Various ‘Alex Attias presents LillyGood Party Vol. 2’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 5/5

Alex Attias releases the second of his ‘LilyGood Party’ compilations on Barely Breaking Even this year exposing some more of those hidden gems plucked from deep within his own bag of tricks.

The LillyGood compilation series – named as something of an homage to the club nights Alex and his brother, Stephane Attias, would host in their hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland – showcases selections of tracks that the revered DJ has become synonymous with over the years. As a DJ, producer, record collector and founder of the UK/Swiss label Visions Recordings, Attias has always managed to express his commitment to innovative and contemporary genres and styles across the spectrum of nu-jazz, broken beat, disco and soul.

Featuring the tag line of “A selection of really really good grooves”, Volume One, having been released through BBE in 2018, showcased music exemplary of Attias’s ethos. Even music from, in some ways, unlikely sources like Nicole Willis, Sunaga T Experience and Kathy Kosins were able to boast strategically selected remixes neatly pulling them into the LillyGood realm.

Volume Two masterfully continues in that vein with a selection of sublime, up-tempo numbers designed to put you on a Swiss dance floor for the archetypal LillyGood experience. ‘Touch’ by the Kaidi Tatham helmed/Copenhagen collective, 12 Senses, kicks the project off perfectly with a broken beat, jazz-funk excursion from their 2018 ‘Movement’ EP; Martin Iveson – perhaps best known under the alias Atjazz – hooks up with vocalist Sarai Jazz for the lush ‘Playground’; Daymé Arocena’s disco-esque number ‘Stuck’ from her sophomore Brownswood Recordings release, ‘One Takes’, also finds itself snugly at home.

As would probably be expected, the set boasts a hefty selection of remixes including Ben Brophy’s excellent take on ‘Children of the World’ by The Elements of Life with Josh Milan, Yam Who’s wonderful take on Dwayne Morgan’s ‘Everything’ boasting a scene-stealing closing two minutes of trippy sonic bliss which could have happily continued for a further five minutes as far as I was concerned, and of course the GU Peak True Time Mix of Stacy Kidd’s ‘How Bad I Want Ya’ featuring Peven Everett. But in the remix stakes, Attias himself throws his own name amongst the selections with an excellent re-edit of David Murray & The Gwo-Ka Masters’ ‘Gwotet’ featuring the legendary Pharoah Sanders.

With the first two instalments of the LillyGood compilations boasting such incredible selections and introducing prospective listeners to exquisite artists, tracks and even alternative mixes that may have initially slipped past your radar, there’s the absolute hope that these are now being positioned to become an on-going series for BBE Music, and that Volume 3 won’t be too far away. And should that be the case then we look forward to another round of “really really really good grooves”.

Imran Mirza

Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes ‘Visions Of A New World’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Lonnie Liston Smith recorded 5 albums for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label, including ‘Expansions’, which became a mid-’70s jazz-funk classic, alongside other notable albums around that time including Donald Byrd’s ‘Spaces & Places’ and Johnny Hammond’s ‘Shifting Gears’. That same year Lonnie Liston Smith recorded ‘Visions Of A New World’, which has since become a landmark album and is now restored, remastered and reissued on 180g vinyl by the Pure Pleasure label out of Middlesex.

During the mid-1960s, Lonnie Liston Smith played alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Betty Carter and Max Roach and many others before progressing onto working with Pharaoh Sanders in the late 1960s. It was on Pharaoh’s ‘Thembi’ album that Lonnie Liston Smith wrote the composition ‘Astral Travelling’ using the Fender Rhodes electric piano in place of the acoustic piano. The track became the title of his 1973 debut album, and the beginning of a sound which brought so many great albums and memorable tracks over the years, with unexpected collaborations and resurging interest, with each generation discovering his music and soulful expression.

