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Kyriakos Sfetsas ‘Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol​.​2’ LP/CD (Teranga Beat) 4/5

Volume 2 of this very intriguing series continues with another previously unreleased set by the progressive Greek musician Kyriakos Sfetsas (Κυριάκος Σφέτσας) and his band, which is essentially a selection of recordings made around the same time as Volume 1 in 1976 and 1977. And as per the previous release, recognisable Greek musical scales, (well, the Greeks did invent them!) that are commonly used within traditional Greek folk music are blended with jazz musicianship in addition to some slightly avant-garde moments to create something which to this writer is quite unique and incredibly interesting.

The first track, ‘On a Folk Mode’, is a perfect example of this cultural fraternisation which takes place throughout the recording; an initial gentle nod to Greek musical sensibilities with its classic clarinet melodies before the more bebop-esque solos begin. ‘The Widow’ initially radiates an experimental bent with its discordant piano string runs and distorted guitar drones, before it evolves into a full-on fusion heavy piece with its strong playing and improvisational work taking over from about the midpoint onwards. ‘40 Steps’ is a more piano-led composition, but again it transcends over its duration as it travels from typical jazz conventions into utilising fascinating Mediterranean motifs and stylings.

The fourth track ‘Seliani’ exploits an electric lute, which is essentially a contemporary version of the ancient plucked string instrument, which is a fairly broad term for a variety of similar instruments found across Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. ‘Seliani’ itself possesses an almost medieval quality before its jazz attitude permutates. The final two tracks ‘Imprints’ and ‘Alternative Aspect’ are the most jazz-like, so to speak, but both also divert from their original elements, taking them away from the characteristic jazz records of the mid-70s era.

I’m ashamed to say that I missed Vol. 1, of which the UK Vibe review explores the history of the series in more detail, although, Vol. 2 appears to be somewhat more ‘jazzy’ than Vol. 1. The history of Greek jazz is broad and multi-layered with Athens continually possessing a strong live scene over the past few decades, but a vibrant and diverse experimental music scene has also existed within Greece including experimental electronic music (I’ve previously lectured on this topic), and ‘Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol. 2’ highlights some of this experimentation but from a jazz perspective. And thus, this series may not be for everyone, but it is in no way a challenging listen as is some of the more extreme contemporary experimental music. This is definitely a jazz record but one that is quite unique in that it generally avoids many of typical mid 70s jazz tropes associated with the genre.

Additionally, record label Teranga Beat possesses an extremely strong discography of esoteric releases from numerous sources, including obscure African and Greek recordings which should definitely be investigated.

Damian Wilkes

Read also:

Kyriakos Sfetsas ‘Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol​.​1’ LP/CD (Teranga Beat) 5/5

Kabasa ‘African Sunset’ LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Kabasa was formed in Soweto in the grim apartheid South Africa of the late 70s/early 80s. They released a total of three albums including this, African Sunset, their last album, originally from 1982. The sleeve is endearing in a cheesy kind of way but there’s nothing amateurish or naive about the production and the band’s performance inside it. Musically, it’s a bit of mixed bag, which suggest that band were incorporating other contemporary styles such as funk and AOR to their established African rock sound. Surprisingly, the funk here is smooth like Britfunk or the continental European disco variety rather than the more extravagant US sound.

‘Rainbow Children’ kicks off the album. The fuzzy slightly proggy intro riff gives way to a funky groove. This track is especially reminiscent of tunes from British early 80s funk bands. After the upbeat funky opener, the slower paced ‘Mefeteng’ leans towards a mellow African influenced rock. ‘African Sunset’ is fresh and smooth but not very memorable. ’Feeling of the 60s’ is an instrumental with typically 80s chorus effected guitar chords and is reminiscent of AOR music at its mellow best. ‘Walking in the Jungle’ struts somewhere between progressive rock and hard rock with the ever-present African elements. ‘Awundiva’ is laid-back and lush with a captivating liquid guitar/keyboard wash. For me, this is the stand out track on the album. Beautiful. ’Happy to be me’ is funky, disco style, locking into a groove with prominent popping bass. ’Sengiyesaba’, the album closer, is toned down afro-rock and a little so-so but is saved by the keyboard led instrumental middle section.

