Nojakîn ‘Perfection in a Bird’ (QFTF) 4/5

Can you hear the glaciers melt, the wind whisper and the rivers rise?Listening to Nojakîn creates a cinematic sound scenery that transports your ear to the wide country side of Switzerland. Nojakîn’s music is driven by a level of intention that many pop bands fail to exceed and a freedom and adventurism that most jazz ensembles can not inherit.However, the forward attempt to make a record with its roots in jazz and improvised music and mix it with a trend towards pop music and electronica, definitely bares its risks. Some songs feel overloaded with ideas and the songwriting at times lacks focus. “Perfection In A Bird” is jam packed with inspiration and creativity. The band sound and production is strong but sacrifices its roughness. Some songs could feel a little more edgy. An experienced producer should have helped to better channel Corinne Nora Huber’s creative vision and sound. The young singer, wrote, arranged and produced the entire record herself, a remarkable accomplishment. (Fun Fact: There are 2000 Anagrams in the 17 letter strong album title).”Our music should make your thoughts fly” – Corinne Nora HuberNojakîn is a perfect example of the thriving and ever creative young music coming out of Switzerland and the impressive label powerhouse from Berlin – QFTF “Perfection in a Bird” trumps Kamasi Washington´s Neo Jazz Hype with ease! Most enjoyable with headphones turned to the max, as an almost psychedelic stimulant that will turn your summer travels into a thrilling motion picture.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXTdfD04HZY

SG

Enrico Pieranunzi / Thomas Fonnesbæk ‘Blue Waltz’ CD (Stunt) 4/5

The regular Copenhagen jazz scene is one of Scandinavia’s closest kept secrets, but that is no more with a lovely intimate live recording at Gustav’s bistro/restaurant in the heart of the city on two dates from July 2017. Of course, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is internationally renowned and, over the decades, this has encouraged musicians to perform in smaller settings. A first meeting between the two musicians dates back to 2015 when they performed together as part of a trio that also included Stefan Pasborg. Denmark can boast a proud historical record of jazz bassists with the acronym of NHOP a well worn one that designates a musician who performed with the very greatest, including Oscar Peterson. We are referring here to Niels Henning, Ørsted Pederson and Thomas Fonnesbæk belongs to that longer tradition, A repertoire of standards from the American Songbook and as few choice originals works extremely well on this occasion, allowing the duo to weave their magic, as on Cole Porter’s iconic, ‘Everything I Love’, with Pieranunzi stating the theme on piano before Fonnesbæk enters on acoustic double bass. Indeed, the number varies between a medium and quicker pace. It was the Jerome Kern composed, ‘All The Things You Are’, doubtless with a refined listening clientel in mind, and the duo maintain that erudite state of grace, gradually building up to the main theme and almost avoiding stating it. A real favourite is, ‘First Impressions’, which is simultaneously a pretext for Pieranunzi to improvise and state the theme, the motif itself bearing a close similarity to John Coltrane’s opus, ‘Impressions’, and the improvisational work certainly owes a debt of gratitude to McCoy Tyner. Another original of note is the title track which has a beautiful Romantic era classical feel in character, featuring an extended bass solo by Fonnesbæk, with Pieranunzi content to comp in the background. Pieranunzi excels on a reposing self-penned ballad, ‘Molto Ancora (per Luca Flores)’, with piano taking the centre stage and bass in a largely supportive mode. In general, excellent quality sound make this a genuine treat and the attractive gatefold sleeve and colour photos bring the whole proceedings to life.