It’s worth noting that producer Bob Thiele never took the publishing rights from his musicians and that held many of them in good stead and allowed for the future to remember their important contributions. It’s probably a good job when it comes to Lonnie Liston Smith as he has been sampled so many times. On ‘Visions Of A New World’ Ras G sampled ‘Summer Nights’ for his 2005 track ‘Juju’ and back in 1996, Kenny Dixon Jr sampled the same track for his ‘January’ cut off the classic ‘Soul Sounds’ EP. More recently Guillaume Berroyer [Ark] sampled ‘Aspirations’ for his electronic dance track ‘Lenlife’ off his ‘Noises & Some Voices EP’. Many of his other albums are heavily sampled and his music greatly respected by the communities surrounding many underground styles of music. Hopefully, the royalty cheques didn’t get posted to Dr. Lonnie Smith!

‘A Chance For Peace’ starts off in with a funk edge before the blend of the Fender Rhodes piano and the vocals by Donald Smith add a colourful textured palette, amplifying the peace message whilst retaining the groove throughout the track. It’s one of those classic tracks which has featured on many compilations over the years and one of the standout cuts from the album, although it’s an enjoyable experience from beginning to end with every track adding something different towards the album’s overall feel. ‘Devika’ and ‘Sunset’ are both exceptional pieces of music and ‘Visions Of A New World’ (Phase II) is almost an extension of ‘Expansions’ and, the only track which reaches out of the meditative feel of the album, using more percussion and an upbeat sound that retains the warmth and feel but adds a welcome punch.

The line up is similar to the Expansions album featuring Lonnie Liston Smith’s brother Donald Smith on vocals and flute – check his contribution on Billy Parker’s Fourth World album ‘Freedom Of Speech’, recorded a year earlier – whose voice is perfect for the album, lending an atmospheric relaxed tone and balance.

Joining Lonnie Liston Smith and his brother Donald are Guitarist Reggie Lucas, who played extensively with Miles Davis as well as Carlos Garnett, Norman Connors and many other jazz and soul artists whilst writing music for tracks such as ‘Gentle Smiles’ for Gary Bartz and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s ‘Back Together Again’. Trumpeter and tutor Cecil Bridgewater featured on many memorable albums in the 1970s including the seminal ‘Afro Blue’ album for his then-wife Dee Dee Bridgewater, before joining Lonnie Liston Smith for this recording. Trombonist Clifford Adams came into the project after a few years alongside Charles Earland, recording 4 albums with the soul-jazz organist/composer. Check him out on Robert Watson’s 1978 album ‘Estimated Time Of Arrival’.

Drummer/percussionist Michael Carvin enjoyed some memorable collaborations during this period around the 1970s, working with artists including Doug Carn, Jackie McLean, Pharaoh Sanders, Cecil McBee and of course with Lonnie Liston Smith. On this album, he teams up with percussionist Ray Armando who featured on many great jazz albums including some great soul-jazz albums for Blue Note by Lou Donaldson and Grant Green during his early career. Saxophonist Dave Hubbard plays both horns and the Soprano saxophone on the album. His depth of sound is epitomised on his self-titled album on Mainstream Records from 1971. Bassist Greg Maker was part of the Composer’s Workshop Ensemble on the 1974 album ‘We’ve Been Around’, recorded in 1974 on Strata-East. Drummer Art Gore, who recorded alongside Teruo Nakamura and Larry Young shares a platform on ‘Visions Of A New World’ with fellow drummer Wilby Fletcher who had just come from Roy Ayers band as a younger musician. Pharaoh Sander’s percussionist Lawrence Killian shared the stage with Angel Allende, who worked with Mongo Santamaria, Sivuca and many other renowned artists in the jazz and Latin​ community.

So then, a classic early insight into the incredible career of this inspiring musician/composer and an album which is highly recommended.

Mark Jones

Mark Lotz Trio ‘The Wroclaw Sessions’ CD (Audio Cave) 5/5

German born flautist Mark Alban Lotz moved to the Netherlands when he was 17 years old to pursue his interest in the instrument by studying classical and contemporary music in Amsterdam, before moving on to studies in world music, specifically the Indian Bansuri flute, in Rotterdam. As well as taking private jazz tuition in the States, he has subsequently travelled widely throughout the world teaching, performing and interacting with other like-minded musicians, releasing over 18 of his own albums and making over 40 appearances on recordings with other artists.

