Emanative ‘Earth’ LP/CD/DIG (Jazzman) 4/5

Brainchild of drummer, percussionist and producer Nick Woodmansey, Emanative have been releasing music for a decade since their debut on Futuristica in 2008. This 11-track album, the first for Jazzman Records, follows on from the successful ‘The Light Years Of The Darkness’ (2015) on Brownswood and treads similar ground but on a larger scale with a line-up of 21 members. Nonetheless, the LP centres around a core group of eight which includes many UK Vibe favourites including Jessica Lauren on keys, Tamar Osborn (baritone saxophone and flute), Ben Hadwen (bass clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone), Suman Joshi playing upright bass, and three percussionists: Sarathy Korwar, Phillip Harper and Vince Vella. Stylistically, the album utilises an array of sonic and aesthetic influences, from Afro beat, Indo jazz, modal jazz, fusion and ambient textures, with specific guests added to compliment the temperament of particular individual tracks.

‘Dawn Child (Sunrise)’ is an introductory piece with lush synth pads, underlining sarod textures and fluid saxophone lines providing a gateway to the rest of the album. ‘Heaven’s Mirror’ features Idris Ackamoor and David Molina of The Pyramids for a melodic but loose composition which initially has quite a funk feel rather than an Afro beat quality. The track length is a useful 11 minutes long with the final 4 minutes moving into a drum-less spiritual jazz framework, said to be inspired by author and ‘unconventional thinker’ Graham Hancock and his work – who I bizarrely met in the late 1990s.

Vocalist, keyboard player and one-time Egypt 80 member, Dele Sosimi, guests on ‘Iyaami’, which edges into Afro beat territory after five minutes, continuing from the balafon based first third intro of this 14-minute epic. ‘Spice Routes’ features UK legend Nat Birchall on a more cosmic trajectory and is possibly my personal favourite here. The most DJ friendly piece is ‘New Day’ with guest Ahu, a previous Jazzman 45. Ahu is Turkish vocalist who unfortunately seems to be quite sporadic with her collaborations that have previously included Flying Lotus and Grooveman Spot on one of my regular DJ additions, the neo boogie ‘Affection’ (2010). The closing piece of the set, ‘Raga Requiem (Dusk)’, provides a worthwhile coda to the collection with light percussion and tabla infused with digital delay handclaps and French spoken word.

The earth day concept with its dawn till dusk timeline provides the perfect narrative for the album, which at first may not be successfully appreciated if experienced in segments. This is an album designed to be absorbed in full – which is difficult in this era. And initially when playing the record I focussed on the less successful elements such as ‘To Midnight For This Planet’ and its annoying 808 cowbells; but luckily it’s a short 2’48”. But with repeated plays one does develop a more holistic understanding of ‘Earth’ and its story. And it needs to be noted that the previous Emanative album was comprised entirely of cover versions but this contains entirely new material, and thus, the blending of various disparate but connected musical aesthetics here is difficult but mostly successful. Fusing Middle Eastern, African, Asian and African-American components does sound like a recipe for disaster or a contrived musical experiment, but the large array of guests and the obvious extensive knowledge of the artist stop that from happening.

Damian Wilkes

Dr. John ‘Remedies’ / ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’ 2CD (BGO) 3/5

Mack Rebbeneck aka Dr. John was just starting to make head waves with the two albums contained within this re-issue, and in the case of ‘Remedies’ (1970) it was never originally intended for release in its less than pristine sound quality and Dr. John was unhappy that the album was released in its unfinished state. That being the case, for long-term fans of the Dr. John sound, this will nonetheless be a welcome addition on CD, coupled with the much vaunted 1974 album, ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’, which is far better regarded and a part of that classic series of albums that he cut in the early to mid-1970s.

To these ears, ‘Remedies’ does seem to have dated somewhat and is not on a par with the psychedelic masterpiece and exploration of the New Orleans underground world that is the album ‘Gris, Gris’. On the blues-inflected, ‘Loop Garoo’, the Night Tripper draws into the historical legacy of New Orleans with a blues excursion, while there is a venture into a more pop-flavoured R & B groove in, ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’, which is a little too cheesy for these ears. Far more satisfying and authentically New Orleans is ‘Mardi Gras Dig’, which is precisely the kind of feel one might expect from a festival of the Crescent City’s music, with a lovely a-cappella intro and some soulful backing vocals. Of most interest from a historical perspective is ‘Angola Anthem’, in reference to the conditions in the Angola penitentiary, which was a prison farm situated in Louisiana.

