Bob James Trio ‘Espresso’ LP/CD/SACD/DIG (Evosound) 3/5

Best known for his jazz-fusion recordings on CTI of the 1970s that have been heavily sampled by hip-hop artists and rappers alike, here we hear another side to Bob James. The album finds him in a mainly acoustic trio setting with Michael Palazollo excellent on acoustic bass, though on occasion James does perform on electric piano, and there is even a gentle nod to his former fusion period. All but two compositions are originals. What is sometimes forgotten about Bob James is that he began recording on the avant-garde ESP Disc imprint, the very same that both Albert Ayler and a young Pharoah Sanders graced during the 1960s. Bob James retains a keen interest for the piano jazz tradition and introduces some tasty blues inflections on the Fats Waller opus, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, taken here at a medium pace. The other standard is, perhaps surprisingly, ‘Mr. Magic’, which cemented Grover Washington’s early career, and the piano vamp intro and deft brush work by drummer Billy Kilson leads directly into the famous motif. Thereafter, the piece reverts to a mid-tempo waltz. Throughout his career, Bob James has never shied away from composing for television and, ‘Boss Lady’, very much fits into that category, with a pretty minor theme in evidence. His fusion credentials come to the fore on ‘Topside’, which is a reflective ballad that morphs into a soulful groove of the kind that Ramsey Lewis might have attempted in the mid-late 1960s. In fact, the number bears a strong resemblance to ‘The In Crowd’, but adds synthesiser layered textures. Nothing too radical, but long-time fans and even crate diggers will find something to commend on this outing.

Tim Stenhouse

Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson ‘Temporary Kings’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

Piano and saxophone duets are somewhat sparse on the ground and it takes a good deal of empathy for the combination to come off while simultaneously finding something new and original to say, as was undoubtedly the case between Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron. In the case of tenorist Mark Turner and pianist Ethan Iverson, the interplay is, in general, fine, but remains at a certain level of consciousness and does not go beyond that. The simply constructed, ‘Unclaimed Freight’, is illustrative, taken at a slow pace when in tandem, and not dissimilar in tone to, ‘The River’, by Jimmy Giuffre. Blues are in evidence on the Warne Marsh composition, ‘Dixie’s Dilemma’, with Iverson in the first part in conversation with himself and only at two and a half minutes in, does Turner finally enter and offer at once a gentle and tender performance. Turner is indeed that most photogenic of musicians, and, from the side at least, has a striking resemblance to the late Joe Henderson in terms of both physique and stance. As for Ethan Iverson, it is his classical influences that shine through on the self-penned, ‘Yesterday’s Bouquet’, with a relaxed piano intro and, as a whole, the piece hints at Gershwin’s, ‘The Man I Love’. Only on the title track, does the ambiance take on a slightly more sinister tone, with Iverson’s playing quite funereal in places and dissonant in others. The opening pays homage to the studio location, ‘Lugano’, and is a sweet sounding number where Iverson’s classical credentials are showcased once again. Turner, for his part, offers a more conventional tenor intro on the somewhat more abstract toned, ‘Myron’s World’, as when the piano enters the fray.

Tim Stenhouse

Beady Belle ‘Dedication’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Jazzland Recordings) 5/5

Having followed Beady Belle’s career from the start, I’ve been lucky enough to catch her play her very first UK gig in 2001 at The Jazz Café in London for her debut album ‘Home’ Tour. Then a few years later in 2005 I saw her open for Jamie Cullum in Dublin, playing a mixture of material from ‘Home’ and ‘CEWBEAGAPPIC’ (Beady being the main reason for my attendance at that gig!). Though Beady has always toured extensively in Europe and Canada, it was a further eight years and three albums later that Beady would visit London again playing in 2013 and 2016 and then in May 2018 at Ronnie Scott’s for a more acoustic rendition of her new album ‘Dedication’, which would have been a special treat as I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her new release.