The Wroclaw Sessions is a part trio, part duo recording, featuring Grzegorz Piasecki on acoustic bass and Wojciech Buliński on drums. Lotz is renowned for crossing many boundaries with his music, his experiences allowing him to effortlessly assimilate different genres with consummate ease, and although this session has a very obvious jazz feel to it, it’s easy to hear many different cultural influences subtly and skilfully embedded into the ethos of the music he makes.

The recording itself came about whilst Lotz was in Poland performing with various Polish free-jazz musicians. No plans had been made for a recording and it was bassist Piasecki who suggested a quick trip to Wroclaw to record some pieces with drummer Bulinski. In a lo-fi studio, it was the first time Lotz and Bulinski had met, not that you would know this from listening to the recording. As the recording progressed it became clear that Bulinski couldn’t continue as he was suffering from a 40-degree fever, and so Piasecki and Lotz used the rest of the session to record some duets. The results in both trio and duo form, are simply outstanding.

9 tracks grace this wonderful album, 4 of them originals. There’s a depth of beauty that flows through the entire recording, with such a warm, intimate atmosphere lighting up the tunes with a rare class that makes listening such a fully immersive experience. There’s an avant-garde lilt to many of the tunes, including stunning renditions of Sam Rivers’ Euterpe and Charlie Parker’s Segment, but there’s always a gorgeously melodic base to the music, providing the listener with the best of both worlds: the edginess of Free-jazz improv, with the contentment of hearing a great tune. Tracks such as Raaste Men, Little Shiva, and Segment sparkle with character, the performances not only bringing the music to life but breathing new life into the music itself.

The intuitive interplay and improvisation from all 3 musicians is quite remarkable. The standard of performances here, especially being from such an informal session, cannot be underestimated. This is the spirit of jazz in its truest form. A delightfully deep and rewarding album.

Mike Gates

Richard Ebert Quartett ‘Abreisetag’ (QFTF) 4/5

In his second album production, Richard Ebert presents himself as a creative member of the European Jazz circuit flourishing in quite an understatement. Abreisetag (Engl. Farewell-Day) features Richard Ebert on Saxophone, Jo Aldinger on piano, Christoph Hutter on Bass and Patrick Neumann on drums. Ebert himself composed all of the eight tracks on the album.

The music is dreamy and calm. At times the four miss their opportunity to cut to the chase and lose themselves in stereotyped sound-scaping. But overall Abreisetag is a very interesting album.

There is not much-unexpected happening here, Ebert refuses to create a buzz. His sound is thoughtful and quiet. There is a lot of comfort and warmth in the way he approaches his music.

Abreisetag is a truly unique piece of music. Showing a great effort for sound and story. Reminiscent of Saxophone greats like Stan Getz.

SG

Jonathan Ng ‘The Sphynx’ (Self-released) 4/5

The Sphynx is a fantastically formed six-tracker that is over far too fast. The promise given by Jonathan Ng’s incredible paisley dressing gown on the cover is fully realised. I thought, “there’s a fellow who is going to bring the party”, and I was not wrong. With a look on his face that seems to be a quiet confidence that the party will not only happen but, thankfully, it won’t get out of hand because all his mates are well nice. This isn’t a smug look either.

I digress. Ng fronts the proceedings on violin, incorporating trad, swing, gypsy and touches of scratchy blues, in an unfussy, relaxed manner. The other members of the party (sax, guitar, piano, upright bass and drums) have genteel respect for space. This is far from a crash-about trad-swing record. There is a lot of trading, reservation and less-is-more arranging. There is only one original track by Ng, the other five are sort of second-tier standards. Unexpected choices all, except perhaps for the perennial “Stardust” that closes the record.

The balance of this record, and the pleasure of it, comes from the relaxed execution as described, but also from the production. There is something very close and intimate about the sound of The Sphynx that feels muted, woody and warm. This is especially noted on Ng’s violin on the slower tracks. There are no screeches popping out from the sax, the hats don’t pierce and hiss. This is a little slice of something sneaky, urgent, but refined and private. The performance feels incredibly live, boosting the interplay between the melodies and connection between players.