For the Allen Toussaint produced second album, Dr. John is backed by The Meters and this is far more representative of what has come to be known as the classic Night Tripper sound. Not only is the production infinitely more polished, but it is a logical progression from the excellent ‘In The Right Place’ from a year previous. It is a more varied and, ultimately, a more successful recording, with the fine R & B of ‘Mos’ Scocious’, some gospel hues in ‘Let’s Make A Better World’, a lovely soulful groove in ‘R U 4 Real’ (did Prince copy that lettering format by chance?) and, arguably, strongest of all, ‘Everybody Wanna Get Rich Rite Away’, that is at once thought-provoking and catchy. Quite simply, ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’, has a good deal more universal appeal and is less focused on the voodoo side of New Orleans culture.

For those in search of the classic albums in a single location, a budget price five CD box set does exist, but otherwise, this pairing does fill in part of the early picture of an artist whose fascinating and at times turbulent life is well worth investigating further.

Tim Stenhouse

Michael Bloomfield ‘Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man!’ (Floating World / Retroworld) 4/5

This is a re-issue of a compilation that originally came out on Sony, and focuses attention on the classic Columbia recordings between 1964 and 1969. These include studio and live dates and feature the who’s who of the Chicago electric blues musicians scene, from leader Paul Butterfield through to the harmonica of Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist Elvin Bishop. keyboardist Al Kooper, drummer Buddy Miles and a host of others. Mike Bloomfield soaked up the sounds of Chicago’s south side in the 1950’s, and in the process became exposed to the fabulous sounds of Magic Sam, Otis Spann, not forgetting Muddy Waters when they were all in their absolute prime and that proved to be a priceless musical experience. Thereafter, Bloomfield was signed up by John Hammond Senior who had already displayed a keen ear for emerging talent (Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Ray Vaughan) and the musician was thus enlisted to the Paul Butterfield Blues band. The music on this anthology varies between separate sources with three to four songs alone emanating from the collaborative work that Bloomfield recorded as part of the Paul Butterfield Band, and those Elektra albums of that particular band are well worth acquiring. Elsewhere, examples of the super session of Bloomfield and Al Kooper as well as the live recording at Fillmore West are showcased here. Most impressive to these ears are ‘Carmelita Shuffle’, ‘Don’t Think About It Baby’ and ‘It Takes Time’, as prime examples of Chicago blues guitar, while for a more soulful take, a cover of ‘Work Song’ works a treat. In fact, the only thing that is missing here to complete the picture is the mid-1960’s work with Bob Dylan, but that is easily available elsewhere, with his performance on ‘Highway ’61’, especially praiseworthy. A fine overview, then, of a musician who could sometimes be inconsistent with his own work, hence the advantage of acquiring this selected ‘best of’. Useful inner line notes on his career, with the personal testimony of Al Kooper in particular shedding light on the recordings. A forthcoming CD of the complete ‘Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West’ will see the light of day on the label.

Tim Stenhouse

Big Daddy Wilson ‘Songs From The Road’ CD/DVD/DIG (Ruf) 4/5

If the recent Chicago soul-blues recordings of Mavis Staples and the timeless instrumental backing accompaniment appealed, then this live recording from Big Daddy Wilson may offer an equally entertaining and, in some respects, a slightly deeper insight into the history of the blues. Recorded in Switzerland in October, 2017, in the compact and atmospheric live setting of an arts centre, and with an excellent tight sounding all-Italian band, this is music from a seasoned musician who has been on the road for some twenty-five years and that well honed sound is testimony to both the leader’s knowledge base and experience. Although all but one of the songs are Wilson originals, the repertoire is in reality varied, encompassing distinctive stages in the development of blues music. An understated funky ditty is ‘Seven Years’, with some lovely keyboards from Enzo Messima, and this deeply soulful number is interesting in exploring the relationship that does indeed exist between blues and funk, and anyone who has listened carefully to 1960’s Chicago blues will hear that connection in the drum beats. Rhythm guitar and bass line from Cesare Nolli and Paolo Legramandi respectively are showcased on ‘Baby Don’t Like’, with fine collective harmony vocals. The music works best to these ears on the mid-tempo soulful side of Chicago blues ‘Drop Down Here’, being a fine example.

