A follow up of sorts to the first compilation of recent releases on the ACT label from 2016, but the quality of the music and the calibre of musicians is collectively so high that this simply works as an excellent overview of contemporary gospel, soul and jazz music. The connection between gospel and soul-blues is dissected by the Mighty Sam McClain on an outstanding interpretation of ‘I Wish I Had A Girl Like You’. From a big band jazz perspective, this writer would like to hear a lot more of Gil Goldstein and the WDR Big Band if the rest is as compelling as their wonderful take on Bobby Timmons’ ‘Moanin’, a number that opens up the compilation on a truly uplifting note. In fact the WDR Big Band are featured elsewhere on a lovely riff-laden reading of ‘The Sidewinder’, with Randy Brecker in the chief trumpeter role, and this makes for a fine modern update on the Woody Herman big band version.
Contemporary soul is an area that ACT have been eager to explore and Viktoria Tolstoy revisits a lesser known piece by Herbie Hancock from the early 1980s in, ‘Paradise’, now transformed from the original disco beat to a mid-tempo soulful groove. A reposing take on, ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’, emerges on the duet between keyboardist Ira Sands and vocalist Raul Midón. What is impressive is the number of major jazz musicians that ACT have managed to bring on board as guest artists as with the gorgeous soul-jazz keyboard of Joe Sample on a duet with Nils Landgren on, ‘Don’t Take My Love To Hollywood’, or the soul-jazz collective of Cornell Dupree, Hank Crawford and Bernard Purdie on, ‘Joshua Makeover’, with pianist Benny Green featuring. Indeed, Nils Landgren returns with his own Funk Unit including one of the most in-demand guitarists of the 1970s in Ray Parker Jr. on ‘Just A Kiss Away’. Elsewhere, left-field guitarist Marc Ribot turns up to offer some melodic support with vocalist Youn Sun Nah on ‘She Moves On’. What is indisputable is that ACT is well on the way to carving out its own distinctive identity and this fine overview demonstrates how in the process it is diversifying its sound to sometimes thrilling effect.