Charles Lloyd and The Marvels + Lucinda Williams ‘Vanished Gardens’ LP/CD (Blue Note) 4/5

Multi-reedist Charles Lloyd is now perceived as a doyen of the US music tradition and the ambition here clearly is to portray him as an elder statesman of US roots music, bringing together disparate elements of the scene, with blues and jazz legitimate and logical bedfellows, but with the added inclusion of folk-blues-rock singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. In actual fact, that collaboration is no mere manufactured meeting of minds, but rather partly comes out of their common southern States roots, and partly also in practical terms from Lloyd hearing an album by Williams, ‘Car wheels on a gravel road’, which he enjoyed, then catching up with the singer at a Marvels concert in Santa Barbara. That in turn led to Williams inviting Lloyd to one of her concerts, an invitation that was returned in kind by Lloyd. For the latest recording, Charles Lloyd is once again accompanied by the Marvels, with the ever excellent Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on double bass and Eric Harland on drums

The album is noteworthy equally in that this year represents the eightieth year of Charles Lloyd on this planet and it is a career that has witnessed a meteoric rise to fame in the mid-late 1960s before a prolonged and self-enforced retirement ensued in the late 1960s and pretty much throughout the 1970s. Then a chance encounter with French pianist Michel Petrucciani encouraged Lloyd to gradually return to recording and in 1989 commenced a lengthy and triumphant resurrection of that same career with a whole new audience on the ECM label. Fast forward to the present and Charles Lloyd is now enjoying a new career on Blue Note. On ‘Blues For Langston and La Rue’, Charles Lloyd on flute and Bill Frisell on guitar operate in tandem on a lovely, relaxed number and it is lovely to hear Lloyd for once just on the flute and he is a fine exponent. The music works best when Lloyd and Frisell play together off one another as on the intimate cover of ‘Monk’s Mood’, and this is really a showcase for the guitarist to shine and it is a full two minutes before Frisell even states the theme. Lloyd then enters the fray on warm tenor. Ideally, a duet album between the two would make for a scintillating recording at some point. Lucinda Williams has an interesting background in that her father was a literature professor and thus she inhabited an environment where creative writing was positively encouraged. Little wonder, then, that she should choose to adapt a poem by Miller Williams for the tribute to him, ‘Dust’, which has also been recorded previously on her 2016 album, ‘The Ghosts of Highway 20’. It is indeed her gravelly delivery that permeates, ‘Angel’, and in some respects she is a not dissimilar voice from a feminine perspective of that of Bob Dylan. Indeed, one wonders whether a Dylan-Lloyd collaboration might be on the cards given Dylan’s more recent tribute album to the music of Frank Sinatra. Both Frisell and Lloyd are the most sensitive of accompanists to Lucinda Williams, but it has to be said that the combination does take a little time to seep into the subconsciousness, especially given the very different accompaniment on her recent albums with a strong blues-rock element. That said, Lloyd has previously played alongside singers, with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones guesting on one of his most recent Blue Note albums, and a wonderful pairing of the reedist with Greek singer, Maria Farantouri, on a live ‘Athens Concert’ in 2011 on ECM. Lucinda Williams started her career covering classic folk-blues so the meeting of musical minds is not that great a gap to bridge, if at all. What this new studio recording marks is the next phase in the collaborative process between Charles Lloyd and both the Marvels and Lucinda Williams, and a such it can be recommended without hesitation.

