Great to see Weldon Irvine’s seminal debut album, ‘Liberated Brother’, respectively reissued via Pure Pleasure Records. The album was originally released in 1972 on Weldon’s self-funded label, Nodlew Music, a name inspired by his mentor Horace Silver who covered the title track on his own album, ‘In Pursuit Of The 27th Man’, a year after Weldon’s release.
An early Horace Silver/Art Blakey album became the catalyst for Weldon’s changing trajectory. After majoring in English Literature and minoring in music, a move to New York from Virginia saw Weldon begin to shape his career surrounded by a wealth of inspirational figures within the jazz community. After joining the Joe Henderson/Kenny Dorham big band in the mid-1960s, Weldon went on tour with Nina Simone, who apparently heard a minute of his playing in an audition and immediately hired him. It was within this three-year collaboration that he wrote the lyrics to Nina Simone’s music for the hugely successful recording, ‘Young Gifted and Black’. A song further illuminated by the legendary vocalist Donny Hathaway.
Weldon Irvine’s unique blend of high spirited afro-centric fusion permeates this whole album. The elements of jazz, soul, funk, blues, Latin and gospel suffused with Weldon’s Moog synthesizer, electric piano and a wealth of igniting instrumentation adds to the special qualities that make up this debut album.
‘Sister Sanctified’ is a funk induced classic popularized by Stanley Turrentine, whose version was later embraced by a younger generation via a sample used by Boogie Down Productions for ‘My Philosophy’. The conscious spoken word/hip hop community continues to recognize Weldon Irvine as Master Wel, holding his music and philosophy in high esteem amongst those on the periphery. Check Madlib’s album, ‘A Tribute to Brother Weldon’ on Stones Throw, recorded under his Monk Hughes pseudonym.
‘Liberated Brother’ is an uplifting soulful jazz composition with Weldon Irvine laying down short percussive piano riffs and motifs with a percussive style not too dissimilar to the signature sounds that we love about Horace Silver.
On the deep and reflective composition, ‘This Is Where I Came In’, guest tenor saxophonist James Stroud and Preston Williams [Flugelhorn] complement a more subtle lyrical playing by Weldon on an acoustic piano.
The cosmic funky jazz piece, ‘Mr Clean’, is propelled into another dimension by Weldon’s switch from acoustic to electric piano and Moog synthesizer, enhanced by the contribution from Tommy Smith [electric guitar], Roland Wilson [electric bass], drummer Chipper Lyles and Napoleon Revels [percussion], who all create a timeless piece of music, covered by jazz artists including JJ Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Peter Herbolzheimer and more recently by hip hop artist MF Doom on his album, ‘Vaudeville Villain’.
The mysterious captivating sound surrounding the album is captured on ‘Homey’, a delightful downtown bluesy funk piece with Weldon playing the melodica instrument, described as a cross between the keyboard and a harmonica, to great effect.
His jazz, blues and soulful progressive artistry shows great sincerity on this classic album. It’s quite remarkable that the whole album was recorded within a day after two days of rehearsal.
Norwegian/Scottish guitarist Haftor Medbøe and Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon pool their creative forces for this duo recording of four (plus digital bonus track) delightful and original compositions. The album is released in the unusual format of limited edition, hand-numbered 10” vinyl, which leads to the question; when is an album not an album? Two of the four tunes are under 5 minutes long, with the other two just over 6 minutes apiece. So it’s longer than an EP, but not as long as your average album. On the plus side, it leaves the listener wanting more and you do get to fully immerse yourself in the tunes available. On the negative side, you could feel a little shortchanged. As to why it’s been released in this format I do not know, but what really matters is the quality of the music, and that’s most definitely not in doubt here.
Since first meeting at the Islay Jazz Festival in the Scottish Hebrides 15 years ago, (guitarist Medbøe has resided in Scotland for many years now) Medbøe and Karlzon have been slowly hatching a plan to collaborate and they finally come together on this recording. First premiered live as part of Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival 2018, their music sounds very personal and draws on their shared roots and influences, evoking a richly melodic and lyrical Nordic sensibility.
There is a real sense of the here and now on this session. A timeless beauty intertwines the guitar and piano and one gets the impression that both musicians were very much ‘in the moment’ when recording. The connection between the two musicians is musically tight and spiritually engaging. The music is beautiful, free-flowing like a river that gently journeys its way through time, meditative and contemplative yet still bubbling up with emotion and adventure. There are strong echoes of the Scandinavian jazz tradition as embodied by pianists Jan Johansson and Esbjörn Svensson, together with elements of European folk and jazz music.