There’s distinct stylistic variation between the tracks but they are consistent in having sleek harmony voices with the guitar heroics of Doc Mthalane punctuated by popping bass from TNT Sibeko. Mthalane was apparently dubbed the ‘Hendrix of South Africa’ presumably out of respect for his chops. His solos are more along the lines of Ernie Isley’s performances in 1970s Isley Brothers’ recordings.

It’s a great call by BBE to release this just as our summer approaches. These tracks, especially ‘Feeling of the 60s’ or ‘Awundiva’, will sit happily in your chilled afternoon (or sunset) BBQ playlist alongside tunes by Roy Ayers or Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald era please!)

With reissues of hard to find albums, I can’t resist looking them up on Discogs market place. There’s just one copy of ‘African Sunset’ available for $200. I can’t recommend spending that sort of cash on this record, but it may be worth grabbing this re-issue though, even if it’s just for the summer.

Kevin Ward

Ralph Peterson & the Messenger Legacy ‘Legacy: Alive Vol. 6 at the Side Door’ CD (Onyx Productions) 4/5

Had he still been among us Art Blakey would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. One of Jazz’s greatest ever drummers, Blakey and his group, the Jazz Messengers, left us not only a sizeable discography including classic albums like “Moanin’” and “Mosaic”, but also nurtured generations of top jazz players.

It’s these twin legacies that Ralph Peterson’s group celebrates. A young Peterson played the drums alongside Blakey in his later years and his mentor left a lifelong impression on him. Much of his subsequent career as musician and music educator has been spent passing on the lessons that Blakey taught him as well as honouring his memory. “Every time I play the drums it is in tribute to Art, but I wanted to do something that goes beyond me, beyond any individual. I wanted to pay tribute in a way that was authentic, genuine, and meaningful not just to a few, but to every person he touched through his music.”

This isn’t the first tribute to Blakey led by his acolyte. On this date, the group comprises only of Messenger graduates – Bill Pierce on tenor sax, Bobby Watson on alto, Essiet Essiet on double bass, Geoffrey Keezer on piano and Brian Lynch on trumpet. Playing in the Messengers was a character building apprenticeship, through which young musicians could find their own voice all the while respecting the history and tradition of the group. This sense of individuality meant that Brian Lynch wasn’t expected to be the next Lee Morgan, nor Bill Pierce the new Wayne Shorter. For these later Messengers, awareness of those that had gone before them must have been intimidating nonetheless.

The music on “Legacy Alive” spans the entire life of the Messengers from the heady Blue Note years in the ‘50s and 60s right through to the ‘80s when the outlook for Jazz was less sure. Whilst none of the arrangements are radically different from the originals they are not carbon copies either. The solos, in particular, evince the accumulated wisdom and intuitiveness of experienced players re-engaging with music they are instinctively at home with. The instrumental lineup remains fixed so there’s no trombone on “The Core” or “Children of the Night” for example. Most of the tunes are longer than the original recordings. Jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s was more concise in form, no great liberties have been taken though.

The album bursts forth with “A La Mode”. You’re there in the room before you know it and it’s swinging, I mean it’s swinging hard. It’s not just all breakneck tempo and no craft though, each solo is rich in colour and detail. None more so than Lynch’s trumpet that skips, fades and lands like a hyperactive flyweight toying with an inadequate opponent. Jazz used to be dance music and it’s easy to understand why.

Bobby Watson had a number of writing credits during his tenure with the Messengers so it’s not surprising that two of his compositions feature. To my ears, the arrangement of the waltz, “Wheel within a Wheel”, is quite distinct to the original. The trumpet solo has been dispensed with and do I hear a touch of Nature Boy at half way? “In Case You Missed It” AKA Fuller Love opens with a bouncy intro cum drum solo before giving way to powerful harmonies.
The searching rise and fall of “Children of the Night” and the declamatory Wayne Shorter tune “The Core” show us a moodier side to the Messenger’s repertoire. It’s not wall to wall explosive energy though as Bill Pierce shows on albums only ballad, “My One and Only Love”.

The Legacy recording is not a one-off show. The band played at this year’s Winter Jazzfest in New York and are touring the US and worldwide to support the album.