The one standard cover is a cool and downright funky reading of ‘John The Revelator’, and the exemplary delivery by Big Daddy makes this a fine way to open up proceedings on the DVD. It has a definite nod to the Mavis Staples retro sound, and when Wilson inquires ‘Are You Ready For Some Blues?’ to the audience, you know full well what the likely response will be ‘Yes’, when the music is as expertly performed as this. For an earthier form of the blues, the electric guitar solo and monologue on, ‘Cross Creek Road’, works a treat while the CD ends on a gentle acoustic note with ‘I Just Need A Smile’. Big Daddy Wilson has brought together disparate elements of the larger blues jigsaw and skillfully weaved them into his own tailored identity. One small caveat: the DVD starts off in black and white and looks much better in that format with a timeless quality before the rest is viewed in glossier colour. Otherwise, nearly two hours of music on the DVD with behind the scenes bonus, while the CD minus three tracks on the DVD weighs in at just under eighty minutes. Another fine release from Germany’s Ruf label.

Tim Stenhouse

I have had this album on rotation for the past week and it’s well and truly embedded now. Think Sugar Ray Rayford and you’re not far off the mark, with a voice that carries uncanny Jimmy James nuances. The album is very a black, bluesy, funky and soulful affair with elements of southern country too. Born Wilson Blount in North Carolina, a very accomplished guitarist, showing us his prowess on several solos, which remind me of the great Joe Louis Walker, but none are so intrusive as to alienate any casual listener, and he’s a brilliant story teller too. The band are as tight as they come, which you would expect having been on the road for some 25yrs. Kicking off with a superb dancer in “7 Years”, in which he tells us he was born on the bottom and that he’s never seen the top, and then straight into one of the album highlights, “Aint No Slave”, if you’re white, know your history and keep abreast of current developments i.e. Trump and Corbin and the current entrepreneurs of all things racist then this is a very uncomfortable listen, so powerful, straight to the point, very dark. “Baby Don’t Like” is an urgent percussive dancer with a constant nagging guitar and thumping bass, the rhythm really does get into your head. The track that really took me by surprise is “Neckbone Stew”, which starts off very slow and acoustic with just our man and his guitar, but then it hits big, with tight reggae rhythm reminiscent of what The Wailers laid down for Bob Marley – my god this is good, very good – and sounding at ease with this genre. And yet another high for me is the scintillating balladry of “I Just Need A Smile”, I really have hammered this, very simple musically which puts our man out front without any distractions, simply beautiful, even when his guitar takes front stage. This album was recorded live at The Village Rubigen in central Switzerland. For me this is an essential album and then some, for the rest of you I’ll wager you find tracks you’ll like. We really do need vinyl on this asap, Mr. Wilson.

Brian Goucher

Various ‘The Meaning of the Blues: The Legacy of Paul Oliver 1927-2017’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Paul Oliver was one of the foremost writers on blues music and his contribution to expanding our knowledge of early blues is inestimable and has greatly enhanced and indeed shaped our understanding of how the blues evolved. Oliver passed away last August, aged ninety, but his legacy is a towering one and this first effort at chronicling his own accompanying albums of then undiscovered musicians is a most welcome one. The music contained on this single CD is the full listing of the original vinyl album that accompanied his second book, ‘The Blues Fell This Morning’, while the rest crams in twelve tracks from the vinyl that accompanied Oliver’s third book, ‘Screening The Blues’. Great value for money at almost eighty minutes of music, even if, ideally, one would have preferred the complete listing of both albums.