The Sphynx feels like an aperitif. And I mean this is a high compliment. Rounding off an evening, eking out the last of a nice night out. And no, I don’t wish it were longer, but Ng should definitely put out more of this thorough, mature, relaxed and emotional form of trad-swing. Definitely take note of “Gin Mill Special” with its eager sails pointed directly at swagger town.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Phi-Psonics ‘The Cradle’ LP/CD (Nightnote) 4/5

Phi-Psonics is a Los Angeles based project composed and produced by bassist Seth Ford-Young. What’s that, you (I) say? Another bassist-led date?! What is it with these multi-talented, modern bass playing dudes (see Matt Ulery, Dan Loomis etc.) that makes them think they can step above their station and BOSS IT? And what’s up with all those guitarists falling into the background these days? Ain’t it time you stepped up, my fellow egocentric six-stringers?

I dissonantly digress, my apologies. Back to the job at hand…Ford-Young is joined by two old Edward Sharpe bandmates (y’know Edward Sharpe – that lovely trippy-folk “Home” song from a decade or so ago that was so beloved by the advertising folk), Josh Collazo on drums and Mitchell Yoshida on Wurlitzer, while Sylvain Carton blows the woodwind (sax, flute, clarinet). Phi-Psonics is a six tracker of approximately 45 minutes.

First track, ‘First Step’, airs in on the tranquil and ethereal. Path finding (or following?) bass, querying flute and spiritual Wurlitzer shimmer. The organ is twinkly, nebular, not the slightly overdriven Om Supreme variety. It’s an expansive pursuance, a pause and elevation, a modest exaltation. Above all, it’s a gorgeously deep opener.
‘The Cradle’ is the second step; continuing the vibe but with a more sombre, motif-led Carton and a chord-comping Yoshida shaping the mood. Ford-Young and Callazo then cradle Yoshida as he diffidently explores, building to certainty and the return of Carton and the comforting motif.
‘Desert Ride’ is a suave jaunt. Poised and well-bred, Carton and Yoshida take us on graceful, slow, over-the-dunes glissades and float us seamlessly into the tender, dreamy ‘Mama’. ‘Mama’ has a moving warmth that avoids mawkishness by its unindulgent, reflective weightlessness.
The none-too-voluble ‘Drum Talk’ has deep tom Collazo create an uncomfortable wax and wane wash for Carton’s sax lament and ‘Like Glass’ has Ford-Young drip a gloriously loose, supine bassline for Yoshida and Carton to bathe in.

Phi-Psonics is an introspective, solemn spiritual jazz album. It isn’t demonstrative. It doesn’t communicate via speaking in tongues or cacophonous wail; it is patient and sensitive. This restraint is seductive and creates an intimate, snug, immersive soundscape that evokes thought and exploration but is never self-absorbed. Not sure a guitarist could’ve achieved that.

Ian Ward

Seu Jorge & Rogê ‘Night Dreamer Direct​-​To​-​Disc Sessions’ LP (Night Dreamer) 5/5

I realize this is a cliché but, what makes music so powerful is that it creates these little intimate moments that we get to replay over and over and over whenever we choose (and sometimes when we don’t). Through music, we get to re-live the private dance party that one summer night and the way your baby moved so freely, or that time it felt like no one else was there even though we were dancing in a crowd of people, or how joyful it felt singing at the top of your lungs alone in front of the mirror. A good song can make you feel alive because when you hear it again it reminds you of moments where you have really lived. When I turned on Seu Jorge’s latest release with his best friend Rogê, I knew right away this was going to be one of those albums that accompanies many future moments.

Seu Jorge and Rogê have been friends for over 25 years as they both pursued their careers in music. On February 7th they released what marks their first pursuit together- Night Dreamer’s Direct to Disc Session. This album is a love letter. It is an homage to an enduring friendship, to a country and to the listener.