It is, however, an American pairing that springs to mind when listening to this record; Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. Anyone familiar with their early ECM outings will undoubtedly appreciate the subtle phrasing and nuances of the guitar and piano duo. Medbøe and Karlzon share that special space, with the strength of the compositions matched by their performances here.
The first tune, “Hope”, is melancholic and yet ultimately uplifting. Like a summer breeze washing away the cobwebs, the mood is thoughtful and the expressionistic music very engaging. Immediately one can hear the balance and understanding between the two musicians, with the guitar and piano at times performing in unison, and at other times heading off in different directions. But it’s always in a thoughtful and complimentary way. “Waiting” is a simply gorgeous piece of music, with piano and guitar sharing an achingly beautiful vibe, very akin to Metheny and Mays on classic collaborative tracks like “September Fifteenth”. The interplay is stunningly exquisite. It’s not just the mood and gentle adventure that impresses, it’s the sense of place and understanding that allows each musician to carve their own paths within the tune itself, making for a mesmerising listen. The contemplative mood continues with the beguiling “Tranquil”, a piece that takes its time, slowly telling its own story. The duo take the listener on an enchanted journey, with a quiet introspection releasing itself in the form of wonderful melody and improvisation. “Return” enjoys a quicker tempo, with the melodic nature of the tune captured in a spinning web by the two musicians. If Jim Hall And Brad Mehldau had ever got together to record, this could possibly be how they might have sounded, the expressive, tuneful nature of this piece burning brightly. The bonus track, “Happiness”, features vocalist Jessie Bates and is a lovely tune in itself, well worth downloading to accompany the four tracks on the vinyl release.
Medbøe and Karlzon will be touring in the UK and in Scandinavia through 2019/20. I for one am very much looking forward to hearing them perform their music in a live setting. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this duo on record soon.
Before we dive into the main focus of this review, we really should take a moment to shout out the incredible efforts of First Word Records this year – no sooner have we celebrated the awesome ‘For My Sanity’ release from 14KT that new projects have been announced from drummer/producer Myele Manzanza (‘A Love Requited’) and Children of Zeus (‘Excess Baggage’)… and then there’s the long-awaited sophomore album release ‘Weightless’ from the UK’s premier jazz orchestra, Teotima.
And it has in fact been a fairly lengthy wait. As the brainchild of guitarist and producer Greg Sanders, Teotima’s debut record ‘Counting The Ways’ – again released through First Word – was unveiled in 2013. Teotima’s Bandcamp page describes the collective as “drawing on the music of West Africa, Cuba, Brazil, American funk & soul, folk, jazz and cinematic music” – with Sanders at the helm, the multi-musician ensemble delivered a timeless project celebrating this amalgamation of genres and styles underpinning them with exquisite orchestral arrangements.
Recorded live direct to tape, and with the tirelessly prolific Tru Thoughts recording artist Ben “Nostalgia 77” Lamdin on recording, engineering and mixing tasks, ‘Counting The Ways’ was succeeded by its stunning compositions including ‘Gloves Off’, ‘Counting The Ways’ and ‘Darbari’.
The years in between albums however have certainly been productive – while Sanders refocused and plotted Teotima’s new direction, the other musicians tackled a wealth of additional projects: vocalist Ellie Rose Rusbridge released her solo outing ‘Night Becoming’ in 2014, multi-instrumentalist Kareem Dayes provided bass on Yussef Kamaal’s ‘Black Focus’, percussionist Fabio De Oliveira has since chalked up session work for George Ezra, bassist Lester Salmins has appeared on releases by pianist/composer Alfa Mist and Jordan Rakei, saxophonist Leo Richardson has since fronted his own Quartet on Ubuntu Music… these just serving as a brief selection of the creative doors that have subsequently opened.
All of this brings us to 2019’s ‘Weightless’ and the musicians comprising Teotima’s ensemble each now returning to the fold as more experienced and well-rounded artists in their own right. With the talents of Lamdin recruited once again for this album’s engineering and mixing, Teotima once again delivers on the incredible scope set out with this album. It’s also welcome to hear vocalist Rusbridge secure a more central role within ‘Weightless’ appearing on five of the album’s seven tracks (as opposed to two from the album’s predecessor).
After having delivered their second, awe-inspiring release, already ranking against this year’s best, Teotima are more than welcome to take all the time they need in between projects going forward as the results are undeniable.