz was going through both a difficult and transitional period. Even Miles by the mid-1970s had reached a musical dead end, lacking any real direction. Standing out above the rest are, ‘AC/DC’ and the evocative ‘Leaward Winds’. This was also an era when then the elite of musicians tended to record in exotic locations.

The second album, and the more varied, dating from 1978 is immediately striking, however, by virtue of what appears to be a lovely Dutch painting on the cover, and the relationship between the audio and visual world of art is one not lost on other jazz musicians. In fact, upon closer inspection the painting is actually a photo. It follows up on the debut with a not dissimilar line-up, with Mark Soskin once again on board, but with Steve Khan on guitar and Alphonso Johnson (he of Weather Report fame) on electric bass. Key tracks include the percussion heavy ‘Bahama Mama’, a nod to Jaco Pastorius on ‘Some Punk funk’ (‘Punk jazz’ being a Jaco title), while elsewhere there are echoes of the then recent hippy era with a second version of ‘On A Magic Carpet Ride’.

Billy Cobham fully deserves his place among the jazz fusion greats and in this respect is the equal of Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and George Duke, not forgetting Herbie Hancock and Jaco Pastorius, whose talents all flourished during the 1970s. Ten pages of new and detailed notes by Matt Phillips, with another three pages of notes from the original albums help place the music in the wider historical context.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Ernesto Chahoud presents TAITU – Soul​-​fuelled Stompers from 1960s – 1970s Ethiopia’ 3xLP/CD/DIG (BBE) 5/5

Sometimes the way in which compilations are put together are as interesting as the music in hand and so it proves with this splendid anthology of Ethiopian music, the acquiring of the near impossible to find vinyl being a story in its own right. Rewind to war-torn West Beirut in 1981 and a young vinyl collector came across a 45 from Ethiopia among multiple different musical traditions on sale, from Egypt and Iraq to Spain and revolutionary songs from the Soviet Union. This can be explained partly in that well before the post WWII troubles in the Middle East surfaced, Beirut was a stop off for many western musicians and that included the likes of Duke Ellington who was so taken in by the city that he composed a piece to it as part out of his ‘Far East Suite’ (actually it would be more accurate to rename it the ‘Middle and Far East Suite’) called ‘Mount Harrissa’, in homage to the Lebanese mountain town.

Fast forward to the present and a crate digging expedition to the Ethiopian capital that for the first few days seemed to be yielding absolutely nothing, and then suddenly via a contact, as if by some miracle, musical nirvana was finally achieved. The result: a treasure trove of old recordings opened up and it is this momentous discovery that serves as both the inspiration and the hard material for this groundbreaking compilation. The names are mystic and the music, though familiar in beat, has a distinctive Ethiopian heart that cannot fail to melt the soul. Among the wonderful singers who impressed (and the music does require repeated listening to finally grasp its nuances), Getatchew Kassa and the unpronounceable, ‘Fikrishin Eshalehu’, or how about Alemayehu Eshete who features twice and seems to be something of a rhythms and blues devotee. The one name that will mean something to record aficionados over here is that of Mulatu Astatke who opens up proceedings with the well-known instrumental, ‘Emnete’, from 1970’s and that Strut records saw fit to re-issue and rightly so. Not for nothing was he regarded as the Duke Ellington of Ethio-jazz. This compilation, however, focuses thereafter on vocalists and on the unique Ethiopian take on soul and funk, which musicians and the wider public must have been exposed to via radio and home-grown record companies, sadly now all long departed.

Eight pages of individual track by track details which are all the more helpful because the overwhelming majority of musicians are new to these ears, with lovely graphics of labels, album covers and contemporary day photos of the inhabitants of Addis Ababa.

Hopefully, more original Ethiopian music will surface as a result of these and other pioneering efforts. Precisely what an anthology should be about; discovering unheard of musicians and bringing their talents to a wider audience.