Tim Stenhouse

Monty Alexander ‘Here Comes The Sun’ LP/CD (MPS) 4/5

The back catalogue of the eclectic MPS label can turn up a few gems and this is definitely one of them. Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander in the early part of his career worked as a session musician at Studio One for Coxsone Dodd, but his wish was always to play jazz, albeit with a distinctive Jamaican sabor, and he would migrate to the States and record initially for Pacific Jazz. Interestingly, it was a south German label in the Black Forest that ensured he would be heard by a wider public and this fine 1971 recording in New York is one of the earliest examples of Alexander combining Caribbean flavours and jazz. A rim drum solo introduces the straight ahead Latin excursion that is, ‘Montevideo’, with the pianist in adventurous full flight on this breeziest of numbers. Calypso hues emerge on, ‘Brown Skin Girl’, with fine percussion from Calypsonian conga player, Montego Joe and Monty Alexander introduces some delightful Latin vamps on piano here. Indeed, it is Alexander’s ability to breathe new life into well-known pop tunes and jazz standards that cemented his reputation and both are showcased here. For the former, a soulful rendition of George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’, settles on a sedate tempo, with melodic percussion accompaniment adding to the listener’s pleasure. The best is left until last on this album with an epic ten and a half-minute interpretation of the classic Miles Davis piece, ‘So What’. Departing from the original, Alexander retains the main riff, but then goes off in another direction with his piano improvisations over a funk-tinged tempo, with Montego Joe adding that extra layer of texture. In a more straight ahead vein. A trio only version of ‘Love Walked In’, demonstrates his mainstream jazz credentials while his stylish balladry work is evidenced on ‘Where Is Love?’, with blues inflections emphasised to the max.

Tim Stenhouse

Los Super Seven ‘Los Super Seven’ / ‘Canto’ 2CD (Floating World) 5/5

Go back in time to 1997 and world roots music was about to witness a major new phenomenon with the advent of the Buena Vista Social Club, a collective of veteran Cuban musicians. What is less known is that just a year later, in Austin, Texas, a jam session between Mexican roots or Tejano music, and U.S. country-folk musicians took place at a local festival. Inspired by the example of the Cuban musicians, the notion of creating a group of seven musicians plus additional instrumentalists was thus born: Los Super Seven. Two separate albums were recorded in 1998 and 2001 respectively with differing line-ups and sounds, and these are both handily contained in this fine re-issue. Anyone who thinks that Texas and Mexico are not culturally linked by an umibilical cord ought to listen carefully because from a musical perspective, these various styles blend with the greatest of ease.

The first of these albums and self-titled, focuses more on the relationship between Mexican roots music and that of its cousin just across the border in Texas. Some of the key musicians of the era are on board including the late Freddy Fender on vocals, Los Lobos vocalist and guitarist, David Hidalgo along with fellow band member, Cesar Rosas, accordionist extraordinaire, Flaco Jiménez, Flatlanders vocalist Joe Ely, guitarist and vocalist Rick Treviño and ‘El gato negro’, Ruben Ramos on vocals. The sound is pared down roots music, with strong and extremely catchy vocal harmonies. A traditional number, ‘El Canoero’, features both accordion and Latin vamp on piano with beautiful vocal harmonies and hand claps. The feel good factor is definitely there from the outset. In a slightly more percussive vein, ‘Un beso al viento’, is a winner of a tune. In general, this first albums shares similarities with the wonderful album that Linda Ronstadt recorded devoted to the songs of her childhood, ‘Canciones de mis padres’, and the emotional delivery of Fender makes this experience all the more enjoyable. A personal favourite is ‘La Morena’ (Dark skinned girl).

By the second album, the Buena Vista collective had gone truly global and this may well have informed the new line-up and sound, which explores both the Mexican and Cuban traditional songbook, and there are indeed close connections with several Cuban musicians residing in Mexico City at one time or another ans these included the likes of Celia Cruz and Perez Prado. In fact, the sound of the second album has more of a pan-Latin American feel which is not at all surprising when guest vocalists of the calibre of Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca and Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso are invited. Baca impresses on the sparse, slow-paced ‘Drumi Mobila (aka Drume mobila)’, which has lovely jazz inflections on piano, bass and guitar and that jazz meets Cuban roots continues on a pared down percussive accompaniment to the staple Ernesto Lecuona number,’ Siboney’. Uptempo Cuban influences abound on ‘Me voy pa’l pueblo’ and on ‘El que siembra su maiz’, the latter notable for a stunning percussion breakdown. That said, the emphasis, as with the first album, is still firmly on showcasing the roots of the music and that is beautifully illustrated on the rustic sounding interpretation of a classic Nico Saquito (Cuban singer-songwriter of repute) composition, ‘Compay Gato’. A staccato rhythm to the English language sung, ‘Teresa’, works extremely well. The jewel in the crown, however, comes in the two songs delivered in Portuguese by Veloso. His early 1980s song, ‘Qualquer Cosa’, has new life breathed into it, with the original trumpet replaced by acoustic bass and guitar. The psychedelic late 1960s masterpiece, ‘Baby’, is given an acoustic makeover here with a more pared down feel and the use of just guitar and percussion. Long overdue to be re-issued in the UK, this is a fine exploration of Mexican music and related roots music, and as such it comes highly recommended. Full discographical details that include extensive sleeves notes on how the project came about.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present Paris in the Spring’ 2LP/CD (ACE) 4/5