Tim Stenhouse

R+R=Now ‘Collagically Speaking’ LP/CD/DIG (Blue Note) 4/5

If the young Turks of the London scene are on something of a roll at present, then what is happening Stateside? Part of the answer at least is contained in this new Robert Glasper-led project with a cast of immensely talented new wannabees in this young and immensely talented collective. The motivation began with a revisiting of Nina Simone’s repertoire, but musically speaking a major inspiration was hearing the highly influential album, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, by Kendrick Lamar. Just as the likes of Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and Ramsey Lewis effortlessly fused jazz, funk and soul in the 1970s, so a new generation are now at ease combining elements of jazz, soul and hip-hop, the latter of which has often been the preferred vernacular of choice for young African-Americans (and by extension urban youth globally) for at least three to four decades. Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ albums have unquestionably informed the sound within and what makes this album especially interesting is the jazz ethos of recording live in a single take. On board for the musical journey are some of the finest Young Turks that the United States can muster, such as the elder son of Bobby McFerrin and synth/beatbox musician Taylor, drummer Justin Tyson, synth and vocoder player Terrace Martin, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, while Hodge on bass and Glasper on assorted acoustic and electric keyboards provide the much-needed and experienced backbone. This writer immediately warmed to the Fender-led plus collective horns of ‘Resting Warrior’, Glasper being a joy to hear on the subtle deploying of electric keyboards, up there with the very best practitioners of that form of instrumentation. On ‘Awake To You’, leader Glasper reverts to acoustic piano, ably assisted by the muted Harmon of Scott and the vocoder vocals of Martin. For a potential single to showcase the album as a whole, ‘Colors In The Dark’, fits that portfolio with aplomb, and is a mid-tempo vocoder-led vocal number, that sounds to these ears like a gentle update on the nu-soul phenomenon (with a nod, perhaps, to Erykah Badu), and that is sure to appeal to a wider audience. The staccato drum beat of the opening number, ‘Change Of Tone’, typifies the combination of acoustic and electric, with Glasper on acoustic piano and Martin on vocoder engaging in a fruitful musical conversation. In the 1980s, James Mtume creatively fused programmed drum beats with soulful vocals on the seminal 1983 outing, ‘Juicy Fruit’, and, in its slow backbeat, ‘Needed You Still’, sounds as though it is indeed the direct inheritor of that song, now refocused and repackaged for a twenty-first century public, and sounding all the better for it. European dates for this exciting formation are currently underway, 13 July sees them at the annual North Sea jazz Festival in Rotterdam, followed by two UK dates. Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge are an absolute delight to and see and hear in a live context.

UK dates:

July 15 – Citadel Festival – London, UK
July 16 – Shephed’s Bush Empire – London, UK

Tim Stenhouse

Ramsey Lewis ‘Don’t It Feel Good’ / ‘Sãlongo’ / ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ / ‘Love Notes’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

There is something of a re-evaluation of the lengthy career of keyboardist Ramsey Lewis going on at present. It started off with individual re-issues of his Cadet recordings from the late 1960s and beginning of the 1970s on vinyl, then spread to an overview of his work for the Columbia label on a 2 CD, ‘Hot Dawgit: The Anthology – The Columbia years’, and now BGO have taken that a step further by re-issuing entire albums grouped together to better understand their historical significance. In the case of this new and excellent value for money four albums on 2CDs set, the period in question, 1975-1977, is a pivotal one for at least three reasons, and maybe more. First of all, there was a re-establishing of the relationship between soul/blues and jazz. The former genre known as soul-jazz fused bop with rhythm and blues, and Ramsey Lewis was hip to a new exploration of the now fully emerged soul genre with jazz. Secondly, the use of wordless voicings that Donald Byrd, among others, had pioneered on an early 1960s Blue Note recording was reworked for a mid-1970s audience with Byrd’s new student group, The Blackbyrds. Lewis was soaking up that sound and re-interpreting it in his own distinctive voice. Thirdly, the second generation of funk was on the path and a fellow jazz pianist in Herbie Hancock with his group The Headhunters was reinventing the very nature of jazz by adding layered keyboard textures with a heavy bass line that combined to create a repetitive and intoxicating riff, fat drum beats and the extensive use of Latin percussion. This followed on from the jazz-fusion riffs that Miles Davis pioneered on ‘In A Silent Way’, and his early 1970s recordings including ‘On The Corner’. That last Latin element may in fact be a fourth factor, namely the invasion of Latin rhythms into American popular music more generally, with the commercial success of salsa in particular impacting on the United States and more widely afield, and the parallel influence of a new generation of upcoming Brazilian percussionists (Airto Moreira, Paulinho da Costa and others), with a very different ethos and sound to the former laid back bossa nova of the early-mid-1960s. Earth, Wind and Fire in particular were now regularly incorporating Afro-Brazilian rhythms into their albums, and Ramsey Lewis had come to one decisive conclusion. The old piano jazz trio as a concept was now a thing of the past as was that image and new and extended ensembles was where the new music was at. This, in turn, would attract an entirely new and younger generation of listeners who were barely, if at all, born when Lewis enjoyed major chart success with a cover of ‘Wade In The Water’. It is this that provides the historical backdrop to this excellent collection of four albums, with the influence of producer and composer/musician Charles Stepney evident on the first two, while the increasing influence of various members of Earth, Wind and Fire comes into play on the second and third albums. The first of these was the follow up to ‘Sun Goddess’ (1974), which heavily borrowed from the Earth, Wind and Fire sound, with most of that band’s musicians on board.

