Various ‘Léve Léve: São Tomé & Principe Sounds 70s-80s’ 2LP/CD (Bongo Joe) 5/5

I’ve been meditating on the word “carefree”. Have you ever felt truly free from worry? Weightless in the face of all the heaviness of the daily grind? I can’t recall a time when I was truly released from life’s many burdens, whose numbers can get as long as the grocery list staring down on me from that spot on the fridge, just goading me with its lines full of responsibilities. Leering at me like I don’t have so many other things I’d rather be doing than worrying about worry. I think we spend the last few decades of our time on this plane figuring out a cure for this, like that much sought-after fountain of youth. Or maybe that is the fountain of youth, a worry-free life. I haven’t yet found a cure, but I have found some solace in Bongo Joe’s Léve-Léve: São Tomé and Principe Sounds 70s-80s. Léve-Léve is the first ever compilation, put together by DJ Tom B, devoted to music from São Tomé and Principe, two small islands situated off the coast of Gabon in central Africa. The music is bright and sunny and a clear example of the titular idea of léve-léve, a colloquial reminder to “take it easy,” man.

I’m currently reading a book about the way creativity can be stifled by our fears. The trick, the author notes, is not to kill our fear but to learn to ride with it. To accept its presence and the job it’s trying to do and politely say, I appreciate you but no thanks. I think that is also the key to living with worry. And I think that lesson can be found on this album. The songs unravel a story of liberation where the music of Africa, Europe and the Americas unify with the carefree spirit of léve-léve. DJ Tom B put in a lot of work to give us this compilation of sounds that reveals the social and political history of a place most of us have probably never even heard of before this.

São Tomé and Principe has a long history of slavery and Portuguese colonialism. Like other African slaves worldwide, those in São Tomé and Principe used music as a way to get through it, to unburden themselves of their daily reality. Music was a way to contain history, to commune with family and to importantly, live a full life in the face of all the heaviness that surrounded them. Through the years leading up to independence from Portugal, music would be a fundamental voice of liberation and conviviality. Léve-Léve is full of distinctive Angolan semba and merengue, Brazilian afoxê, coladeira from Cape Verde and dance music from the Caribbean, it is a sound fiercely proud of its island heritage, sung in local dialects and using distinctive local rhythm. And to me, it is a reminder that I do not have to kill my worries to be carefree. I can dance alongside them, shoot they’ve earned a dance or two, don’t you think? I can thank them for their hard work and say no thank you, you do not get to have the driver’s seat anymore.

The songs on this album are long-most of them are between 5 and 8 minutes, which I’ve come to love because it gives the groove time to really sink into your bones. The lesson of Léve-Léve doesn’t get lost in the commotion of the song, it has the space to settle in for the long haul. To bury your feet in the wet sand of the sonic tides. “Zimbabwe” is one of my favourites because it is the perfect example of diaspora music; it’s at home in either place. It belongs to both while being distinctly of its place. It is music that could only exist here because the rhythms exude the history, the knowledge of that land. “Tola Muandgi” sounds sweaty, like humidity and hair sticking to the back of your neck. It sounds like being at an open-air bar in the moment right before you stop dancing to go sit down and take a bite of fish that you wash down with a warm beer. That’s a carefree moment if I ever had one.

When I first heard this album, I was excited to feel the island sun in the middle of the cold dreary winter. And these songs do sound like island music, that is a fact. But I think there is a lot of romanticizing that happens to music like this. That whole idea that life must be so easy living on the beach all day. This album I think is proof that, in fact, it’s not- the music was born during some of the most terrible parts of world history after all. So, I don’t think its that the music comes from a place of carefree-ness. I think rather, they have learned to dance with their grief. They have learned to laugh at it, to love it, to hold it tenderly in their arms as they sway to and fro with it. If you take anything away from this album, let it be a lesson in that.

Molly Gallegos

Various ‘DJ Andy Smith presents Reach up: Disco Wonderland Vol. 2’ 3LP/2CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Three years on from Volume 1 and DJ Andy Smith returns with ‘Reach Up: Disco Wonderland Volume 2’, continuing from the first instalment of the compilation series of mainly late 1970s and early ‘80s soul, boogie and disco grooves. ‘Reach Up’ is also the title of Andy’s monthly radio show on Soho Radio, which also delivers a musical diet of curated soul, funk and disco cuts.

