One of the unsung heroes of the ECM label, tenor and soprano saxophonist Trygve Seim delivers one of the unexpected surprises of early autumn with a wonderfully melodic quartet album which is loosely based on Finnish folklore (though the compositions themselves are entirely new and conceived of by the leader) adapted to a jazz context, and here at least there are comparisons to be made with the earlier work of Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, and to a certain extent with some of the work of Norwegian Jan Garbarek. Above all else, it is the sheer melodicism of the music that is communicated by the musicians, and the rhythm section comprising pianist, Kristjan Randalu, double bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Markhu Ounaskari, deserve great credit for their empathetic support throughout. This is beautifully illustrated on, ‘Sol’s song’, with, first a trio intro, and then a gentle tenor solo with the prettiest of themes, while the title track itself is a contender for the album’s most compelling piece and is notable for a gorgeous bass line intro and understated tenor solo. This scribe immediately warmed to the nocturnal atmosphere created and, as with much of the rest of the album, the leader is in no hurry whatsoever and delivers the most laid back of solos. A real asset in a world dominated by individuals who are in too much of a hurry to reach their ultimate destination. One of the multiple attractions of this recording is the myriad moods that are captured and on, ‘Sorrow march’, it is the contemplative quality of the music with Seim reverting to soprano saxophone and playing in a mode that actually sounds more like a violin, and that very effectively conveys the somber mood. In a different vein, the Eastern flavoured, ‘New beginning’, once again features a saxophone akin to a violin, but this time the high-pitched tone is accompanied by drone like piano. Seim displays his aptitude for performing ballads on, ‘Ciaccona per Embrik’, with delicate cymbal and brush work from Ounaskari. Recorded at the Rainbow studios in Oslo to this writer’s ears, this is the strongest album by Trygve Seim to date and a prime example of what the ECM sound is all about.
ECM has regularly delved into the ongoing relationship between world roots music and jazz, but the music of the Near East, here that of Korea, is a new phenomenon to these ears at least. While the folk tradition of Korea (both south and north? One is not quite sure from the limited information at the time of review, though south is most likely) is most certainly evoked, this album, recorded in the southern capital of Seoul, has more of an acoustic jazz with the occasional jazz-rock touch to it, and is best approached as a bona fide jazz recording. In fact, South Korean pansori vocalist Yulhee Kim is on hand on various pieces, and it is, moreover, her soft delivery combined with the guitar of Suwuk Chung, who has definite echoes of Bill Frisell, that impresses most on the sparse, ‘Mot’, deploying minimalist guitar in the intro and adding bass clarinet and vocals. Indeed, the dissonant sound of Chung’s guitar added to the saxophone of the leader (who operates also on clarinet) works a treat and creates attractive layered texture to the opening number, ‘Ewha’. Delicate percussion from the excellent Sori Choi and in particular the use of echo are features of the all too brief and, once again minimalist-influenced, Garram’. Folk and jazz elements blend well on the reposing, ‘Galggabuda’, with female vocals. As a whole, the album is concise at just under forty minutes with eight pieces, all composed by the leader, Sungjae Son, Of note, the vocal pieces are translated into English which is useful.
If Aretha Franklin was the undisputed ‘Queen Of Soul’, then backtrack fifteen years or more and Ruth Brown was best known as ‘Miss Rhythm’, from which this excellent Atlantic album from 1959 is taken. Among her contemporaries her voice stood out from the slinky sophistication of Eartha Kitt, or the powerful, booming voice of Big Maybelle, both of whom appealed to their constituent audiences. In fact, Ruth Brown possessed a wide-ranging voice that could easily adapt contrasting musical contexts and so it proves on this album, which, like many of its time, was essentially a collection of 45s along with a few lesser known songs before the concept album had begun in earnest. Listeners new to original R & B should note that this is not a de facto ‘Greatest Hits’ album for it does not include the immortal sides such as ‘So Long’, ‘Man He Treats Your Daughter Mean’, or ‘5-10-15 Hours’. Instead, however, you have as the opening number one of Brown’s greatest ever interpretations in, ‘This Little Girl Gone Rockin”, which showcases the raunchier and grittier side to her wide repertoire. That said, there at least two slow ballad blues on this album worthy of your attention including the excellent, ‘Just Too Much’ and ‘Somebody Touched Me’, while in a more uptempo vein, ‘When I Get You Baby’ and ‘Book Of Lies’ impress. Twelve songs in total that stand the test of time remarkably well.