Night Dreamer is a love letter to a friend. The seven tracks that make up Night Dreamer were laid down over four days each in one take. I’m blown away at their talent, to be able to do this and imbue so much emotion and beauty, they are truly in a class of their own. The songs aren’t overwhelmed with postproduction, they are intimate and warm. Having been friends for so long, Seu Jorge and Rogê have amassed a collection of ideas which formed the foundation of the album, making it a celebration of bonding, connectivity and ability. We can see how they love each other. Each singer has such a distinctive voice and yet they fit so well together. They compliment each other without trying to compete, the way any good friend wants to see you shine before themselves. Seu Jorge may be the more recognizable name, particularly outside of Brazil, but not once does he capitalize on that and attempt to make Night Dreamer about him. It is a partnership throughout.

Night Dreamer is a love letter to a country. Both men have recently left their home of Brazil for LA. While a corrupt government and shaky economy may have made that feel necessary, it’s obvious they miss home. “Meu Brasil” is a slow samba which both musicians have mastered, and really if you’re going to pen an homage to Brazil it better be with a samba. Their samba is pared down and relaxed. Seu Jorge’s voice is even a bit intoxicating with its husky drawl. Put down the whiskey, he is all you need. “A Força” is as powerful as its subject, the orisha. It begins with the Seu Jorge’s deep timbre which comes across a little shaky, but that’s not a critique. You can feel the power his voice holds in that quiet shake. You can feel the love both men have for their home and longing they must feel to return. I thought this song, in particular, spoke to their cohesive sound. Seu Jorge’s voice is deep and velvety while Rogê brings a softer, brighter quality. The way their voices weave together creates this rich and magical tapestry of feelings so relatable that it doesn’t matter that most people listening won’t understand the lyrics. You don’t need to know Portuguese, you can feel what they are saying, you can hear the fondness and love they have for each other and their home, and that’s all you really need.

Lastly, Night Dreamer feels like a love letter to all of us. Seu Jorge translates to “Your Jorge”. With this stripped-back album Seu Jorge and Rogê are offering themselves up to us; bare, vulnerable and wide open. Every song feels like a secret they are letting you in on, a secret that you simultaneously want to keep to yourself AND invite all your friends over, so they don’t miss out on the wonder of it. Night Dreamer starts out delicate and undemanding with Seu Jorge’s voice easing us into the experience with “Saravá”. The album ends filled with jubilant energy, with Rogê taking you out on the highest note. “Onda Carioca” is a total groove, really rounding out the experience of the album. This song had me looking for my man so I could grab him, put his hands on my hips and float around the room. “Onda Carioca” filled me with joy because I could feel the joy emanating from Rogê’s voice. I’m looking forward to creating moments with this music.

Molly Gallegos

The Beat Freaks ‘Stay Calm’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

‘Stay Calm’ is the new album release by Polish jazz quartet, The Beat Freaks. Initially founded in 2014 by bandleader and guitarist Michał Starkiewicz who would go on to recruit members including bassist Paweł Grzesiuk, drummer Radek Wośko and tenor saxophonist Tomasz Licak, the band’s warmly received debut record followed in 2016. Finding its home on the Danish label and distribution company Gateway Music in October 2016, ‘Leon’ gave birth to, not only the band’s debut recording but also to the life of Leon Kokakiewicz – albeit an entirely fictional character, Leon Kokakiewicz’s idealistic and pioneering successes found themselves the subject of The Beat Freaks’ compositions and lovingly explored over the course of the album’s nine tracks.

But from seeking inspiration from the life and times of (the fictitious) Leon Kokakiewicz for ‘Leon’, three years later the collective opt to seek their inspiration now from… wait for it… Charles Babbage’s early 19th century innovations of an automatic mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions. As if you needed me to tell you, we are of course discussing the “difference engine”.

Maybe this was the logical next step for The Beat Freaks, maybe it wasn’t, who’s to say? Either way, it’s pretty difficult to argue with the results wherever Starkiewicz and company opt to seek their inspiration.

The tracklist for ‘Stay Calm’ really seems to take the theme even further however with strong connotations of the compulsory need to look forward to a bold and bright future, but perhaps still being fearful of what that future holds. Tracks like ‘First Steps on a Lonely Planet’, ‘Memories From an old Town’ and perhaps the self-referential numbers ‘Difference Engine’ and ‘Steampunk’; the latter of which in of itself calls upon the retro-futuristic science fiction fantasy element of technology and design inspired by 19th-century steam-powered machinery.