As mentioned, this series features a mixture of mid-tempo and uptempo soul music, these include female vocal group The Emotions and ‎’You’re The Best’, taken from ‘Sincerely’ their only album on Red Label, a short-lived Capitol Records offshoot in 1984, and features the LP version rather than the longer 12” mix. A strong Osborne & Giles produced track. New Jersey Connection ‘Love Don’t Come Easy’, was a one-off project which has constantly been played at clubs since its 12” release in 1981 especially in the UK. If Volume 2 contains a classic then it’s Greg Henderson ‎’Dreamin’ from 1982. Henderson wrote and produced many other landmark releases including boogie holy grail Rome Jeffries ‘Good Love’ a year later, but this is his most famous track.

Chain Reaction ‎‘Dance Freak’ is a perfect peak-time dancefloor number from 1980 and taken from producer, songwriter and multiple label owner Peter Brown’s Sound Of New York, USA record label. Disco heaven no doubt. Canadian raised vocalist Claudja Barry preserves the disco sensibility with ‎’Sweet Dynamite’. Here it is presented with the 1976 album version and not the 1977 Salsoul 12” mix by Tom Moulton. Personally, I’ve always preferred the 12” version over the LP mix. A welcome addition to the compilation is Cela ‘I’m In Love’ which is essentially the best record Chic never made with its characteristic Bernard Edwards-esque bassline, infectious rhythm guitar and unison female vocals. Technically speaking this features the 1979 radio version which is probably the most favoured version, as it was reissued the following year in 1980 with more prominent synth parts. And this is an example of Europe and in particular, Italy being influenced by the sound of late 1970s US club culture for this Milan based disco record.

Other worthy mentions include Ronnie Jones and ‘You And I’, a pretty obscure Canadian only 12” b-side from 1982 which is a fantastic slice of early 80s boogie and Ted Taylor’s ‎’Ghetto Disco’ is an infectious 1977 12” release on Miami’s T.K. Disco from the veteran soul/blues singer. Also issued on T.K. Disco is Gregg Diamond ‎’Star Cruiser’, an unashamedly heavy slab of full on 1978 disco. Again, this is the album version as there is also a longer 10-minute version.

In addition to the older material, newer releases and versions are also included such as Will Sessions & Amp Fiddler ‎’Lost Without You’ (2017) which first appeared as a limited 7” in 2017 and later on their album in 2018 in its full-length capacity. Unfortunately, this a slight re-edit which adds unnecessary drum parts, rather than keeping the original funky drums but replacing them with more static club-like drum sounds. Full Intention’s ‘Night Of My Life’, a previous Midnight Riot release from 2018, is basically a house track that possesses some disco qualities, but it’s still a house track and probably not the best vehicle for this compilation. Serious Intention ‘You Don’t Know’, the cult New York proto-house classic is featured with a Crissy Kybosh remix, which must be a new edit of the 1984 original and is remixed quite sympathetically to the era of its original release, but it still feels slightly out of place on a disco and boogie compilation.

Modern compilations tend to either contain extremely rare or undiscovered pieces and are compiled by record collectors and aimed primarily at record collectors and DJs, such as those released by Strut, Jazzman and Mr Bongo and others. Or, you see compilations that are created to contain more classic and well-known songs and their content may have previously already appeared on different comps. I would argue that ‘Disco Wonderland Volume 2’ sits somewhere between these two camps. Soul, boogie and disco vinyl diggers will probably already have most of these tracks, but for the general music listener, these will be unfamiliar. But personally speaking as a collector with an ever-expanding record collection and a decreasing amount of space, compilations like this are a joy, especially considering the high audio quality for both listening and DJing. The more recent inclusions could have possibly been placed on a separate compilation of newer material rather than on a ‘disco’ compilation, but I am fully aware that the term disco does mean different things to different people, especially within the house community, but there is enough very strong material compiled here for it to be another success for Andy and BBE.

Damian Wilkes

The Sorcerers ‘In Search Of The Lost City Of The Monkey God’ LP/CD (ATA) 4/5

It’s deep Ethio-jazz from Leeds. It’s an imagined soundtrack for the imagined Belgian film director, Michel Lespaa’s, only feature before he heroically/irritatingly died of malaria due to a short supply of funds and, hence, medication on the shoot.

It’s probably got nothing to do with Douglas Preston’s book, ‘The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story’, about documentary filmmaker Steve Elkins’ search for archaeological sites in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve of eastern Honduras.