For those of a younger generation who did not see these albums first time round, they were something of a revelation in that Paul Oliver assembled some of the key singers from labels such as Columbia, Okeh and Vocalion, and as such these 78’s are a priceless document of the social history of both blues music and, more generally, the evolution of African-Americans in the United States prior to the large-scale migration of this minority group to the north. It was that very same migration that would lead to a new generation of blues musicians creating the electric blues, with specific blues sounds emanating from key Cities such as Chicago and Memphis, which were stop off points for migrants from the south, and eventually the transition from rhythm and blues into what we now call soul music. The 78’s date between 1927 and 1940, although the Robert Johnson recording is best known as being re-issued in the 1960’s when the blues revival was well and truly underway.

The songs themselves could not be more evocative and communicate directly key themes of the era. This is the case of ‘Starvation Farm Blues’ (1934) by Bob Campbell that was recorded during the great depression and a musical of John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’, or where issues of race and different skin complexions are directly alluded to as on the wonderfully evocatively named Barbecue Bob and ‘Chocolate To The Bone’, with a subject matter that even today may be perceived as distinctly risqué. A particular favourite of this writer is a song that reveals the close and, at times, somewhat uneasy relationship that exists between blues and gospel on ‘Denomination Blues Pts. 1 and 2’, delivered by the rasping voice of one Washington Philips from a 1927 Columbia 78. As a whole, Paul Oliver was instrumental in bringing names to the attention of a wider audience, some of whom are now household fixtures in the blues cannon such as Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie and Bukka White.

One important caveat with this particular re-issue. While the quality of the music is never in dispute and is a clear five start rating, the accompanying sleeve notes are somewhat meagre and could and should be more substantial for a writer of Paul Oliver’s calibre and historical importance. It is, then a great pity that the discographical details are not accompanied by lavish illustrations of the following: individual labels; photos of the singers from the extensive collection of Paul Oliver; in-depth individual notes on the songs, several of which have lyrics that require further explanation to place them in a historical context. For this reason, one point has been deducted from the final evaluation. Other anthologies of Oliver’s discoveries do already exist and the four CD, ‘Meaning Of The Blues’, (2011, JSP), is a more comprehensive offering.

Hopefully this will be the first of many re-issues of Paul Oliver’s wonderful discoveries and a fitting tribute to his legacy if made available in both vinyl and CD formats, and even a re-issuing of book and vinyl/CD simultaneously.

Tim Stenhouse

Shalamar ‘Uptown Festival’ / ‘Disco Gardens’ / ‘Big Fun’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

One of the classic disco groups and an early example of the Solar sound that would come to be personified by the likes of The Whispers and Dynasty. The trio comprised the dynamic vocal duet of Jody Watley and Howard Hewett, with the dazzling visual dancing talents of Jeffrey Daniels. Instrumentally, the backing band were largely anonymous, but over time the sound became distinctive as the Solar sound and in the UK, Shalamar crossed over into the pop charts. The three albums contained within chart the progress that the group made from disco wannabees to a tightly defined soul-disco outfit with serious pretensions.

Starting off with, ‘Uptown Festival’, which is no less than a medley of classic Motown songs and in truth the group getting used to a studio environment, the title track was at the very least an indication that Shalamar were far more capable than operating as a mere covers band, and could in fact create a voice of their own. Their first real attempt at what became known as the ‘Shalamar sound’ started in earnest with, ‘Disco Gardens’, and the immortal disco anthem ‘Take That To The Bank’, which is here in all its full length glory and it still sounds like as fresh at the day it was recorded. As a whole, the album was a somewhat mixed affair, with hits and misses along the way. The mid-tempo ‘Leave It All Up To Love’, was a clear sign that the band could look beyond strictly dancefloor tracks and attract the listener with a strong hook, something of a Shalamar trademark over the years, with the vocal harmonies to the fore. Equally, the group could deliver quality ballads, as with ‘Lovely Lady’, with Jody Watley taking over lead vocal duties.