Two dates stand out, a celebration of Art Blakey’s Centennial at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday, August 3rd and a gig on Saturday, 23 November 2019 at Cadogan Hall in London as part of this year’s London Jazz Festival. I know where I’m going to be on Saturday the 23rd!

Andy Hazell

Greg Foat ‘The Mage’ LP/CD (Athens Of The North) 3/5

“The Mage” is Greg Foat’s 9th album. Those familiar with his music won’t find anything too surprising here, his compositions and arrangements showcasing now familiar downtempo folkscapes and free jazz, with notes of hip-hop and soul flowing comfortably into the analogue mix. Foat has that rare gift of bringing together musicians from different generations and musical backgrounds and arranging them and their talents into sounds that can be beautiful and uplifting. Introspective and retrospective with an eye on the future one might even say. Having enjoyed much of his music in recent years, especially the wonderful “The Dancers at the edge of time”, it was with keen anticipation when I first clicked play on this album.

And now I pause. For reflection. For thought. Am I missing something? I don’t think so. As I listen to “The Mage” I can’t help feel the composer has lost his way a little. The trademark sound is there, the excellent collection of musicians is there, in fact, all the ingredients that would normally make for an enlightening Greg Foat experience are there, but it’s just not doing it for me. The compositions just seem to lack something. Having thought about this for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a few reasons for this…

No.1: Despite the fact that on each track I’m immediately pulled in to the gorgeous sound and feel of the music, after a minute or so of each tune it just gets a bit boring to be honest. The phrase ‘style over substance’ springs to mind.

No.2: There’s a lot of sax on the album. That should potentially be a good thing, right? Trouble is, some of the sax playing just seems to miss the mark for me. It’s like Kamasi Washington’s less gifted twin brother has infiltrated the band. He might know in his head what he’s trying to achieve, but in reality, it just doesn’t sound right.

No.3: Timelessness. Whereas on other albums I would happily shout to all who would listen that this guy Greg Foat has the magic touch and prophetic understanding of a Mage, creating timeless music to die for, this time around he seems to have replaced that vitality and intuitive elemental grace with some kind of pale imitation of the Mage.

That all sounds a bit harsh I know. And I don’t want it to be… if I was listening to Greg Foat for the first time my thought process could well be more easy going and less critical I suppose. So it is in fact very important to say that it’s most definitely not all bad by any means. In fact, it’s not bad at all, it’s still rather good in many ways. I still love certain elements of this album, and it’s plain to hear the touches of genius one might have been expecting… but it’s fleeting glimpses only for me. It’s good, but it’s not great. And maybe I’m just in the wrong mood or something, and it is, of course, wrong to expect brilliance on a consistent basis, but for me, it’s just a little bit disappointing.

Considering the treasures revealed when listening to several other Greg Foat, and Hampshire and Foat albums, this one is little like discovering a rare oyster, only to find when the oyster is opened, that the pearl is missing.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Hampshire and Foat ‘Galaxies Like Grains of Sand’ LP/CD (Athens Of The North) 4/5
The Greg Foat Group ‘The Dancers at The Edge of Time’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 5/5

David Wertman / Sun Ensemble ‘Earthly Delights’ 2LP (BBE Music) 4/5

Welcome first-time vinyl reissue for David Wertman’s rare debut album ‘Earthly Delights’ with his Sun Ensemble, lovingly retrieved from the archives by the BBE Music label. Recorded in 1978, the LP is a tour de force of free expressionist spiritual jazz, which was originally released on the independent Sweet Earth Record label that existed between 1978-79; set up by John Sprague JR., who plays flute and percussion on the album. The label only released five albums yet each release was a testament to the label’s adventurous stance and close relationship with the contributing artists on board. Of those five albums on the catalogue, Both Sun Ra’s ‘The Other Side Of The Sun’ album and Amina Claudine Myers’ ‘Poems For Piano’ featured alongside this recording.

Both the leader David Wertman [bass] and John Sprague JR. [flute/percussion] shared a deep involvement with the legendary New York Jazz Loft jam sessions before recording this classic album, playing alongside many great avant-garde jazz musicians including Steve Reid, Charles Tyler, Billy Bang, Arthur Blythe, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and many other influential figures who frequented the progressive and free-spirited meeting of minds. Both musicians also featured on albums including those by both Steve Reid and Charles Tyler in the mid-’70s.