It is now fifty years since the events of May 1968 in Paris had a ripple effect across the globe and this extremely well researched and thought out compilation deserves a good deal of credit for even attempting to explore the impact that the widespread demonstrations had upon French music.Trying to group together the different strands of the French music scene, mainstream and underground, is no easy task, and if St. Etienne duo Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs fall marginally short in just a few areas, that has no bearing on the project as a whole which is a most praiseworthy one. First of all, who were the key singer-songwriters to emerge in the aftermath of 1968? This compilation rightly focuses attention on Michel Polnareff who has sometimes been likened to a French equivalent of David Bowie. While Polnareff is very much his own man, there is some merit to that parallel in that Polnareff did pay a lot of attention to his visual image, borrowed from external musical influences, and repeatedly changed his musical outlook, yet still retained his own distinctive voice. In ‘Le bal des Laze’, we have a fine example of Michel Polnareff at his creative zenith, and at some stage there surely needs to be a condensed anthology of his work aimed squarely at a non-French audience. William Sheller, on the other hand, has an anglophone speaking family background and used that to good effect for honing his own songwriting skills in French. He has a long-standing audience in France among the literary cognoscenti and, ‘Leslie Simone’, from 1969 is an excellent illustration and he continued to pursue his own path. However, where this compilation missed an opportunity was in not including two of the key folk and protest singers in Maxime Le Forestier and Renaud. The former was inspired by the folk-rock tradition that sprung up in the United States and went over to soak up these influences. He returned in 1973 with a new brand of acoustic folk and a major critical and commercial success in, ‘San Francisco’. That would have been an ideal song to showcase here. In the case of Renaud, the elasticity of his language and sincerity of his lyrics would have made him an ideal candidate and his avowedly working class northern French roots make him anything but bourgeois. Another artistic figure, who has made a career out of combining theatre influences in his music, is Jacques Higelin and he is probably also deserving of a place here. That said, full marks to Stanley and Wiggs for unearthing a marvellous singer-songwriter early in his career, who has gone on to incorporate world roots influences in his music. That singer is Bernard Lavilliers and his spoken monologue approach on ‘Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’un Billet Banque’ (The extraordinary adventures of a bank note) is a wonderful inclusion, and hints at the Gainsbourg talk over, though if anyone had an enduring influence on Laviliers, it is surely Léo Ferré. Indeed, Ferré, with his strong political and unorthodox convictions, would have made another fine contributor here, and to be fair, his name is mentioned in the extensive sleeve notes.

Women singers came to the fore during the late 1960s and both Brigitte Fontaine and Françoise Hardy are key figures, the former in the underground scene, whereas Hardy made waves across the Channel and beyond. Fontaine is a marginal figure and for that reason alone, her post-yéyé plus strings, ‘Dommage que tu sois mort’, is deserving of a place. As for Hardy, she is heard here in a more unusual setting of Brazilian guitar accompaniment on, ‘Viens’, from 1971 and she is a fine example of the chanson tradition. The only pity is that Barbara was not included here. Some of her work from the early 1970s is truly outstanding and she would make a far better illustration than France Gall who publicly went on records to declare that she was happy things went things went back to normal after May ’68. Hardly an anti-establishment figure and a strange bedfellow with some of the other singers on board.