Starting off with ‘Don’t It Feel Good’ (1975), the larger formation sound is discernible with layered keyboards by both Lewis and Stepney, a tight rhythm section of guitar, electric bass and drums, and Latin percussion plus wordless group vocal harmonies. All these elements come to the fore on the mid-temp soulful groove of the title track and ‘Something About You’; while for a harder edged funk tinge, ‘What’s The Name Of This Funk (Spider Man)’, Funkadelic and Parliament influences are noticeable. Remaining from Lewis’ jazz era are the intimate keys, now the electric piano of ‘Juaacklyn’, and the short interludes that became as trademark of this period for Lewis. Following up, ‘Sãlongo’ (1976), has Maurice White and Charles Stepney jointly composing music for the album and a strong Latin fusion influence, especially on a track as compelling as ‘Slick’, while the Fender Rhodes is heard at its most sensitive on ‘Seventh Fold’. This is arguably the album on which Ramsey Lewis is closest to Herbie Hancock, though departing from the fellow Chicagoan with the increasing use of Brazilian sounds, as on ‘Brazilica’, and even the use of African words on ‘Aufu Oudu’, even if the sound was pure African-American, albeit with a textured use of strings and brass.

Commercial success was almost guaranteed with the release of ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ (1977), that has the Earth, Wind and Fire imprint all over it, and the horn production of Eddie del Barrio as well as several musicians of that group in the main body of instrumentation. The mid-tempo, ‘Skippin’, with the use of light flute and brass, and the title track both echo the Earth, Wind and Fire trademark sound, while heavier on the funk is the Brazilian-influenced, ‘Camino el bueno’ (little matter that the tile is actually in Spanish) with lovely Fender. Lewis reverts to acoustic piano on the ballad, ‘Caring For You’, which was a form of pop-soul infused with jazz that Ramsey Lewis would make his own. The final album for our attention, ‘Love Notes’ (1977), takes that connection with the world of pop a step further and was again produced by Bert de Coteaux, who would make his name as the sound behind several soul-disco acts, most notably the Crown Heights Affair. Stevie Wonder guests on this final album on Fender Rhodes and synth on two tracks, the title track, and ‘Spring High’. Detailed historical notes are once again incisively provided by the knowledgeable pen of regular Mojo writer, Charles Waring, with the usual attention to detail in terms of discographical details and a black and white photo of Lewis with his band looking very different from the more sophisticated persona image of his 1960s albums for Cadet.

Tim Stenhouse

Jean Toussaint Allstar 6tet ‘Brother Raymond’ CD/DIG (Lyte) 4/5

The historical legacy of the Jazz Messengers is long and wide, but in the case of the UK, the concept of a band that spawns young and talented jazz musicians has been taken up by an ex Jazz Messenger himself and a native of New Orleans, tenorist Jean Toussaint. This is one of the finest new recordings of the year with a superb line-up of the cream of British musicians of the recent past and the immediate future. Pianists Andrew McCormack, Jason Rebello and Ashley Henry share duties while Byron Wallen and Dennis Rollins operate on trumpet and trombone, with a guest appearance on one piece by young Turk, Mark Kavum.

It is some thirty years since Toussaint made the decision to settle on these shores and thereafter make a major contribution as a jazz educator while still pursuing a solo career as a musician. On the piece dedicated to the legacy of Barack Obama, ‘Aambo’ (Obama’s surname spelled backwards), the percussive number opens up the album on a busy, propelling note, and this is book ended by a reprise and alternative version. With a strong Afro-Cuban jazz influence, ‘Major Changes’ is a compelling track with a meaty tenor solo from the leader, while the New Orleans Spanish tinge can be heard on the vignette, ‘Interlude For Idris’, a homage to New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad, with drum roll based on Ahmad Jamal’s famous ‘Poinciana’ rhythm. Tributes elsewhere include ‘This is for Albert’ and a couple more devoted to Eddie Harris and Roland Kirk respectively. Interestingly, it is the ballads on this album that truly stand out with a gorgeous old school smoocher in, ‘Letters to Milena’, which has definite shades of Mingus in the phrasing, and fine work from the rhythm section, while the mood blues-inflected ‘Doc’ impresses with muted Harmon trumpet and some lovely extended brass ensemble work. As with the rest of the compositions on this album, they are on the surface at least seemingly simple, yet highly effective with plenty happening just below. A lengthy UK tour commences in late September and continues through to mid-December. One of autumn’s treats worth waiting for if this recording is any thing to go by.