More experimental and loosely structured than both his 1976 recorded ‘Kara Suite’ LP and his 1983 recording ‘Wide Eyed Culture’, the change in compositional approach on ‘Earthly Delights’ stems partly from David Wertman’s move from his New York setting to the liberal college town of Amherst, Massachusetts and through his newly formed Sun Ensemble; a group who shared a similar ethos in respect of the social and political matters of importance of that period in history and place.

The music stretches out over the four compositions with an explorative probing of boundaries and sound, energetic, contemplative, intense and revealing. The music pays tribute to John Coltrane on the aptly titled ‘John Love Trane’, a contemplative piece with subtle touches of percussion complimenting David Wertman’s intricate and reflective bass; echoes of Jimmy Garrison and Paul Chambers contained within the ever-evolving link through time. The atmospheric title track sets the tone for the album, full of subtle probing sounds and colourful percussionist elements, quietly leading into the mid-tempo swinging composition, ‘Relations’, with the full ensemble creating a dynamic intensity that creates a highlight from the session. With the final track, ‘Clear Air Dancer’, drummer Larry Conway creates an infectious groove amidst the swirling darting reed sounds which eventually recede to make way for a buoyant drum solo to round off this memorable album, thankfully available after a lengthy period of obscurity.

The featured line up includes Greg Wall (Baritone Saxophone), Jay Conway (Drums), John Sprague Jr. (Flute and Percussion), David Swerdlove (Soprano/Alto Saxophone), and John Zieman (Synthesizer) and of course the formidable larger than life bassist and leader David Wertman. A welcome reissue and essential album for anyone who appreciates the more experimental side of spiritual jazz.

Mark Savva

Alexi Tuomarila Trio ‘Sphere’ LP/CD (Edition) 5/5

‘Sphere’ is the new album from the Alexi Tuomarila Trio, the third LP the northern European group has made since 2006’s ‘Constellation’. Pianist Alexi’s music is honest and empowering, with its excitement and passion. The trio is here complemented by the accompaniment of Alexi’s fellow Finn, the rising trumpeter Verneri Pohjola on several tracks. There’s just piano from Alexi and no electronics or synths, which in this day and age of highly polished and produced music is somewhat a relief.

The palpable ‘Shapeshifter’ (released early, along with ‘Jord’) opens the album with an immediacy created by unrelenting rhythmic uncertainty. A fierce melody is emphasised by the double bass of Mats Eilertsen. Even in its unstoppable character, dynamics subtly shift to keep the listener on edge and engrossed throughout. Olavi Louhivuori, drummer of the progressive Classical-Jazz ensemble Oddarrang, confidently holds the tempo. Never stepping on the toes of the others, he only develops the composition’s sentiment by making full use of his kit.

‘Jord’ sees the introduction of Verneri Pohjola who solemnly announces this defiant track. The fragile trumpet lines conflict with the often-disorientating drums and piano, and the effect is the emergence of war-like imagery. Beginning as a reflective bugle call, the trumpet later wails in a fit of distress.

The characteristic precision of Alexi returns on ‘Origins’, with a high tempo ostinato before a contradicting period of relaxation, from which the piano deftly intensifies. Finally, the motif returns, and it becomes gloriously intoxicating.

‘Sirius’ is a sorrowful ballad; sparse and delicate, with brushed drums and a mournful arpeggiated piano waltz section. The bass is even more moving, giving a laconic performance as if shouldering the grief. It’s a chance for the trio to show a more emotional side to their playing.

Verneri features again on ‘Boekloev’, the fluttering trumpet, a perfect fit over this Blues number. The range of tones and textures Verneri achieves here is impressive; going from flute-like raspiness to a vibrant cheerfulness.

Alexi’s harmonious playing is the star of the unadorned ‘Unfold’. There’s a resolute repeated chord pattern elevated by a little syncopation which appears intermittently. It provides some much-needed context to the freer sections of improvisation.

‘Krakow’ is unadulterated and unforgiving in its severity. It begins in a processional and regimented fashion, before going into more exploratory spheres where the piano and bass continuously temper the resistant trumpet.