Actors and music are synonymous with one another in France and actress Jeanne Moreau possessed a wonderfully melodic voice, but from this compilation’s perspective, her stunning work dates from before the period in question and thus her exclusion is merited for that reason alone. Mireille Darc (more of a Joanna Lumley than Barbara Windsor equivalent), on the other hand, starred in Godard’s classic ‘Weekend’, a nouvelle vague film and here offers ‘Hélicoptère’, with the help of one Serge Gainsbourg. Needless to say, Gainsbourg could never be excluded from a 1960s/1970s French music overview and actress/singer Jane Birkin contributes the lovely ‘Encore Lui’ from a 1973 album that was written and arranged by Serge, and a lesser known number, ‘Evelyne’, is a film soundtrack that Gainsbourg penned among several (see the wonderful box set of his cinema work on Universal France). Arranger Jean-Claude Vannier is a firm favourite among those who like their film soundtracks on the psychedelic rock side and, ‘Les gardes volent au secours du roi (an alternative version)’ (The guards come rushing to help the king) is at once wonderfully eclectic and melodic piece of instrumental music.

If one song were to typify the era, although it was recorded just prior to 1968, then it would surely be, ‘Il est cinq heures. Paris s’éveille’ (It is five o’clock in the morning. Paris is waking up) by Jacques Dutronc. It is a pity that song is not included here (though again referred to in the sleeve notes) because it does define a whole generation and is worthy of inclusion on any anthology that purports to convey the very essence of May ’68. Instead, Dutronc has been showcased with, ‘Métaphore’, and his songs from this era are strongly recommended. Otherwise, an excellent compilation that opens up myriad new avenues for francophiles across the Channel. Outstanding graphical illustrations in the very best tradition of the ACE compilation series in general.

Tim Stenhouse

Desmond Dekker ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ Expanded CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

As indicated in the authoritative inner sleeve notes, singer Desmond Dekker auditioned at Beverly’s in Jamaica while both Jimmy Cliff and Derek Morgan were in the studios. So impressed was Morgan by Dekker’s compositional talents and vocal delivery that the young vocalist was invited back, proving to be the beginning of a highly successful career. While this writer is especially fond of the early work (and watch out in these columns for a forthcoming anthology of that work), this present re-issues focuses attention on his singles between 1970 and 1975, when Dekker was gaining much wider attention beyond the shores of Jamaica and started making series inroads into the UK pop market. The title track became a massive pop hit, going all the way to the number two spot in the charts, and is characteristic of a period at the beginning of the 1970s when reggae seemingly ruled supreme, with a new generation of youth turned on to this intoxicating young sound.

Desmond Dekker was born in Kingston in 1941, but subsequently moved to the Parish of Seaford, St. Thomas. His early musical influences were those of American soul and jazz singers, most notably Nat ‘King’ Cole, Brook Benton, but also Jackie Wilson and The Platters. The fact of the matter is that in the newly independent Jamaica, barely five years old, young Jamaicans were tuning into American radio stations, being inspired by those sounds, but in the process, beginning to create a musical voice that was uniquely Jamaican. While nothing quite matched up to the title track of the album, and it is a de facto anthem for Dekker and early reggae music in general, the singer enjoyed further success with the excellent ‘Pickney Gal’, which also came out as a 45. Where this selection is particularly useful is with the bonus 45s that provide a wider overview of Dekker’s career as he became a household name in the UK charts. Among these additional singles, pride of place must go to ‘Beware’, which remains a firm favourite and was another, albeit lesser, chart success. Sadly, just as Desmond Dekker hit big in the UK, studio producer Leslie Kong suffered a fatal heart attack aged just thirty-seven in 1971. Not necessarily definitive Dekker, and with a greater emphasis on the crossover side to his career, but incredibly catchy music all the same. Informative sleeve notes are supplied by reggae historian Noel Hawke and with the usual attention to detail that has become a hallmark of these exemplary reggae re-issues, beautifully illustrated graphical illustrations that include a plethora of original 45 labels, concert flyers from the era and photos.

In 2017, Real Gone Music reissued the album on vinyl for the first time since its original release, featuring 12 tracks. This expanded CD from Doctor Bird take matters further in 2018 with a total of 23 songs, and for the very first time on CD.