Dedication was a real grower for me. I always feel music deeper when I’m driving, maybe because my subconscious is driving my car on auto pilot, the rest of my mind can just tune in to the music. With Beady’s new album on auto play I’ve really had a chance to absorb this record in a gradually evolving way… but I’ll start from the beginning.

Upon my first listen I was pleased to hear her voice again, and what a voice! Some jazz and soul singers blend into each other in song and style, yet Beady has always had that distinctive tone, an obvious influence from her native Norwegian accent. As the album moves through its eleven tracks and almost fifty minutes playing time, I’m trying to connect with the sounds and styles I hear, but I’m longing for the feel of her mesmerising debut album ‘Home’. I’m starting to realise that what is on offer now, is a move away from that original electronic, jazzy sound. A move that has picked up new influences and genres along the way, cementing a concrete live band sound, leaving the programming to one side and unpeeling a core septet of musicians.

It’s on my second and subsequent listens that things start to click into place. I’ve moved on from wanting things the same and I’m starting to appreciate the direction the song writing has chosen. The opening track ‘Mercy’ jumps out at you with its punchy Juno 60 analogue synth and backing vocals. The track glides into a neo soul groover with Beady’s seductive vocals wrapped around the rhythm. With flutters of Hammond organ and nice snappy ride work on the beat, you start to feel the playing of the band together, like a studio work out that is tight but organic. I’m feeling comparisons of musical style to one of her peers, Laura Vane, both songwriters with powerful and original voices.

‘Out of Orbit’ brings the tempo down to 90 bpm where you find a lovely mellow electric sitar riff played by Bjørn Charles Dreyer, synchronised backing vocals singing the same melody, all sat on top of a funk break. Beady’s intimate vocals slip in alongside subtle gospel style backing vocals that give the track a hymn like quality, with brooding Hammond organs polishing the way and congas adding a bounce.

The overall difference in sound on this record from her earlier work is the heavy use of backing vocals which brings a more pop and bluesy aura, as well as the keyboards being very prominent throughout each track with David Wallumrød playing the Prophet 5, Minimoog, Clavinet, grand piano and a variety of other keyboards. The very talented Bugge Wesseltoft guests on the album too, lending his fingers to some of the keys, the very man that encouraged Beady Belle into the studio back in 1999.

With no obvious guitar work over the album, the keys fill the guitar gap and add lots of layers to the mood. It’s a clean sound, no strings or horns, and somehow the music feels close to the listener. Beady has always had that divine quality of being able to make you feel like she is singing to you and that still remains, however it’s the different genres that she weaves in and out of over the course of the album that add a new dimension to her sound.

The pattern of this record moves up and down in tempo with each track. You get the slow ballad of ‘I Run You Ragged’ with it’s sunny Fender Rhodes followed by the more upbeat funky blaxploitation feel of the bass line and rim-shots of ‘Traces’ with it’s melodic spoken vocal, rising gospel backing vocals and lovely delays on vocal skats towards the end. Then you fall back into the downtempo ballad of ‘Hold Your Breath’ with it’s sweet and sleepy vocals, where once again, a gospel influence makes itself known as the track builds, lifting it into the sky.

The next two tracks step up a gear again with ‘Dedication’, the album’s title track of tom tom laden beats and a chunky bass line, played by her husband and founding band member Marius Reksjø. A minimal, soulful and funky sound giving way to Beady’s story telling vocals. ‘Mooring Line’ has an airy disco vibe, with wah wah keys and bass adding a nice spacey jazz funk feel to it. If it wasn’t for the quieter breakdowns of this tune, this would be a great dancefloor number.

I won’t spoil your listening discovery by writing about each track, but expect more carefully penned ballads, gospel blues and disco that transport you to a better place thanks to Beady’s sophisticated song writing and elegant, alluring voice as well as her carefully crafted band of accomplished musicians. I understand this record now, I’m happy with her current direction and I’m glad I took the time to let it sink in. Let it wash over you and grow into a thing of beauty and musical comfort as I will for a long time to come.