Notable as the only track featuring bowing from Mats, ‘Celeste’ gracefully brings this spirited session to a modest end. ‘Sphere’ is a collaborative effort, with each member contributing compositions. It is a true expression the trio’s artistic flair and a result of the long-standing camaraderie of Mats, Olavi and Alexi. The addition of Verneri, however, is truly welcomed. If you like contemporary European Jazz, you’re going to love this.

Fred Neighbour

Read also: Alexi Tuomarila Trio ‘Seven Hills’ CD (Edition) 4/5

Dave Douglas / Uri Caine / Andrew Cyrille ‘Devotion’ CD (Greenleaf Music) 4/5

The world is a small place and the jazz world is even smaller these days. The distance between us punters and the players seems a lot less now. This CD dropped to review today and before getting down to writing I went to see the Xhosa Cole Quartet at Birmingham Jazz. David Austin Grey was on piano and it turns out he’s headed Stateside in a week or so to study with…Dave Douglas.

Seemed like a good omen. The title Devotion is not indicative of a re-run of the Sacred Harp approach of 2014’s Present Joys but a reference to the jazz and other “deities” Douglas’ tunes honour. But some of that hymnal feel is apparent throughout.

This is a trio record but I don’t think that has any link with the first “deity” Jerome Horowitz of the Three Stooges other than him being Douglas’ favourite Stooge. So ‘Curly’ opens with Uri Caine leading lively piano duo with just Cyrille on drums, Douglas perhaps surprisingly sits this one out so it’s a duo track, not a trio…

Uri Caine kicks off ‘D’Andrea’ with some portentous chords then Douglas comes in with a fuzzy start that moves into a funky lead. Uri chimes in with a bright, broken solo using the whole range of the keyboard. Cyrille solos with a lightfast touch and plenty of top cymbal riding, before Uri comes back in with the chords and a quick finish from Douglas.

‘Francis of Anthony’ is more of a ballad with a lyrical Douglas muted solo leading into Caine with another trademark percussive solo and some fine interplay which is indicative of the closeness they have from playing together in various contexts. It closes with a singing feel – I guess linked to that hymnal feel. Both D’Andrea and Francis are dedicated to the Italian pianist and composer Franco D’Andrea.

‘Miljøsang’ with its tumbling piano solo and ‘False Allegiances’ are for Carla Bley and on the latter Douglas goes with a more growling sound and a rather funereal marching feel which moves into a bluesy Caine solo.

‘Prefontaine’ is for the US Olympic runner who died young in a car crash so it has a spiky freer feel. ‘Pacific’ is back in ballad territory with a strong theme stated by Douglas. It’s for Aine Nakamura and the Mannes/New School composition class of fall 2017 and is based on the C-F-C tuning on the Asian instrument Nakamura played.

‘Rose and Thorn’ is another choppy (in a good way) tune for Mary Lou Williams. Douglas refers to it as “the pricklier one” and has some neo-stride piano from Caine.

‘We Pray’ is for Dizzy Gillespie but instead of perhaps an expected firecracker of a tune this is a gentle and reverent dedication with both Douglas and Caine in lyrically classic form.

‘Devotion’ goes back to the Sacred Harp approach of Present Joys and refers to the history between Douglas and Caine, as Douglas says: “I feel that the understanding and insight that Uri and I have into Sacred Harp repertoire has deepened and broadened.” It starts and stays lyrical and the hymnal feel is clear. It’s a beautiful and fitting end to the recording which is very well programmed.

And as it ends I realise I haven’t mentioned Cyrille very much – maybe because on this recording he plays perfectly and, a bit like you don’t notice a referee at a football match who just keeps the game flowing, he plays beautifully to the music supporting and suggesting and by turns soft and intense.

Douglas is clearly the leader and it’s an interesting shot on the cover of him and his trumpet with his head and upper body cropped off – reflecting perhaps that he does his talking through his instrument. But the feel throughout is of three close collaborators enjoying playing together. It’s a great record but I imagine hearing this live would be even better.