Tim Stenhouse

Gene Page ‘Hot City’ / ‘Lovelock!’ CD (BGO) 4/5

Arranger and producer extraordinaire, if you have listened to classic soul music from the likes of The Supremes or The Temptations, or pop music by Cher and Barbara Streisand, there is a very good chance that the production credits and the warmth of sound has some kind of input from Gene Page. he is one of the behind-the-scenes musicians, without whom the music scene could simply not operate. He only recorded four albums under his own name, of which BGO have wisely opted to select the first two (a future offering might want to include Page’s arrangements on the blaxploitation film ‘Blacula’ from 1972) which came out on Atlantic. First up is the 1974 vintage, ‘Hot City’, complete with a suitably attired mademoiselle, and this is noteworthy for the collaboration with none other than soul messenger Barry White. In fact, the two musicians were long-time friends and White was just hitting his creative peak in 1974, both as a lead singer and with his off-shoots, Love Unlimited and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. A who’s who of studio musicians makes this an instrumental feast to savour, with Wilton Felder on bass, Ray Parker Jr., Dean Parks and Wah Wah Watson sharing guitar duties, while Ernie Watts takes care of the reeds. Page and White both play on keyboards. If there is one ingredient missing here, it is the lack of vocals, at least some background voicings would help, and thus even the wonderful intro build ups tend to go a little flat in mid-section. That said, there is still much to admire, with the smooth, silky mid-tempo soul of ‘All Our Dreams Are Coming True’, ‘Gene’s Theme’ and the funkier-tinged ‘Satin Soul’, that features some classic 1970’s wah-wah guitar licks.

The second album, ‘Lovelock!’ from 1976, and this time co-produced between brothers Page, Billy and Gene, thankfully remedies the pitfalls of the first with a slew of female and male vocalists collectively, including Merry Clayton, all gloriously illustrated on the classy strings and reeds accompaniment to a number such as ‘Together – Whatever’. There is something of a Philly International feel to the mid-temp groove of ‘Wild Cherry’, which was co-written by Ray Parker Jr. and Billy Page. On the jazzy with a funk element, ‘Organ Grinder’ (not to be confused with the Jimmy Smith classic), Page manages to evoke the then in-vogue Quincy Jones sound. The onset of dance mania in the form of disco is alluded to with the final number, ‘Escape to Disco. Full marks for excellent packaging with full discographical details and an insightful fifteen page essay by Mojo writer, Charles Waring. Gene Page is a musician who most certainly deserves his own place in the limelight and this re-issue affords him that opportunity and is recommended to genuine soul fans and lovers of atmospheric instrumental soul alike.

Tim Stenhouse

Jakob Bro ‘Returnings’ CD (ECM) 5/5

This is as much an album of Palle Mikkelborg contributions as it is of the official leader, guitarist Jakob Bro. However, do not let that, or, on the surface, the minimalist musing of the guitarist fool you. This is unquestionably a sumptuous recording in the very best tradition of ECM; empathetic relations between the musicians, a warmth of sound that every other label out there can only envy, and above all else stunningly beautiful music that blows away the stresses and strains of daily life. ECM have come up with a real winner of a recording here, and yet again the youthful bassist Thomas Morgan is directly involved in proceedings. Bro is simply not a guitarist who likes to be excessively showy, nor an extrovert. The complete opposite in fact, yet it is precisely that introverted approach that works so well here, and from the very outset on the reposing ‘Oktober’, with the echoey trumpet and the intimate bass being just two of the delights to take in and admire.

Sounding as though it was an off the cuff improvised duet between bass and drums, ‘View’ actually breaks the mould of the rest with drummer Jon Christensen and Thomas Morgan engaging in a highly entertaining conversation on their respective instruments. Dissonant guitar greets the listener on the title track. Elsewhere, the folk ambiance of ‘Strands’ showcases some beautiful ensemble performances, with a natural empathy between guitar and bass, and on top of this lushness, Mikkelborg laying down an exquisite, if somewhat restrained solo, which is entirely in keeping with his fellow musicians. For those not familiar with Mikkelborg, his stunning contribution to the Miles David mid-1980’s album ‘Aura’, makes that a personal favourite of this writer, and he must surely be a candidate for the most underrated and seldom heard nowadays, which is why his participation on this album is such a treat.

A triumphant return then for Jakob Bro and Palle Mikkleborg, reuniting them for the first time on ECM since the 2007 album for Terje Rypdal, ‘Vossabrygg’. This may just be an early contender for album of the year and will most certainly feature in the most enjoyable albums of the year. This writer seriously doubts whether a more relaxing recording is currently out there. The National Health Service should consider making this compulsory listening.