The fortunes of Shalamar really took off with the third album, ‘Big Fun’, which was by far the best balanced of the trio of albums here and illustrated by the three singles that were released off it and all succeeded to a greater or lesser extent. Another dancefloor winner emerged with, ‘Right In The Socket’, which is heard in the full length version and builds into a steamy disco classic, with thumping drums and handclaps, electric piano and subtle layered strings that typified the Solar label approach. An ever bigger hit proved to be ‘The Second Time Around’, which attracted the non-disco crowd and set the template for their successful foray into the UK pop chart territory. While not reaching the same heights as a single, ‘I Owe You One’, was a subtle soul-disco song that reinforced the view that Shalamar were here to stay and for a seven year period from 1977 to 1984, they were indeed one of the finest groups to emerge. A lovely overview of the early part of the career of the band and bonus cuts include the 7″ versions of the singles on ‘Big Fun’. As per usual, excellent graphics and lengthy historical notes in the inner sleeve. The second part of their career would see Shalamar first climbing to the top of the import charts, then taking advantage of the early 1980s promotional video boom to conquer the UK pop market, especially with the dancing talents of Jeffrey Daniel, and then on the pinnacle of their career with that stunning hit ‘A Night To Remember’.

Tim Stenhouse

Hugo Fattoruso ‘Hugo Fattoruso Y Barrio Opa’ LP/CD/DIG (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Uruguayan keyboardist Hugo Fatturoso is probably best known for fronting one of the leading Latin-fusion bands of the 1970’s in Opa, whose albums have been re-issued previously in the UK on BGP. However, Fattoruso was also a key member of the mid-1970s band of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist, Airto Moreira, on such memorable recordings as ‘Fingers’ (CTI 1974) and ‘I’m Fine How Are You?’ (Warner 1977). This was important in showcasing Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian music with significant populations of African descent in both Uruguay and Argentina being systematically wiped out historically, and this has indeed been a regular point of contention with neighbours in Peru, and in the case of Argentina, has been largely erased from the national history in schools. How then, would a brand new album shape up after all these years? The good news is that there is something for fans old and new. Hugo Fattoruso is not simply leaning on past recordings, but has come up with an evolving sound that borrows in part from the classic 1970s period, but builds in new elements. Little wonder, then, that his music has been sampled by a younger generation of discerning musicians and DJs from Flying Lotus to Madlib. The new recording is notable for the incorporation of Afro-Latin drum rhythms known as Candmobe drumming and that injects a whole new dimension into the music.

A number which makes reference to the transport in Tokyo, ‘Trenes De Tokyo’, is one of the most engaging tracks with that distinctive subtle use of the electric piano combined with percussion that marks out Hugo Fattoruso’s music. However, the leader does not restrict himself to electric keyboards and excels on acoustic piano on ‘Botijas’, which has more of a conventional Brazilian samba-jazz feel, complete with wordless vocals and extended soloing by Fattoruso, with both numbers featuring some lovely interplay between bassist and son, Francisco Fattoruso, and Tato Bologni on drums, with added percussion from the Silva brothers and Albana Barrocas. A percussion excursion takes place on ‘Candamobelek’, with an array of percussion and hand claps, with Fender Rhodes to accompany, while the fast-paced ‘Candombe Alto’, features Fatturoso on both synthesizer and Fender. Now in his mid-seventies, like Airto, Hugo Fatturoso is enjoying a new lease of life and, if this highly enjoyable recording is anything to go by, we can expect more music in the future which would be a great bonus. A very welcome return.

Tim Stenhouse

Soul Basement ‘Oneness’ CD (Moosicus) 4/5

This landed on the doormat along with 9 other albums, two of which I had been waiting several months for as they were small label private runs, both coming back into stock within a week of each other, so sadly I put this one further down the pile than it should have been because this a fabulous modern soul album, Italian born Fabio Puglisi and Jay Nemor have been likened to Gil Scott-Heron and Lou Rawls and I can understand why too, for me it’s like listening to the genius that is Cunnie Williams, these guys really are bang on with a sound that has strong Jazz influences with hints of seventies soul, eighties boogie and funk and we have spoken word too. Heavy bass, muted percussion, tinkling piano, Sax and Trombone create that essential sound. As always, I’ll go straight to the meat on here in the name of “Count On Me”, which begins like many 70s mid tempo tunes do, muted percussion, joined by horns, all very restrained then in comes that voice and we have a sing a long chorus to boot, a sax caresses the drums and bass beautifully, this head nodding chugger will be massive given the right radio exposure, I know Mark Merry at Starpoint will jump all over this and quite rightly, but what about Solar, Stomp and 365? when they hear this I’m sure they will be all over it. A soul anthem in the making and it doesn’t stop there folks. Get a load of the opener “Better Das”, and it really does set the standard for the rest of the album, a lovely stroller for which I really did think was Cunnie Williams. The more urgent “Love to the People”, is another essential spin, with a subtle guitar bubbling away in the back ground, muted backing singers, a real grower, dropping the pace to the percussion and piano led “Slowly”, a simple tune in its execution but infectious nonetheless. And for more of a delight try “Hang On In There”. There are several spoken word tracks on here too but they all have something interesting to say and fit perfectly within this setting.