Brian Homer

Mikkel Nordsø Quintet ‘Out There’ LP/CD (Stunt) 5/5

Danish guitarist and composer Mikkel Nordsø’s latest offering, ‘Out There’, sees the player combine forces with Swedish saxophonist Tomas Franck to provide us with a record heavily indebted to their musical heroes, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. A spoiler alert is not required as early in the record Nordsø places a massive road sign in our path in the form of a powerful Hendrix like noise/riff to inform us of our projected line of travel. Thankfully the players inhabit their alter egos in such a way as to give each other the time and space to map what might have been a cosmic meeting of musical minds in a more considered fashion. Otherwise, the record may just have been too exhaustingly explosive.

Nordsø explains it has been his long term ambition to make an album exploring an alternative future where Hendrix and Coltrane encounter each other since he was inspired by the psychedelic and cosmic sound of both musicians from a young age. Kindred spirit Franck who is also something of a Coltrane stylist seemed to be an ideal band member for the project. They are joined by Ben Besiakov on keyboards and Anders Christensen on bass, two musicians equally at home in a jazz or rock setting. When Nordsø heard Elvin Jones mentored drummer Alvin Queen he knew the line up was complete.

One thing about this record, Nordsø doesn’t mess about with the track titles, each one pretty much lets us know what’s going to happen. ‘Take Off’ the first, is no exception, although the cat is not quite out of the bag at this point and we are eased into the theme of the project. The guitar intro is an acoustic blues-tinged flourish followed by Besiakov’s keyboard textures leading to the main theme on guitar and sax. The electric piano adds a lightness of touch with Nordsø’s guitar now way back in the mix. The main riff emerges from this courtesy of Franck and Nordsø in combination once again. On hearing this I felt I had entered a very familiar room which had undergone subtle changes in the position of the furniture and the colour of the walls, refreshing, but at the same time slightly disconcerting.

The road sign I mentioned earlier appears on the title track, ‘Out There’, Nordsø channels the spirit of Hendrix loudly and clearly, this was the point I got what the record is about. For my money, the spirit of Frank Zappa was also muscling in on the act at some points but I have no complaints about this. An explosive sax comes in with such force that Franck almost loses his breath at one point. We are also treated to some keyboard work sounding like it came from an early 70s Miles Davis live date before the return of the heavily Hendrix inflected guitar sound, the sax finds its way out of this into a quietened zone where the guitar settles into a cleaner less distorted tone.

‘Floating Squaw’ offers some relief from the frenetic nature of the previous tune and gives us a reflection of the sweeter, softer side of Coltrane, fused with subtle wah-wah guitar.

‘Rock Train’ is heavy on riffs with some Jon Lord style organ work buried beneath the tenor, as well as a smidgen of Jimmy Page ‘Dazed and Confused’ style bowing of the guitar. This train has many wagons, each spilling something into the mix.

‘Next to the Mountain’ neatly quotes Hendrix’s own ‘Voodoo Chile’ lyric for its title, and sees extended solos from Nordsø and Franck. The piece encapsulates several moods after a wildly exuberant guitar intro, squeaking fret sounds are followed by a Hammond passage from Besiakov which reminded me of Joey Defrancesco’s organ work on John McLaughlin’s own Coltrane homage, ‘After the Rain’.

The album rounds off with ‘Sweet Silence’ very much in the mode of Miles Davis’ ‘In a Silent Way’ with Besiakov directly quoting Zawinul’s keyboard in places. Franck here perhaps wondering what might have been should Coltrane have been around long enough to show up on ‘In a Silent Way’, though at times he sounds more like Wayne Shorter in a dreamy 60s mood.

A great album, quite playfully thought-provoking in setting up the Hendrix meets Coltrane scenario. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. l shall also be digging out some Hendrix and Coltrane records to listen afresh in the light of this album.

James Read

Aaron Whitby ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ CD (Ropeadope) 4/5

For a career as diverse and rewarding as Aaron Whitby’s has been, it certainly comes as a surprise that his new release, ‘Cousin From Another Planet’, marks his official debut solo project as a bandleader.

That very diverse and rewarding career has seen London-born Whitby – as a pianist – grace stages and studios with artists including George Clinton, Raul Midon, Natalie Cole, Neal Sedaka, as well as serving as the Musical Director for his wife, vocalist Martha Redbone. Even throughout Redbone’s own auspicious career, Whitby’s never been far from her side and has served as a co-writer and co-producer for each of her releases, ‘Home of the Brave’, ‘Skintalk’ (released through Dome Records) and ‘The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake’, as well as the incredibly successful NYC-based musicals they have gone on to create together.