It’s The Sorcerers follow up to their much-loved eponymous debut of which the great man, Mulatu Astatke, commented “Who’s this? The Sorcerers? It’s cool! This is great. Give me the CD man!”

It picks up where the 2015 debut left off but it’s an expedition that goes into much deeper territory. It’s a multidisciplinary effort involving Joost Hendrickx (Drums), Neil Innes (Bass & Guitar), Pete Williams (Flutes, Bass Clarinet, Percussion & Xylophone), Richard Ormrod (Bass Clarinet, Vibes), Chip Wickham (Flute), Chris Dawkins (Guitar) and, undoubtedly, some underappreciated archaeologists, anthropologists, engineers, geologists, biologists and ethnobotanists without whom the film and soundtrack could never have happened.

‘Opening Titles’ sets out the album’s sonic, filmic, hypnotic stall – mild threat, sinewy bassline, head-nodding, hip-shifting, hand-clapping, flutey breathiness.

‘Treasured Sacrament’ is initially cautious and watchful. Innes’ tentative bass is wrapped up by drum, bass clarinet and flute before Williams takes up an alpha male lead flute motif and drives the band forward. ‘Overgrown Icons’ creeps and slides, portentous but mystical; the Gods are at play here.

‘Downriver’ is awash with percussive riverside jungle chatter; flute and bass rhythmically drifting. ‘Crossing the Rope-Bridge’ is more purposeful, aided by Hendrickx’s energetic kit exploration it intensifies into a bridge-now-crossed crescendo. ‘The People of the Forest’ makes me smile a big toothy grin – it’s a groovy, playful meeting with the forest’s exotic peoples that drips with oldskool Mr Benn exploitation; excitedly but smugly showing the shopkeeper some alien, romantic treasures.

‘Escape from the Catacombs’ is fiercely on the one with tight rhythmical energy, jabbing sax, percussive breaks and wah guitar. ‘Shamainc Brew’ trippily segues into the just-over-a-minute, hot mess that is the Wickham-blessed, Johnny Harris Stepping Stones feeling ‘Who is the Hunter, Who is the Prey?’. It’s a peak “Yeah, Baby! Yeah!” highlight.

How do you go about ‘Summoning The Monkey God’? Via a dirty, hard as hell, funk bassline with stacking layers of sonic beckoning and faithful ascension, that’s how. ‘End Credits’ closes the feature in The Sorcerers’ deep grooved house style; now free from fear and mission complete there’s a palpable swagger. I’m not leaving my seat until these credits have completely rolled.

At home, supping a cup of Yorkshire tea and happily engaged by Barry Smyth’s humorous, supportive liner note storyboard, I’ve been taken on an absorbing filmic journey into the deepest, darkest jungles of the Monkey God. It’s helped push Blue Monday on by a few days, and may well have cut it from the calendar completely. Due to its storyline and stylistic purpose, it may lack some sonic/emotional variety (maybe the protagonist needed a love interest?!) but it consistently succeeds as a charming, brand not-so-new bag of hot, rhythmic, breathy 60s/70s library, soundtracky Ethio-jazz joy. And it’s from Leeds. Best thing since Bielsa.

Ian Ward

Read also:
The Sorcerers ‘The Sorcerers’ LP/CD (ATA) 4/5

Nick Walters ‘Active Imagination’ LP/CD (22a Music) 5/5

Trumpeter and composer Nick Walters returns to 22a with his 2nd album for the label – a hugely enjoyable cosmic journey of exciting, melodic and spiritually uplifting contemporary jazz. “Active Imagination” is the result of bringing together a group of musicians for one day in the studio. With minimal rehearsal, the band collectively improvise and experiment ‘in the moment’, and the results are simply wonderful. Each musician has a distinctive individual voice and their collective spirit is a unified leap of faith that bears sumptuous fruit. Joining trumpeter Walters on this journey of exploration are Jeff Guntren on tenor sax, Rebecca Nash on piano, Ed Cawthorne on soprano sax and flute, Nim Sadot on bass, Joseph Deenmamode on percussion and Max Hallet on drums.

All of the tunes on the session are written and arranged by Walters, and although the emphasis is on improvisation, the depth and flamboyance of the band’s experimentation is only made possible by the strength of the foundation of the tunes themselves. Walters is masterful in bringing together a melodic beauty that mirrors an old-school jazz ensemble, whilst playfully and skilfully twisting the direction of the pieces into a much freer contemporary form. The musical integrity is intact and this allows the music to develop and flow in many different directions, making for a totally immersive and exhilarating listening experience.