One of the reasons for Brown’s wide-ranging voice is to be found in her musical origins which started in the church as a gospel choir singer with her father, the director of the choir in Portsmouth, Virginia. There was an ongoing tension between her own desire to move into R& B and her father’s wish that she remain in the sacred tradition. Ruth Brown, early on in her career, faced numerous obstacles and in actual fact it almost never got started in the first place since she had to cancel her first live performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in 1948, and, moreover, missed an appointment with the record executives at Atlantic records. However, once she had well and truly established her credentials, she never looked back and her immeasurable contribution to the success of the label earned her the sobriquet of, ‘The house that Ruth built’. The minimalist red, green and black front cover with photo of Ruth underneath the title speaks to the early and earthy period in record industry advertising. Now available finally in its original vinyl format, this is a welcome re-issue and highly likely to generate further interest in her back catalogue.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, or MJQ to give them their more commonly used and informal name, were in a rich vein of form when they cut this fine album, recorded in 1963 and released a year later on their favoured and long-time label, Atlantic records. In fact, the album formed part of a prolific two days of recording, with the first day comprising what is heard here on, ‘The Sheriff’, while the second became another album entirely, ‘Concorde’. The first of these reflects a growing interest in both Brazilian music and in adapting the music of J.S. Bach and, more generally, his approach within the jazz idiom. Both elements come together on what is undoubtedly an album highlight, ‘Bachianas Brasileiros’, by the Brazilian classical composer, Heitor Villa Lobos, who was well-known for combining his interest in native Brazilian folk music with western classical. This interpretation has a strong Bach influence to it which competes with, elsewhere in the piece, a bossa nova percussive accompaniment and piano vamp from John Lewis. Part way through this passage, the bowed bass and piano crescendo morph into a refined bossa complete with Latin piano vamp and Milt Jackson’s vibraphone in a lead role. Simply put, this is a wonderful slice of Brazilica that does not conform to the then currently in vogue bossa nova formula. Indeed, the MJQ’s love of Brazilian music was explored further on the ‘Collaboration’, an album with Brazilian guitarist, Laurinda Almeida.
A second Brazilian theme, ‘Carnival’, by Luiz Bonfa that concludes ‘The Sheriff’ on a high, is, in fact, the theme from Black Orpheus which was made into a delightful French film that dissected Afro-Brazilian culture as viewed from the finely nuanced prism of French director, Marcel Camus, and won top prize of the Palme D’or at the Cannes film festival in 1959. This infinitely subtle take makes for a thrilling way to end the album as a whole. The rest of the album is very much in the MJQ tradition, which means focusing on leader John Lewis’ own innovative and occasionally challenging compositions such as the title track which uses a staccato rhythm in the main motif, yet still reverts to basic storytelling which it communicates most effectively. A single standard from the American Songbook. ‘Mean to me’, stays close to the original. Excellent and incisive back cover sleeve notes from jazz writer Leonard Feather are right on the ball when noting, ‘Rarely, if ever, has the J [Jazz] in MJQ been more continuously observable’. Well worth investigating as is, ‘Collaboration’, which is probably this writer’s preferred studio album of the MJQ in their prime.
Kobie Watkins is another fine musician who is new to me. Listening to this album I’m not quite sure why he hasn’t come to my attention before.
Watkins is a native of Chicago, Illinois. Music has been in his blood from an early age when he listened to his father playing drums in the church. Over the years he has progressed to become an eminent drummer/percussionist and educator.
Watkins has worked and/or recorded with some of the best musicians around including Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Jim Hall and Kurt Elling to name just a few. He’s also worked with Gospel singers, R&B and Neo Soul artists. This wide-ranging experience informs his own playing.
His Grouptet consists of Aaron Miller on bass, Justin Nielsen on piano and Fender Rhodes, Micah Stevens on guitar, Ryan Nielsen on trumpet and flugelhorn and Jonathan Armstrong on tenor and soprano saxophones. Together they form a hard-hitting group. These are musicians at the top of their game playing straight-ahead contemporary jazz of the highest order.
The drummer released his debut under his own name in 2009. This is his second release and its somewhat different from his first outing as leader. The album consists of nine original compositions contributed by various members of the band, including the leader himself together with an unusual take on Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Manteca’.
On more than one occasion I’m put in mind of latter-day Jazz Messengers. This group has a similar hard bop style and, of course, the Messengers had a drummer as a leader. In keeping with Art Blakey’s method of employing the best young musicians, the guitarist here, Micah Stevens, looks to be very young indeed with his playing belying his years.
This album is certainly not simply a showcase for Watkins’ drumming, although that quite naturally underpins everything. It is more a feature for his composing talents and those of his band-mates. What comes across to me is the confidence with which the band performs.
Stand-out tracks for me are ‘Movement’ with its initial Latin theme where the saxophonist and trumpeter acquit themselves very well. We also get a lovely piano feature and the leader makes his mark too.
‘Six Moods’ is a wonderful slower-paced piece. The tempo increases again for ‘Ga-Rum-Ban’. Another favourite is ‘Inner Motion’ opening with a feature for the bassist and including an eloquent solo from the Fender Rhodes. Similar comments apply to ‘Rivet’ which is possibly my favourite track. But then we get the fun-sounding MBDC which is quite simply in a different league.