Gregory Porter came from nowhere and became the darling of the masses only to blow it totally by selling out with that Nat King Cole cash cow. These guys could and should be the next big thing, let’s hope so, I know one thing though they won’t be selling out any time soon. A memorable album with some fine moments, and somewhat essential if you’re a soul fan. Also search out their ‘What We Leave Behind‘.

Brian Goucher

Elina Duni ‘Partir’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Albanian singer Elina Duni is not a newcomer to the ECM roster having previously recorded in a quartet format on the 2015 album, ‘Dallendyshe’. For this latest project, she operates entirely on her own, performing on vocals and piano, and covers, in a multitude of languages, (nine to be precise) the traditional songs of Armenia, Kosovo, Maecdonia and her native land, as well as the occasional French language standard, and even finds tim to record in both Arabic and Yiddish. The title, ‘Leaving’ in English, is actually inspired by francophone Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Prix Goncourt winning author (the most prestigious literary prize in France), and in the inner sleeve notes, we find a bi-lingual French and English quote by Duni, that, ‘We are all departing in one way or another’. It is the emotional state of yearning for somewhere that informs and serves as the motivating leitmotiv for Elina Duni on this highly personalised recording. Adding to the atmosphere is the actual sparseness of the sound, as on ‘Amara Terra Mia’, where the voice of Duni is simply accompanied by guitar.

Where this album succeeds is in conveying the message with a convincing musicality that draws the listener into the subject matter and the judicious selection of folk songs from various parts of central Europe, especially the Balkans, makes the project as a whole all the more coherent. Duni’s voice is at once sensitive, vulnerable and quite enchanting and she comes into her own on Jacques Brel’s ‘Je Ne Sais Pas’. She ought perhaps to think about a whole album of the French language repertoire. Elsewhere, Elina Duni sings in French and Spanish on ‘Mon Amor’, a hybrid, while in English, she delivers ‘Let Us Dive In’. For some variety, a song in German, ‘Schönster Abestärn’, rounds matters off nicely. An out of the ordinary recording, yes by all means, but lyrical, melodic music and thought-provoking all the same.

Tim Stenhouse

Kristjan Randalu / Ben Monder/ Markku Ounaskari ‘Absence’ CD (ECM) 3/5

An unusual line-up of piano, guitar and drums, but devoid of any bass, this group are completely new to this writer and their music has a strong improvisational feel, but somewhere between contemporary classical and minimalist improvisational music, but not jazz.
Some of the pieces are divided up into two parts such as ‘Lumi I and II’, and the informal feel has a repeated guitar motif and piano searching for sound. While the musings are pleasant enough, one wonders whether the compositions are actually strong enough to carry the album as a whole and this is certainly not an easy listening experience to digest. Rather, it comes across as an experimental work in progress that has yet to receive the final varnish before being presented. The nine and a half minute opener, ‘Forecast’, is a reposing number that is quasi-classical in style, especially in the use of piano, but the guitar of Ben Monder does enter into a rapport with pianist Kristjan Randahl, who has composed the majority of the pieces here and is the effective trio leader. Dissonnant guitar dominates on ‘Adaption I’, while the more melodic ‘Adaption II’ focuses more on the piano and to these ears is preferable. Recorded at La Buissonne and an inner sleeve featuring colour photos of the trio in discussive mode. Mark this down in the experimental ECM cannon of work.

Tim Stenhouse