Many influences spring to mind whilst listening to this album, ranging from Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note era to Miles’ Bitches Brew era to The Headhunters to a young Django Bates, to Coltrane and Yusef Lateef and back again, to name just a few. And there’s a wide range of musical styles effortlessly blending into the mix, from European to African and American. It’s Walters’ originality that strikes me most though, a mesmerising take on contemporary jazz.

“So Long Chef” features a gorgeous intro from pianist Nash, before racing headlong into a fusion of cosmic excellence. The combination of drums and percussion is masterful, with Walters and Guntren in fine fettle as they let their solos rip. I love the sound of this album’s recording, the live feel of the session, it’s cool vibe just oozing spontaneity and freshness. “Ahimsa” is like an other-worldly reflective meditation. The bass riff drives the tune, with Nash’s hypnotic piano breathtaking and surreal. The dream-like nature of the piece is lifted even further by the horns, blowing an air of free-spirited adventure across the tune. “Gordian Knot Part 1” features a delicately muted trumpet from the band-leader, set against the backdrop of Nash’s emotive piano and makes for a stunningly beautiful piece of music. The fierier “Gordian Knot 2” is daring and effervescent with some spellbinding soloing from Cawthorne and Walters. This is a magnificent piece with a band at their striking best, one of those tunes that as a listener you’re just blown away by the mouthwatering soloing. “Dansoman Last Stop” combines the elegance of a jazz standard with the originality of a spiritual epic. Yet another example of how Walters manages to breathe new life into things. And I can’t tell you how good Cawthorne’s flute solo is on this… just go listen and you’ll understand!

“Active Imagination” is one of those albums I’ll be listening to for a long, long time. For me, it’s got everything. Love it. Big time. Do I want more? Hell yes!

Mike Gates

Thana Alexa ‘ONA’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Thana Alexa delivers her long-awaited sophomore album ‘ONA’ which follows up on her 2014 debut record, ‘Ode to Heroes’, which featured Donny McCaslin and Antonio Sanchez amongst others.

As evident through the album’s title itself, ‘ONA’ (a nod to her Croatian heritage with the word translating to ‘She’), the album seeks to celebrate what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Thinking about it, there really is an incredibly thin line between celebration and protest, and while there are certainly elements within this album, most notably on the project’s title track and ‘The Resistance’, that fall into the latter’s territory, ‘ONA’ very much serves as a celebration to Thana’s experiences and to the experiences of those that came before her.

The album sees an incredible display of talent on display with the opening track alone featuring contributions from ROSA Vocal Group, Claudia Acuña, Sofia Rei, Nicole Zuraitis and Sarah Charles as they deliver through a stunning statement of intent. Spoken word poet Staceyann Chin guests on ‘The Resistance’ which is a masterful pairing when you take into the account the strength of Alexa’s message for this project and Chin’s ability to deliver that message. Following her standout appearance on Robert Glasper’s ‘F–k Yo Feelings’ album last year (on the song ‘Endangered Black Woman’), Chin features on ‘The Resistance’ with a megaphone in hand as she cries “Pull down that racist f###ing flag”.

Much like trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s wonderful Ropeadope album release, ‘Polyhymnia’, of last year, which sought its inspiration from Greek mythology’s muse of poetry and dance (Polyhymnia), Alexa draws from Inca mythology for ‘Pachamama’ often referred to as the earth/time mother. Revered violinist Regina Carter typically excels with a luxurious solo which is given ample time to breathe over the course of the track’s eleven minutes. While ‘Pachamama’ clocks in as the longest track on the album, many of the songs here do hover over that eight-minute mark and there’s plenty of room given for her guests and band members throughout – there’s something about that as a technique within ‘ONA’ that contributes to the story being bigger than Alexa herself allowing a range of musicians to chime in with their own form of expression.

Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ is beautifully revisited as what starts out with just Alexa’s voice harmonising by itself slowly builds into a cacophony of crashing drums, electric guitar and Alexa’s vocals marking a genuine album highlight.

Perhaps the single most inspirational quality to Thana Alexa is her understanding that one’s voice is not something to be wasted. Whether it be with the music on ‘ONA’ or through her contributions to Antonio Sanchez’s Migration band – whose latest offering ‘Lines in the Sand’ (CAM Jazz Records, 2018) seeks to speak on the plight of immigrants – she continues to fearlessly and boldly deliver her message. ‘ONA’ is an incredible project. It’s bold, it’s confident, it successfully achieves all that it sets out to and, most of all, it’s needed.