The album closes in a pensive mood with ‘Prayer for Peace’ and I can think of no better way to conclude this rich and varied album. Watkins has certainly more than fulfilled the promise of his first album and I for one look forward to album number three.
Currently on tour in the UK with concerts up to and including the 20 September, the New York All-Stars are a superior formation of New York’s finest musicians and include the great Harold Mabern on piano, veteran of recordings with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Roland Kirk, Lee Morgan and Sonny Rollins to name but a few. His presence alone is worth the admission fee and the multi-talented tenorist, Eric Alexander, is a major attraction and a leader in his own right and completing the quartet are US born, but Paris resident, bassist Daryl Hall and Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter. The intimacy of the live sound, recorded at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club and produced by Ubuntu director, Martin Hummel, lends itself to the small group format and, with no need to verbally introduce the band, the music speaks for itself from the very outset. Among the classic selection of standards from the American Songbook, it is in fact a Mabern original that is the standout number, ‘Nightlife in Tokyo’. A lovely mid-tempo groove permeates the piece, with Alexander all sweet and mellow, while the pianist engages in a delightful solo in the middle, finding time and space to quote more contemporary songs from the pop and soul idioms such as, ‘Music Makes the World Go Round’, and Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again’. A fine composition from a vastly underrated writer. Elsewhere, unusual time signatures breath new life into the evergreens, with ‘Summertime’, a praiseworthy deviation from the norm, taken at a significantly faster pace (akin to that of the epic Tito Rodriguez epic rendition, with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims in hot pursuit), with McCoy Tyneresque inflections from Mabern, and a Latin vamp thrown in for good measure.
Fans of modal jazz will marvel at the gloriously swinging version of, ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’, with both the fine drumming of Bernd Reiter and the wailing tenor of Alexander two compelling reasons why this interpretation is a winner. On the one ballad on offer, ‘It’s Magic’, Alexander reveals his profound debt of gratitude to the tenor titans with Ben Webster immediately coming to mind here and just the faintest hint of the gentle side of John Coltrane, while the deft percussion work from Reiter once again impresses as does the Mabern solo. A fast-paced waltz, ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, and the medium tempo take on ‘Almost Like Being In Love’, both round off an excellent live set. It is important and indeed sad news to note that during the current tour, Harold Mabern has been unable to travel owing to illness and has been replaced for the whole tour by Mike Ledonne. The remaining concerts are at the Pizza Express, London, tonight and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, on September 21, before the band take to the continent and concerts ending in France on 3 and 4 November at Duc des Lombards in Paris.
After precisely only a year to the week since the release of their critically acclaimed debut ‘Oracle’, Web Web return with a new album on Germany’s Compost Records, which again is another surprise end-of-summer release. After the critical response of ‘Oracle’ in 2017, which was a firm favourite amongst the UK Vibe team and featured highly in our ‘best of’ charts of that year, the European super group resume their contemporary approach to spiritual jazz with this 9-track sophomore record.
The configuration of the group remains as previous with its quartet of Peter Gall on drums, Christian von Kaphengst on upright bass, Roberto Di Gioia playing piano, synthesiser, organ, percussion and finally Tony Lakatos on tenor and soprano saxophone duties. Confusingly, Discogs has incorrect line-up information and even overlooks von Kaphengst. Additionally for this project the group is joined by Majid Bekkas, the esteemed Moroccan vocalist who furthermore plays guitar and castanets (known as qraqab) on the album. This leads the project into a different direction to ‘Oracle’ (more later) but highlights the group’s progressiveness and adventurous spirit.
The album begins with the hypnotic ‘Land of the Arum Flower’, a 6/8 vocal driven number with its mesmerising tenor saxophone and quite subtle organ underpinnings. ‘Agowu’ and its bouncy rhythm and use of synth textures and piano chords provide space for the added vocals of Majid Bekkas for the first half of the composition. The vibrant ‘Sandia’ is a superb dancer expounding unbound energy and infectious rhythm making it very appealing to the DJ community. And one of my personal favourites, title track ‘Dance of the Demons’, is another 6/8 time signature piece, utilises light synth effects, fluid electric piano and upright bass grooves connecting perfectly to the sporadic vocals of Majid.
Another highlight, ‘Safar’, is an instrumental affair which begins with some open Fender Rhodes chords before the tenor sax and bass parts slowly evolve during its initial build up before it sprouts into a more ‘freer’ composition. But this is still quite accessible and as an obvious reference point is reminiscent of Herbie’s Mwandishi/Warner Bros pre-Head Hunters period. The instrumental ‘Meh Te’ starts in the less common 12/8 time signature but changes to 4/4 for 16 bars at the mid-point and again during the final two minutes; the whole track containing some excellent bass and drum movements.