2018 Tour dates:

Thursday 27th September: Cambridge Jazz
Friday 28th September: Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Shrewsbury
Saturday 6th October: Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
Sunday 7th October: Herts Jazz Festival
Friday 12th October: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Tuesday 16th October: Norwich Jazz Club
Friday 19th October: RWCMD, Cardiff (Masterclass & Concert)
Thursday 1st November: TrinityLaban Masterclass
Thursday 15th November: 7Arts, Leeds
Friday 16th November: LCoM Masterclass
Friday 16th November: Hull Jazz Festival
Saturday 17th November: The Blue Room, Lincoln
Sunday 18th November: NCEM, York
Saturday 1st December: Calstock Arts Centre

Tim Stenhouse

Alina Bzhezhinska ‘Inspiration’ LP/CD/DIG (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Is the authentic and real inheritor of the spiritual jazz sound of Alice and John Coltrane actually to be found in Los Angeles or London? The question is worth posing when one listens to a promising new instrumental voice, namely that of harpist Alina Bzhezhinska whose own roots lie in both Poland and the Ukraine, but who has now made London her place of work and play. It is both the meditative and reflective side of the Coltrane couple that is emphasized here, although the leader is no mere imitator and offers up her own enticing compositions, which have a strong percussive flavour to them. The genesis of this project is a tenth anniversary commemoration of the passing of Alice Coltrane in 2007 and the fiftieth anniversary of her husband, John Coltrane’s death in 1967. Aiding Bzhezhinska in this endeavour are soprano and alto saxophonist Tony Kofi, double bassist Larry Bartley and drum/percussionist Joel Prime. In fact, Alina Bzhezhinska is a classically trained harpist who has since branched out into fusion with jazz and has worked, among others, with Shabaka Hutchings and the Glasgow String Quartet. Moreover, in more intimate musical surroundings, the harpist has also collaborated with vocalist Nikki King.

A real favourite is one of her own pieces, ‘Winter Moods’, which has a modal bass line, with a metronomic harp motif over which the harpist herself improvises, while there is deft work on percussion from Prime, whilst ‘Spero’ is another quality self-penned number. Naturally, some of Alice Coltrane’s own compositions are fertile terrain for covering and ‘Blue Nile’ receives a wonderfully spiritual reading with restrained soprano saxophone from Kofi and fine work in tandem from bass and drums, A lesser known Coltrane piece, ‘Los Caballos’, is taken at a rapid tempo with strong Afro-Cuban percussion and fine work between harpist and saxophonist. An improvised work, ‘Following A Lovely Sky Boat’, is a flowing number with modal bass once more and the drums and harp working side by side. Just one John Coltrane piece is attempted here and this is a lovely interpretation of the gentle ‘After The Rain’. Alina Bzhezhinska and group will be performing sporadicallly throughout the remainder of 2018, so do pencil in one of her shows.

Tour (with Tony Kofi, Larry Bartley and Joel Prime):
20/07/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet presents new album Inspiration – E15 JAZZ, London
28/07/18 Afro-Harping Dorothy Ashby – Play Twice at Giant Steps, Hackney
17/08/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet – INSPIRATION at Basement, York
18/08/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet – INSPIRATION at Ilkley Jazz Festival.
21/08/18 Annie’s Jazz, Thorpe Hall Ave, Southend-on-Sea SS1 3AT
27/09/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet presents Inspiration, Elgar Room, Albert Hall, London
30/09/18 Inspiration at Hastings Jazz Festival
21/10/18 Bzhezhinska & Kofi Duo at the GrenNote, Camden
06/10/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Presents Alice Coltrane at the Jazz Harp UK festival, Manchester
10/10/18 Georgia Mancio & Alina Bzhezhinska at Pizza Express presenting HANG
17/11/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet presents Inspiration, The Bear Jazz Club, Luton.
18/11/18 Afro-Harping at LJF
22/11/18 Inspiration at Spice of Life, LJF
30/11/18 Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet – INSPIRATION – new album preview at Wakefield Jazz.
13/12/18 The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead

Tim Stenhouse