Imran Mirza

Jim Hart / Ivo Neame ‘Multiverse’ CD (Edition) 5/5

Multiverse is the result of a collaboration of UK born drummer/vibraphonist Jim Hart and keyboardist/saxophonist Ivo Neame which has apparently taken over two years to produce in two countries. It comes as no surprise as both artists are always busy with various projects but there’s also plenty of multi-tracking going on here with some quite meaty chunks of synth.

Opening track “Moksha” is a statement of intent. Monolithic slabs of electronic deep bass is embedded in the dense texture of abstract electronic bleeps and buzzes with some really fierce and energetic drumming. It’s actually quite funky and reminiscent of late fusion era, particularly Weather Report but reinforced with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink electronica. The vibes led “The Exchange” starts gentler but still with plenty of energy. As the drums ramp up the vibes become more active and there’s a hint of swagger in the labyrinthine rhythm.

The drum kit has a rest as “Au Contraire” takes the intensity down a notch with an electronic keyboard and vibes duet. The studio effects used still gives it an edge and also oddly emphasise the empty space. “Room 1003” has a playful lightness. Spritely sax and vibes contrast with deep throaty electronic bass stabs emphasising the stop-start jagged groove

The electronic veneers are removed for the piano/vibes duet of “Serie De Arco”. It’s refreshing and an opportunity to enjoy the rapport between the two players in the stripped-down environment, highlighting their instinctive and dextrous playing. With intricate percussion and chiming synth, “Transference” is complex but still has a light and bubbly feel. The fun starts, however, when it locks into a funky syncopated Hancockian electric groove with some more exciting drumming. The more conventional balladic album closer, “Back Home” is grand. Vibes and keyboards meander in the ethereal dreamlike space and leave a calm and cleansing feeling.

Multiverse is joyous and has a sense of adventure which engages the listener. As you’d expect the musicianship is excellent and despite being mainly a studio work with overdubs, it retains a spontaneous, improvisational feel. There’s wonderful light and shade but it is the intense electronic tracks like “Moksha” and ‘The Exchange” that immediately catch the ear. These tracks would probably fit into what Jaco Pastorius would have called ‘technological overkill’ but despite what the bass ace might have said, it certainly does not suck. While the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach those levels of excitement, all the tunes are strong. I think this album will be getting some serious play!

Kevin Ward

Read also:
Ivo Neame ‘Yatra’ CD (Edition) 4/5

Jure Pukl ‘Broken Circles’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

‘Broken Circles’ marks the third album from saxophonist Jure Pukl as part of the incredible Whirlwind Recordings label and once again sees Pukl changing things up to create an entirely new dynamic.

Never one to try the same things more than once, Pukl’s time with Whirlwind seem to serve as a continual source of inspiration which sees the musician embrace new challenges: ‘Hybrid’, released in 2017, paired the New York-based Slovenian Pukl with Croatian pianist Matija Dedić; ‘Doubtless’ followed in 2018 which saw Pukl take centre stage with his quartet which included his wife and fellow saxophonist Melissa Aldana who herself scored highly with the release of her album ‘Visions’ in 2019 through Motéma Records. ‘Broken Circles’ again sees Pukl change the set-up – much like the recently reviewed Gianluca Vigliar’s ‘Plastic Estrogenus’ (A.MA Records) opted to explore his soundscapes with the absence of a piano, Pukl does so in a similar style by incorporating guitarist Charles Altura (Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard) and vibraphonist Joel Ross (Makaya McCraven, Melissa Aldana) into the company. Jure Pukl’s quintet is rounded out by long-time collaborator double bassist Matt Brewer (Steve Lehman Trio, Antonio Sanchez) and drummer Kweku Sumbry (Harish Raghavan).

While ‘Broken Circles’ affords Pukl the opportunity to dabble with the new arrangements and interplay between the guitar and vibraphone, the album is also born in response to the much-documented events impacting our socio and political climate. New York has genuinely served as a hot bed for charged and sincere political statements from musicians and artists across a broad range of genres and it’s poignant to have such an impassioned stance on this project as well. Songs like ‘Empty Words’, ‘Gloomy Sunday’ and ‘Separation’ point to the desire for change while other tracks like ‘Sustained Optimism’, ‘Triumph of Society’ and the album closer ‘Sky is the Limit’ express the hope that things can in fact change for the better and that change is best achieved through unity.