Tim Stenhouse

The Maytals ‘Monkey Man’ / ‘From The Roots’ CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

Toots Hibbert largely missed out on the Rock Steady era as a result of being incarcerated in 1966. However, upon release, his fortunes would change for the better and these two wonderful albums, that typify the early reggae sound, are evidence of the new sound that reached the UK via Trojan. Recorded by Leslie Kong for Beverley’s in Jamaica, the gospel-flavoured vocals immediately convey the soulful nature of the music, although the lyrics are secular in content. One of the key songs is the immortal ‘Pressure Drop’, and if one had to condense the history of reggae down to twenty songs, that one would surely feature on most aficionado’s lists – it is simply that compelling a number. Of course, the title track of ‘Monkey’ has become an enduring classic and one of several signature tunes for Toots in live performance, while a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’, reveals that Hibbert was a keen listener of other singer-songwriters. He would later cover John Denver’s pop-country song, ‘Country Roads’. Other terrific compositions include ‘The Preacher’, ‘African Doctor (aka Doctor Lester)’ and ‘She’s My Scorcher’. Coupled with that 1970 album is ‘From The Roots’, which was released in 1973. While the songs are not quite as immediate as its predecessor, the music is still of a consistently high quality with Toot’s ability to tell a story to the fore. For fans of roots, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, will appeal whilst ‘One Eye Enos’ has a classic story line. In this expanded edition, three bonus cuts include alternate takes on ‘Monkey Man’, ‘She’s My Scorcher’ and ‘African Doctor’.

Inner sleeve notes here are by the regular contributor to blues, gospel and soul re-issues on ACE records, Tony Rounce, who rightly indicates the universal appeal of the singer. It is probably true to say that had Toots Hibbert been born in the United States, he could have made a successful career as a soul singer, and later in his career, he did precisely that, cutting an album in Memphis that comes highly recommended. Excellent use of graphics with label covers of the 45s from Jamaica via Beverley’s and a variety of UK labels, with the original LPs now extremely rare. One of the all-time greats of Jamaican music, this is a fine pairing of albums from a figure who is like a fine wine in that he has just got better with time. The good news for reggae fans is that Toots and the Maytals are returning to Europe this summer for a whole series of live concerts so make sure you are tuned in. As a live musical experience, they are one of the very greatest exponents of reggae music and not to be missed.

Tim Stenhouse

Eliane Elias ‘Music from Man of La Mancha’ CD (Concord Jazz) 4/5

Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias returns with a piano trio concept album which has the compositions of a Broadway musical from 1964 as its creative genesis. She is accompanied by Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette on some of the tracks, and bassist and husband Marc Johnson and drummer Satoshi Takeishi on drums elsewhere, with Manolo Badrena on added percussion. The music itself was originally inspired by the masterpiece novel in the seventeenth century by Miguel de Cervantes, ‘Don Quixote’, and to this writer’s knowledge, this is the first time that any jazz musician has seen fit to translate this into a jazz idiom, at least as comprehensively as this. Needless to say, there is a strong and distinctive Spanish tinge to the music and that makes the album all the more interesting. The nearest thing Elias has previously attempted was her trio exploration of the Americas in the late 1990s, and that was a truly outstanding recording. This new project is more narrowly focused and this allows the music to be centre stage, with the intimacy of the trio prioritised and what a fine piece of work has resulted.A gently lifting, ‘What Does He Want Of Me?’, features some moody blues inflections, while the superb interplay between trio and some sensitive work from DeJohnette and subtle nuances of tone by Elias are a highlight of ‘It’s All The Same’. That subtlety extends to the use of percussion on, ‘The Barber’s Song’, which has a rich Spanish feel, though underneath is a gentle nod to Brazilian Baião rhythms. One of the strongest numbers has a terrific Latin vamp on, ‘I’m Only Thinking of Him’, which has an upbeat bossa drum beat, and Elias is at her most natural Brazilian best. Meanwhile, a samba-jazz reading of, ‘The Impossible Dream’, works a treat. Lovely bass soloing from Gomez on the gorgeous ballad, ‘Dulcinea’, rounds off a lovely trio outing. As ever, with any Eliane Elias album, the cover photos always aim to dazzle and impress. On this occasion, however, the look is more restrained and the pose almost flamenco dance-esque, with the pianist in Spanish señorita mode, complete with a red flower in her hair.