Ollie Lloyd

Eddie Palmieri ‘Full Circle’ CD (Ropeadope) 5/5

‘El gigante de las blancas y las negras’, the ‘King of the ivories’, is how is fondly referred to among Latin music cognoscenti, but some simply refer to him as the Messiah, such is his high standing among those in the know. In reality, pianist Eddie Palmieri is arguably the most innovative musician in the history of Latin music, and for some on a par with Miles Davis. That is quite a statement and both Antonio Carlos Jobim and Machito may legitimately lay claim to that mantle in Latin Americana. However, what is beyond dispute is that Palmieri is a masterful composer and pianist and revolutionised the face of Latin music from the mid-1960s onward, always showcasing and nurturing some of the very greatest talent, and some have returned to the fold and they include Ronnie Cuber, Conrad Herwig and Nicky Marrero, though the current intake are as caliente (hot) as ever. For this latest recording, Palmieri has chosen to revisit some of his earlier classics and reinvest them with his natural dynamism. Present and previous band members are on board for the trip and the listener had better be ready because no prisoners will be taken when this band is on fire.

The album commences with the outstanding, ‘Vamonos Pa’l Monte’, originally recorded as the title track on the 1971 album, and this is no less than a stirring rendition, with coros, or vocal harmonies, and it exists here in two separate and contrasting versions. The former, a steaming salsa meets Latin jazz opus, while the latter that bookends the album features an extended big band format. A real personal favourite is the no bars hold, ‘Oyelo que te conviene’, which is the most condensed piece at just over five minutes. Another winner is the mid-1980s piece, ‘Palo pa’ rumba’, that fizzles with intensity from start to finish, with trumpet solos and one of those famous extended Palmieri piano solos that combines the left-field quirkiness of Thelonius Monk with the modal expansiveness of McCoy Tyner, and the subtle sophistication of Bill Evans. Eddie Palmieri has interiorised all these formative influences along Cuban pianists of renown and made it his own distinctive voice. In a smouldering mid-tempo groove, ‘Lindo yambu’, dates from the late 1960s when political consciousness among Puerto Ricans was at its zenith, while going way back to the mod-1960s, ‘Muñeca’, has long been a favourite among Palmieri devotees. Eddie Palmieri goes full circle on this terrific album and new listeners to his immense craft will want to supplement their existing knowledge by accessing the originals. Muy saboroso!

Tim Stenhouse

Crystal Thomas ‘Drank Of My Love’ CD/DIG (Gooba Sac Music Publishing) 5/5

A new name to me and what a very talented lady she is, with all ten numbers here written by Crystal together with co production alongside Slick Ross, Gary Smith and Secret on da track. Her voice is a thing of beauty with its very subtle southern drawl and lyrics a real treat – and what a cracking story teller. From track 3 the album takes off for me to another level with tracks 1 and 2 in that southern ‘party’ mood, both are uptempo dancers who will intern have their supporters. The music score on this album should send a very loud message to other southern soul/blues exponents that you don’t have to settle for second-rate synthesised / computer noises masquerading as some form of musical backdrop, having said that, we could really have done with real horns on here too. Without doubt the top track on here is the scintillating ballad, “Every Hour”, with lovely backing singers; this really is an incredibly tune, the phrasing and sheer intensity of her voice is something else, and I for one really can’t get enough of this tune.