‘Broken Circles’ captures its purest magic through its more sublime moments like ‘Compassion’ which is exquisite, in particular within the song’s closing moments; ‘Gloomy Sunday’ serves as another transcendent highlight. Joel Ross’s vibraphone is certainly the inclusion within the dynamic that pays dividends – his work on the aforementioned Melissa Aldana project ‘Visions’ was flawless and here his contributions deliver as expected. From the opening to ‘Compassion’ to his warm and blissful performance in ‘Triumph of Society’, Pukl’s vision (for lack of a better word) pays off.

‘Broken Circles’ is a beautifully composed project that highlights Jure Pukl’s innovative approach to his playing and compositions and as we become accustomed to his reinventions with each album, it will be exciting to see how he changes the canvas for his art going forward.

Imran Mirza

Legends of Jazz-Funk

AGMP Presents Legends of Jazz-Funk

BUY TICKETS HERE

NORMAN CONNORS & THE STARSHIP ORCHESTRA

LONNIE LISTON SMITH & THE COSMIC ECHOES

RONNIE LAWS

MARVA KING

An explosive line up of Jazz-Funk & Soul legends are coming to London’s Indigo at the o2 for a European exclusive date.

Tubby Hayes ‘The Complete Fontana Albums (1961-1969)’ 11LP/13CD Box Set (Decca) 5/5

Last Summer, Decca records unveiled a lovely surprise for fans of British jazz by releasing the previously “lost” Tubby Hayes’ ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’ Fontana LP recorded in 1969 but never released at the time. Now the company has followed up by making good on its promise to release an extensive Hayes Fontana box set.

In truth, the story of Hayes’ tenure with Fontana has its roots in the final period of his contract with Tempo Records. Tempo was a small operation enthusiastically led by Tony Hall but with its purse strings tightly held by its parent company – ironically also Decca! Hayes final record for Tempo (the excellent Tubby’s Groove) was a breakthrough and, in 1960, became the first British jazz LP to be lauded as album of the month by Melody Maker magazine. It went on to sell well almost in spite of a ludicrously low budget marketing campaign. The final straw came when Decca refused Hall the paltry £19 budget to record a follow-up (but that’s a “lost” Hayes LP legend for another time). So Hayes took matters into his own hands and directly approached Fontana’s UK boss, Jack Baverstock. It worked, as is evidenced by the decade’s worth of material collected in this set.

The vinyl version of the box set comprises 11 records that cover all of Hayes’ LPs as leader that were released between 1961 and 1970 with the addition of the aforementioned ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’. It’s a numbered limited edition only available online but how limited is unclear. The CD version goes a little further by adding both sides of a 1962 single as well as unreleased recordings, alternate takes and false starts from four of the albums: most excitingly, three complete previously unreleased takes from Hayes’ masterpiece ‘Mexican Green’. Wonderful as this is, it does expose Decca’s decision-makers to an obvious criticism that they’ve shown the same shameful and callous disregard towards vinyl collectors as they did with the release of ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’. The very audience most likely to rejoice in the additional material is denied it and not even offered the sop of a free download of the missing material. Decca isn’t alone in this policy as witnessed by the recent Miles Davis Bootleg series releases from Sony Legacy.

It’s impossible in the scope of a single review like this to provide a detailed critique of all the music in such a significant set. However, some important observations are in order to help potential buyers orient themselves, and there’s no better place to start than at the beginning. The first LP Hayes recorded for Fontana was ‘Tubbs’, which is somewhat of an unusual mongrel in that it stitches together tunes recorded in three different group configurations: the familiar quartet and two larger bands augmented by guitar, flute, oboe, trombone and various clarinets. It appears that the aim was to demonstrate the breadth and depth of Hayes’ talent (composer, arranger, musician) as a single “big bang” for his Fontana debut. I’ve always felt that the programming doesn’t come off. Taken individually, each performance is at least fine and in some cases, Cherokee for example, blistering but it demands a lot of any listener new to Hayes to switch mode from track to track.

If you are a Hayes neophyte, then the best advice for navigating such a volume of recordings is simple: the smaller the group, the stronger Hayes performed. In other words, you won’t go far wrong if you set your compass for the magnetic North of the quartet and quintet sessions. The live twins of ‘Down In the Village’ and ‘Late Spot At Scott’s’ have legendary status as the first live records taped at Ronnie Scott’s and feature Hayes’ regular working quintet at the time. They ease you into that genuine 1960s Soho vibe and expose you to Hayes’ gregarious wit as well as his wide-ranging talent. He was “the little giant” of the tenor but could also perform well on vibes (Down In The Village) and evocatively on soprano (In The Night).