Tim Stenhouse

Sean Khan featuring Hermeto Pascoal ‘Palmares Fantasy’ LP/CD/DIG (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Here is an unexpected duet that, overall, works extremely well. Multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist, flautist, and all-round maverick, Hermeto Pascoal, is quite simply one of the all-time great Brazilian musicians. Blessed with a unique instrumental voice that is in large part due to his extreme sensitivity to sounds, which is in turn attributable to him being an albino, and therefore spending large parts of his life away from the tropical sunshine, and in particular in the forest. Saxophonist Sean Khan must have thought his dreams had been answered when Pascoal agreed to hook up on this project and among the other musicians, Azymuth drummer Ivan Conti and singer Sabrina Malheiros are on hand to provide sensitive and empathetic accompaniment.

The latter offers up an alternative reading of the MPB classic that was immortalised by its composer, Milton Nascimento, with ‘Tudo o Que Você Podia Ser’, but on this song, Hermeto is absent for once. A real winner is the modal flavoured ‘Said’, with piano and bass operating in tandem, and Khan’s soprano saxophone certainly has echoes of John Coltrane. The brooding quality of this piece makes it a genuine album highlight. On ‘Waltz For Hermeto’, Pascoal reverts to melodica, with a string quartet to accompany, and actually comes across like a Toots Thielemans soundalike. However, Hermeto returns to more traditional terrain on the flute for a glorious ten minute Fender-led piece, ‘Montreux’, and the alto saxophone of Khan recalls the melodic late 1960’s Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’ era. When the music is broken down to just Khan and Pascoal, as on the logically titled ‘The Conversation’, piano and soprano operate so well together that one might be forgiven in thinking this was two musicians who know each other’s musical instincts intimately as in the case say of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Maybe a follow up project which focuses more on just the two of them might be an option to consider. Sean Khan is to be congratulated for his contribution which is both impressive and significant; six of the pieces are his original compositions, and he allows Hermeto Pascoal, now a veteran in his early eighties, to focus on his individual style. One of the year’s most pleasant surprises and a recording that more than lives up to its billing.

Tim Stenhouse

Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner ‘Sounds Almighty’ LP/DIG (Tradition Disc) 5/5

It’s often said, that when you hear specific songs, specific music, you travel to an imagined place and time, to a gathering, a grounation, where musicians come to share their works as one collective entity. Imagine, Rockfort or Waireika Hill, Jamaica. A fire burns, the chalices blaze, the tree frogs do their percussive background orchestra thing and the players of instruments play for hours, drums, bass, bingi, guitar, and those horns, those magical horns, and specifically that trombone, all come together in one long all night righteous session. Tune after tune, dub after dub, with solos just going, just trekking, trodding along with no sense of a structured finishing time. The solos speak to you in an aesthetic language. There are no words to give obvious or implicit meaning. No singer or MC’s to preach – just music, just dub and horns. Moreover, that trombone, the deepest of instruments (and hardest to play) for Dub’s heavyweight basslines and stepping drum patterns, floats over the top of things like the best cloud of herb you have never smoked.

When all that can happen from a studio somewhere in the UK in a terraced house over several grey rainy days somewhere ‘up north’ then the imagined place you are taken to through the music is like a miraculous revelation. Music can make your mind travel like that, this release is a testament to the impact, and journey Vintage Dub Music has taken over the decades.

When you combine a jazz player, a dub man, and an exceptional trombone genius – you get a magic mix cooked for maximum satisfaction. ‘Sounds Almighty’ – Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner featuring Vin Gordon – aka Don Drummond Jnr – is a set mixed in full analogue style by Al Breadwinner at The Bakery Studios in Manchester with the mission of combining jazz and dub as one. It’s not an easy process. Often people put horns on dub tracks just for the sake of having them dubbed out with maximum reverb and delay and yes it can work but it gets too functional too obvious, too boring. Not true on this release. Everything just blends as one mystical analogue natural vibe with that mournful trombone leading the way from Vin Gordon. The trombone is such a righteous instrument, you feel every note, every breath and sound. ‘In The Hills’ articulates this vibe between horns, trombone then sax followed by trumpet, a riding cymbal, drums, dread bassline and those dubbed out atmospherics that Al Breadwinner is so good at. The release is out on Tradition Disc, a collaborative label formed by Nat Birchall and Al Breadwinner. A personal favourite ‘Hail Don D Jnr’, because it just takes me back to the great players, the mighty sounds, Don Drummond, Rico, Nambo Robinson, the musical road warriors who blew their horns north south-east and west. And just to know those vintage sounds and vibes are still coming out fresh from the press, on vinyl is a respectful testament to these greats of the past. It is also a big salute to the youths, the players of today who despite all odds, keep this music alive by moving ever forward. Big respect. Goosebumps all over…

Haji Mike