Tim Stenhouse

Mariza ‘Mariza’ CD (Warner Portugal) 4/5

Portuguese fado singer returns for her third album produced in Madrid by Javier Limón and adopting a more traditional take on fado that nonetheless adds new territory with excursions into Brazilian percussion, pop and classical sounds. This writer has always warmed to Mariza’s quirky mid-tempo numbers and on this occasion, ‘Amor Perfeito’, has an immediacy that catches one’s attention, with a shuffling drum beat and Afro-Brazilian influences in the use of percussion, and that joyful emotive delivery that Mariza has made her own is deployed to great effect also on, ‘Fado Errado (feat. Maria Da Fé)’. It is Mariza’s no-nonsense straight down to business approach that comes across on ‘É Mentira’, which is an uptempo song plus flute. In fact, those African influences extend elsewhere on ‘Oi Nha Mãe’, which is notable for the uplifting melody, while in stark contrast, the pared down guitar and voice accompaniment of ‘Oração’ still appeals with the prettiest of melodies. Musical horizons are widened with a spoken monologue to the Afro-Portuguese sounding ‘Verde Limão’. Cellist Jacques Morelenbaum guests and it his refined classical approach combined with fado that entices the listener on ‘Semente Viva (feat. Jaques Morelenbaum)’. That fado can deal with current socio-political issues is indicated on ‘Fado Refúgio’, in homage to those who may be suffering, but are certainly not forgotten. A strong return to form, then, and that Afro-Portuguese heritage is definitely one side of her music that Mariza would do well to explore in greater detail on subsequent albums.

Tim Stenhouse

Kassin ‘Relax’ LP/CD/DIG (Luaka Bop) 5/5

If the esoteric front cover with futuristic pose and photo of Kassin covered in ‘hundreds and thousands’ seems a tad confusing, then the music within is sublime and one of the best new Brazilian releases in many a year. First of all, a few details on the artist. Kassin is a singer-songwriter and keyboardist who is a close friend and collaborator of Moreno Veloso, son of Brazilian post-Tropicalia legend, Caetano Veloso. In fact, Kassin gained useful experience performing on tour with the elder Veloso, but this is very much his own album. As an arranger, Kassin was in charge of the Orchestra Imperial project and that has served him extremely well here where soul and funk-tinged grooves require tight rhythm sections with flute and brass.

The backdrop to the album as a whole is, surprisingly given the uptempo sound, the recent divorce that Kassin has gone through, and it seems once again that when an artist expresses in music the very act of suffering, that tends to make for an exhilarating musical experience as with Amy Winehouse. It has to be stated that, although the subject matter expressed in Portuguese is deeply serious, the music itself is actually joyous and uplifting, with a nod to the past in Brazilian music, echoing the keyboard prowess of Joao Donato and Walter Wanderley, but still very much couched in the present. Indeed, it is Kassin’s ability to move between past and present that creates the artistic tension that makes this album such a wonderful listen.

That atmosphere is created from the outset on the opener, ‘Compromidos Demais'(‘Overpriced pills’), with quirky keyboard notes, and the perfect accompaniment to a scorching hot summer’s day. That floating 1960s ambience with a strong cinematic feel permeates ‘O Anestesista’ (‘The anethesis’). It is true to say that in parts the music does adopt a slightly darker tone, as with ‘A Paisagem Morta’ (‘Dead landscape’), which is a bossa nova in character and conveys the initial moments of a break up. Furthermore, in the mid-tempo, ‘As Coisas Que Nos Não Fizemos’ (‘The things we do not do’), Kassin reflects no how with the divorce he and his former partner have failed each other. If that sounds off-putting, then only a good understanding of lyrics in Portuguese would make you aware of that. A real favourite is the party mood funk groove of ‘Momento de Clareza’ (‘Moment of clarity’), which contains the most subtle of riffs and is a grower of a song. Moody bass lines, Fender Rhodes and rhythm guitar are a consistent feature on this album. Just about the only aspect that does need rectifying is the impossible to decipher lyrics which are in a minute font size in red over a black background, though in fairness the lavish gatefold sleeve is a visual delight. Even with lyrics in both English and Portuguese they are near impossible to fathom without a magnifying glass. Otherwise, this is quite simply one of the albums of the year and by a clear distance the best new Brazilian recording that this writer has heard in some time. For that alone, Kassin deserves some newly found happiness in his life.

Tim Stenhouse