Once you’ve got a handle on that highly representative set of performances, you have the choice of moving on chronologically to the mid-1960s big band records ‘Tubbs’ Tours’ and ‘100% Proof’ or skipping ahead to the advanced tour de force ‘Mexican Green’. I have to confess a personal lack of fondness for big bands so that kind of material doesn’t move me much but I know for others it is quintessential Hayes. The consensus about ‘Mexican Green’ is much more clearcut: this quartet date was by far Hayes’ most impressive and sophisticated record released during his lifetime. As the lone horn, there’s no hiding place for Hayes and he, true to his lights, doesn’t seek one. The opening three tracks alone: Dear Johnny B, Off The Wagon and the flute outing Trenton Place are worth the admission price several times over. Although Hayes is at his irrepressible best on these, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t generous with solo space for his new young rhythm section and their post-bop leanings.

There’s a carry over of the core of this quartet into the 1960 “lost” session and a continuation of Hayes’ efforts to meld his pre-existing style onto newer ideas. You can still hear the Hank Mobley and Sonny Rollins influences but now those of Joe Henderson and, to some extent, John Coltrane have started to surface. As I wrote in my previous review of this disc for UK Vibe, had this record been released before Hayes’ death, it would have been a far more fitting epitaph than the one that was the final Fontana release he saw: ‘The Orchestra’. If there is a dud in this box set, then ‘The Orchestra’ is it, simply because it plays like an ill-conceived attempt to capture a commercial “easy listening” market. We will probably never know the thought processes that led to its recording, but I suspect that influences other than artistic ones were in control.

The music is accompanied by a lovely booklet containing some great photos and an extensive loving yet unsentimental essay by Simon Spillett who has unrivalled Hayes expertise as his biographer. The remastering by Gearbox Records from original master tapes using vintage analogue equipment is both sympathetic to the source and delivers magnificent audio. I compared more than half of the new pressings to original first pressings and the differences are wafer-thin. For the overwhelming majority of people, the combination of silent new vinyl and rarity/expense of the originals will make the choice of this new box set a no-brainer. Yes, there is a quibble about short-changing vinyl collectors versus CD collectors; there is the unexplained decision to use a mono master of ‘Late Spot at Scott’s’ while opting for the stereo master of ‘Down in the Village’ which draws on material recorded on the same dates, and there are the rather flimsy facsimiles of the original covers. However, these pale into insignificance given the historical importance and quality of musical and mastering execution.

Martin Kelly

UK Vibe ‘Best of 2019’ – Steve Williams

Steve’s 20 favourite albums of 2019:

1. Mark Lomax II – 400: An Afrikan Epic (CFG Multimedia)

2. Adam Rudolph’s Go Organic Orchestra with Brooklyn Raga Massive – Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas (Meta)

3. BRAHJA (aka Devin Brahja Waldman) – Brahja (RR Gems)

4. The Curtis Brothers – Algorithm (Truth Revolution)

5. Mikkel Nordsø Quintet – Out There (Stunt)

6. Scopes – Scopes (Whirlwind Recordings)

7. Scatter The Atoms That Remain – Exultation (Dot Time)

8. Leon Maria Plecity – Otherworld (JazzHausMusik)

9. Nat Birchall – The Storyteller – A Musical Tribute to Yusef Lateef (Jazzman)

10. Mark Lotz Trio – The Wroclaw Sessions (Audio Cave)

11. Muriel Grossmann – Reverence (RR Gems / Dreamlandrecords)

12. Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine – The Poetry of Jazz Vol. 2 (Origin)

13. Ashley Henry – Beautiful Vinyl Hunter (Sony Music)

14. Alexi Tuomarila Trio – Sphere (Edition)

15. Plume – Escaping The Dark Side (jazz&people)

16. Club d’Elf – Night Sparkles Live (Face Pelt)

17. Etuk Ubong – Tales of Life (Jazzaggression)

18. Petter Eldh – Koma Saxo (We Jazz)

19. Jason Palmer – Rhyme and Reason (Giant Step Arts)

20. Peter Lin & TNT Quartet – New Age Old Ways (Self-released)