The rest of the album throws up highlight after highlight, take the strolling “I’ll Be Right Here”, not so long ago at thinking soul folk venues like Soul Essence this would have been a dance floor destroyer, but I’m afraid the use of new recent and decent modern tracks is diminishing for the next trophy hunted down and played to death, criminal. The title track is a more urgent piece and is very addictive, I can hear Denise Lasalle in there, I can hear a Wurlitzer/Hammond in there too, all very Upsetters, her spoken monologue on the epic “Mr Do Right” is simply stunning and harks back the hey day of Shirley Brown and Barbara Mason, just cast your mind back to the wonderful “Woman to Woman” saga and all its off shoots; a song of tales of lost loves and finding someone new. Of the dancers on here, “It’s Too Late”, should be storming modern soul rooms up and down the country, one of the best I have heard in ages, a dancer’s delight. “Country Girl” is 2-Step step heaven, in which she’s extolling the virtues of a country girl over the city gal, super stuff. There are a couple of blues tracks on here too which really do show off the talent of all involved and they sound so right for this album. The musicians consist of Crystal herself, Eddie Stout, Steve Fulton, Pee Wee & Russel Lee Adkins, recorded at Sounds Outrageous Studio. An album that will be in many end of the year top tens, utterly fabulous on every level, which is available at most outlets.

Brian Goucher

Butcher Brown ‘Camden Session’ LP/CD/DIG (Gearbox) 4/5

The five-piece Virginia based instrumental group return with this four-track release for Gearbox in London, which is essentially a live set of a non-audience recording which took place at Mark Ronson’s Zelig Studios in central London. The band preserve the same configuration as previous with Marcus Tenney playing saxophone and trumpet, Andrew Randazzo on electric bass, Morgan Burrs on guitar and Corey Fonville on drums, with egalitarian bandleader and producer DJ Harrison playing keyboards.

The album begins with ‘Fiat’, a track that also appeared on their ‘Virginia Noir’ album (2016), but in a shorter form and before Marcus Tenney was a full-time member, so this new version utilises more saxophone rather than guitar for this funky jazz 113 BPM groover. ‘Street Pharmacy’ is a mid tempo head nod affair, with it’s riff heavy wah wah driven Clavinet parts and Marcus Tenney’s supplementary trumpet lines adding to the heavy drum grooves of Corey Fonville.

‘Camden Square’ possesses a more slow jam type quality, and dare I say it, contains elements of smooth jazz in there, but not in a bad way as Butcher Brown are far more hip for that! An obvious ode to London, this piece evolves over its 7’17” duration to reveal sharp but subtle playing from the band but especially from guitarist Morgan Burrs. Possibly my personal favourite of the set. Final track ‘918’ at 118 BPM would be a definite audience crowd pleaser if performed live, with its rhythmic guitar, warm tremolo keys and melodic sax phrases providing space for solo performances to be presented.

An obvious criticism of this release is its short running time being a shade under 30 minutes in total, so is it an EP or LP? This may have been for practical reasons to allow the recording to fit happily on a single vinyl pressing. And additionally and on a more technical aspect, reviewing the lossless WAV files rather than the yet to be released vinyl edition, there is a slight lack of high frequencies within the mix, say from about 2 kHz upwards, and thus, it can seem a touch dull at times compared to other releases of this nature. I’m sure they had high-end equipment and engineers to capture and mix the recording as it was an all analogue setup, but the mix lacked some sonic energy within the top register. This won’t impact negatively on most listener’s experience, but if I noticed it then someone else will too.

Nonetheless, we are huge fans of Butcher Brown and also Gearbox here at UK Vibe, but being greedy, I would have loved their recent other release AfroKuti: A Tribute to Fela, which only appeared in late August 2018 as an exclusive Bandcamp digital only release to be made available on vinyl. Damn.