‘Cousin From Another Planet’ fittingly now sees Redbone by her husband’s side providing vocals throughout with a thrilling array of artists and musicians, many of which serving as long-time Whitby collaborators and with an awe-inspiring body of work between them: saxophonist Keith Loftis (Abdullah Ibrahim, Roy Hargrove Big Band), bass by Fred Cash (Martha Redbone) and Jerome Harris (Sonny Rollins), violin by Charles Burnham (Stuart Matthewman, Cassandra Wilson), percussion by Gary Fritz (Roberta Flack, Ronny Jordan), drums by Rodney Holmes (Santana, Monday Michiru), and vocals provided by the aforementioned Redbone, Lisa Fischer, Rome Neal and Tamar-Kali.

Listening to this album, there really is no doubt that Whitby and company are a collective of musicians that genuinely enjoy making and performing music – ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ seems to capture an infectious, almost joyous, energy that just carries throughout the project with songs like ‘Escape Route’, ‘Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Mrs Quadrillon’. It’s an understandable conclusion to draw – with much of the album reportedly having been conceived during morning walks with his son to school, it’s touching that that experience itself is commemorated with the song ‘Walking With Z’ (Zach). Even when tackling Herbie Hancock’s ‘The Eye of the Hurricane’, the allure of creation is just too great and the original composition ends up serving as a launchpad for what ultimately transforms into ‘The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0’.

Released through Ropeadope Records, Whitby has potentially delivered his tour de force. This could be the record he’s longed to make – the project that serves as the culmination of years of studio and live collaborations, a homage to his own influences as well as the chance to establish Whitby’s own name amongst these masters.

Imran Mirza

Phraim ‘Phraim’ CD (QFTF) 2/5

Throughout its history, the evolution of jazz was lead by strong groups of individuals. Bands like the Miles Davis Quintet, The Bad Plus or The Sex Pistols. All of them combined strong visionaries, ideas and skills for a focused amount of time and channelled them through a collective spirit. Due to the financial situation in Jazz, bands nowadays form for one album production and maybe a tour. The usual group of mercenaries split up shortly after the project finished, and everyone was paid.

Nina Reiter’s band Phraim has been working together for the recent past years. As most of the young bands do, they also met during their university studies. In Nina Reiter’s case, meeting her band lead not only to a future long musical collaboration. She also married her drummer Peter Primus Frosch.

Phraim takes a rather usual approach of putting their album together. Throw in a couple of standards, a few originals and cover of a pop hit. No thrilling narrative, the selection of songs seem rather constructed and uninspired.

“Nur ein Wort” is a song from Germany’s 90s Pop sensation “Wir sind Helden”. A band who, if you have not lived in Berlin in 1998, won’t have any recollection of. Also, if you don’t speak German, you have never heard of them in the first place. Phraim’s cover version fails to deliver a great new look or depth on the original composition and does not add interest.

Nina Reiter’s leadership and defining vocal chops are very much displayed throughout the entire album. Her vocal range and technical finesse ceases to amaze. But​ Phraim’s​ entire songwriting concept follows a very schooled formula. Something of the kind you expect a jazz vocal album to do. “Winds of May” marks the low point of the album. Struggling to make a point in the thus very entertaining album.

Phraim’s​ creative approach misses artistic vision and a strong edge. The four talents know what they are doing, no doubt, but they are not risking to provoke. There is no real perspective on​ how to push their genre. They deliver what is the least expected. A pity! The band name already suggests breaking​ frames and their restrictive conventions. Instead,​ the band breaks the ​middle ground instead of making an artistic statement.

Phraim​ stays an easy listening album, pleasing and entertaining, played by an ambitious band. A clearer direction from their label and an experienced producer would help to put this band on the right​ track. Sometimes the simplest and most honest form of approach is what really adds something new to a format. Or as Iggy Pop puts it: “I like music that’s more offensive. I like it to sound like nails on a blackboard, get me wild.”

SG