There’s something really fascinating about the way this whole project unfolds, like the story within the story.

And of course, there’s the music itself: ‘Work At Heights’ dictates a great pace throughout with Starkiewicz’s guitar riffs, the relatively short ‘Chasing Olivier’ packs in so much energy, aided largely through Tomasz Licak’s screaming saxophone, while ‘Tree of Infinity’ soars through the playfulness of its composition.

As frequent live performers – having graced stages at Jazz na BOK-u 2018, the Hanza Jazz Festival in 2017, as well as Copenhagen’s Christiania Jazz Club and various venues around Poland – The Beat Freaks seem to constantly thrive under the pressure of a new challenge with the stakes rising for each new project. Whether their muses lead them to fictitious personalities, innovations of mechanical calculations or the scoring of the silent movie ‘Zamoyski’, with great intrigue we wait to see what The Beat Freaks will do next.

Imran Mirza

Stay Calm Tour 2020:
MAR 19 Sopot, Poland
MAR 20 Włocławek, Poland
MAR 21 Olsztyn, Poland
MAR 22 Szczecin, Poland
APR 23 Kraków, Poland
APR 24 Łódź, Poland
APR 25 Warsaw, Poland
APR 26 Staszów, Poland
APR 27 Skawina, Poland

Ihsan Al Munzer ‘Belly Dance Disco’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 2/5

Originally released in 1979, “Belly Dance Disco” is Lebanese keyboardist / composer / arranger Ihsan Al-Munzer’s first solo album. It has been re-issued as the first in the series of records titled “Middle Eastern Heavens” on the BBE Music label, curated by Beirut born DJ, Ernesto Chahoud.

Let’s start with the sleeve. It features a smiling blonde bikini-clad lady standing slightly awkwardly on a sandy beach in front of the sun-kissed surf and holding, also slightly awkwardly, an acoustic guitar. My kitschy sensors are tingling already!

The album is a fusion of international contemporary sounds and Middle Eastern music. Al-Munzer says “I wanted to put a mixture of European beat with Arabic percussion, but I made the European rhythm and harmony very easy to listen to for the Arabic ear – soft and understandable”. So what does that sound like? I’d pitch it somewhere between 70s synth-pop, easy listening, disco-lite and belly dance. It’s a heady mix ripe for plunder by samplers to bring that exotic edge to your hip-hop and dance tunes. A sample from “The Joy Of Lina” does feature on a Mos Def track from a while back.

“Girls Of Iskandariah” has a melody line delivered by layers of synthesiser and synthetic string sounds with heavily reverberated percussion and an innocuous Latin disco bassline. “Night Entertainer” brings some restrained funk guitar into the soundscape. “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are sonically and rhythmically more interesting as the western influences are reined in a little. “Jamileh” is musically direct and the most successful fusion of the foreign sound and Middle Eastern feel.

Unfortunately, the quality drops off severely for the second half of this album, particularly “A New Candle”, which is convoluted and a tad boring with its melody mostly blagged from Happy Birthday. “Once A Year” has a promising soul intro but lapses into synth-laden easy listening. “A Flower Of My Imagination” is similar but more uptempo with Latin drum machine rhythms. The last tracks, “Love Of Laura” and especially the immediate and funky “A Night At The Station” are a big improvement.

Obviously, this is great fun but does it offer anything more than novelty or as part of a sample source library? Well, yes, it does. In parts. Tunes like “Jamileh”, “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are imaginative and exciting. They have bags of charm and would spice up a compilation record or a DJ setlist. However, the standard of the songs here is variable and the weaker tunes can’t really maintain the momentum provided by the better tracks.

Kevin Ward

In Interview: Byron Wallen

Byron Wallen on ‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’.

“…people need a creative outlet, they need to have a creative way of expressing themselves, they need a way of feeling like they belong. That’s why this album was called “…Reflections on Belonging.”
-Byron Wallen

Read the full interview here