Damian Wilkes

Stella Chiweshe ‘Kasahwa: Early Singles’ LP/CD/DIG (Glitterbeat) 3/5

Of the numerous percussion instruments on the African continent, the mbira is one that has attracted the attention of musicians beyond the confines of roots music and ethnomusicologist studies, and you will hear the distinctive sound on 1970s spiritual jazz recordings and on the music of Earth, Wind and Fire from the same era. However, in the case of Stella Chiweshe, it is her favoured instrument of choice and this mini collection of her work groups together hard to find singles between 1974 and 1983. So accomplished a player was Stella Chiweshe in her native Zimbabwe that she became known as, ‘The Queen of mbira’. The music is probably best sampled in small doses because it does tend towards repetition, but it can equally be hypnotic music that maintains a rhythmic beat throughout. Often, the pieces have titles that refer to earthy and everyday activities and that is most certainly the case of the atmospheric instrumental, ‘Rabidzo’. Chiweshe specialises also in wordless vocals and deploys these to useful effect on, ‘Chipindura’. For some welcome variation, the melodic joint vocals on the title track sound by some distance the strongest of the vocal numbers, while the simply layered rhythms and impassioned vocals on, ‘Mayaya (Pt. 1 and 2)’, impress, and reach deep inside the soul. In the post-independence of the 1980s, Stella Chiweshe toured internationally as part of the National Dace Company, and at a later date under her own name as the leader. Her music was regularly championed by DJ John Peel on his famous sessions. These days, Stella Chiweshe is somewhat less active, but it is to be hoped that this revisiting of her back catalogue will spark renewed interest in the musician and kick-start a new phase in Stella Chiweshe’s career.

Tim Stenhouse

Dur-Dur of Somalia ‘Vol. 1 and Vol. 2’ 3LP/2CD/Cassette/DIG (Analog Africa) 4/5

In the continuing search for hard to find African-flavoured funk and associated music forms, the Dur-Dur band out of Somali must rate as one of the most remote, and for that reason alone the music contained here is a very welcome addition to enhancing our knowledge base of African music, and one that goes beyond the traditional roots-based genres. It has to be stated that discovering this music was no easy task. Indeed, the whole enterprise was one fraught with danger, and the personal security of the crate diggers was at risk at all times in a country that has regularly suffered from war and economic depravation. In the heart of the capital city, Mogadishu, two of the main music shops selling largely cassettes were fertile terrain for determining who the key bands of the 1980s were and, ironically, the shop owners were members of a rival band. In the mid-1980s. two volumes surfaced of the music of the Dur-Dur band, and they make for vastly contrasting sides, specifically in terms of the recording sound quality. Of that first album’s contents (only part is available as a review copy), the fast driving Afro-funk of ‘Deen Baa Maraysoo’, immediately catches the ears, as does the dense percussion accompanied by a wailing saxophone of ‘Hiyeeley’, complete with some lovely rhythmic singing. Opening up the first volume is the multi-layered ‘Ohiyee’, which features brass ensemble, wah-wah guitar and distinctive organ. There are certainly parallels to be made between this outfit and the early manifestation of the Rail Band in Mali, and in the case of the Dur-Dur Band, they honed their craft by regularly performing live at the national theatre in the Somalian capital of Magadishu. A significantly enhanced sound quality greets the listener on volume 2 and that includes only the second 45 that the Dur-Dur Band recorded ‘Dab’. Interestingly, a 1986 hit single, ‘Yabaal’, which is on the first volume has a markedly improved sound quality and has what became band trademarks of heavy bass line, funky wah-wah guitars, brass and organ in tandem, and some fine female lead vocals. Male lead vocalist, the legendary Baastow (thus nicknamed because of his slim ‘pasta’ like shape), regularly features and comes across as something of a visionary and a clear leader of the group. What really impresses is the versatility that the band display. Not only are they accomplished on the funk-tinged pieces, but they are just as adept on roots reggae numbers, and this writer has a slight preference for the reggae which is more expansive as on ‘Juba Aaka’, and the lovely introduction to volume two with a spoken monologue. Hybrid forms come to the fore on, ‘Aduun Hawli Kama Dhamaato’, which fuses proto-Motown beats with funk, or the excellent semi-instrumental ‘Jaajumoow Jees’, with synthesizers prominent and joint male-female lead vocals in the second part.

One caveat with reviewing this particular item. Only part of the complete is available in the press promotional copy, leaving out whole chunks of volumes one and two, and thus the reviewer is unable to provide a fully comprehensive account of the music. Nonetheless, the music provided is of high enough quality to garner the four-star rating.

Tim Stenhouse