Via a 7’43” running time, ‘Balini’, is the longest of the set using a drone-like Hammond organ intro, staccato soprano sax, warm organ riffs and almost funky upright bass pattern. And finally, ‘Supereruption’ with its quarter note rim shot hits, electric piano and synth textures, plus layered saxophone parts featuring both soprano and tenor sax is another uptempo composition.
The added use of vocals by Majid Bekkas does move the album slightly away from the previous 100% spiritual jazz aesthetic of Oracle and into a more world fusion direction. But I just hope this doesn’t put off some fans of the previous album as this is another outstanding record. The marketing information states that the next album recording session is already planned for November 2018 – oh, I wish they wouldn’t mention that! Expect ‘Dance of The Demons’ to feature highly in many end of year charts this year too.
I downloaded this ten track album a short while after it surfaced and Dave Porter at P & P (formerly Vivid Sound), sent me a lovely vinyl copy. I got quite emotional listening to this album the first time, I would never in a million years thought I would have this great man back in my life in 2018. He’s 77 and together with Memphis producer Quinton Claunch, who is 96, have produced what must be one of the true great complete albums, easily able to sit side by side with any album you would care to mention, soul in abundance but I can also hear country and the blues too. We’ve all got dusties on our shelves cut by Willie, he sounds so so good at the minute. The sleeve notes by John Broven tell a tale and a half of how Willie was found; he was still on the road with a band called Class Act playing gigs around his local area in Birmingham, Alabama and more widely Georgia, and how he was linked up with Quinton and how the MP3 of the beautiful “I Found Out” landed at Ace, hence we have this wondrous long player to add to our listening pleasure, and with so many people to be thankful for.
I have been spoilt this year with the quality of new release material, but this is head and shoulders above and will almost certainly be the complete soul album of the year. My favourite track at the minute is the easy paced stroller, “Somewhere Dry”, a Billy Lawson/Tommy Brasfield piece. The whole sound appears muted and subdued with Willie in his element, a torrid tale of loneliness in the midst of a breakup, the song fades with Willie in full lament “I tried my best to make her love me”. Freddie Hart’s “Easy Lovin” is another that’s vying for needle time, a head nodding foot tapping replay here. Lyrically this album is on another level and all aspiring writers should grab a listen, real songs sung the way they should be. Musically the album is a full on treat with Milton Sledge on Drums and percussion, Bob Wray and Billy Lawson on Bass, Clayton Ivy and Mark Narmore on Wurlitzer and B3, Bad Brad Guin on Sax, Ken Watters on Trumpet, Travis Wammack, Will McFarlane and Billy Lawson on Guitars. On backing vocals we have Mike Curtis, Kenyata White, Charles Stewart, Chris Goodloe and Shelton Cotner. Recorded and mastered at Wishbone Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama by Billy Lawson. We are in a good place over here soul wise and with the increase in Sunday Soul sessions where we appear to be liberating tracks from our collections that would not normally feature anywhere other than our own record room, then the time is right for this album to be exploited nation wide. My only gripes are that there wasn’t a digital download provided with the album and the lack of an out-and-out ballad, but never mind, this is a wonderful album, heartily recommended and deserved of the five star status.
Virtually unknown in the United Kingdom, but a household name in his native France where this August the twentieth anniversary of his passing was celebrated by a special concert at which other musicians interepreted his music, Nino Ferrer is best-loved in France for his 1974 folk-rock opus, ‘Le sud’, with the famous front album cover of himself and tropical beauty. However, Ferrer was an astute singer-songwriter and something of a ‘casse-cou’, or daredevil approach who was very much in tune with musical developments across both the Channel and Atlantic. To this extent, there are real parallels between him and Polnareff and both were adept at operating as musical cameleons, though stylistically, Ferrer was less of an album concept artist and more of a singles man. This excellent 3 CD set assembles both his own work on the first two CDs and a whole third CD devoted to others revisiting his songs. This affords the listener the opportunity to hear some lesser known French musicians, including some more left-field singers that are rarely heard outside of cognoscenti circles.
Chronologically, the first CD focuses attention on his early work from the mid-1960s onwards. A gem of a song is the Jobim-influenced, ‘La rue Madureira’, with classical cello, orchestral brass and acoustic double bass and guitar combining beautifully. This is a song ripe for interpretation by jazz musicians. In a funky gospel vein, ‘Moses’ is another terrific composition, complete with wah-wah guitar and English chorus. In fact, Ferrer regularly mixed French and English and saw nothing incompatible between the two. Taking a leaf out of the US Civil rights movement, ‘Je veux être noir ‘(‘I want to be black’), indicates a solidarity with the plight of African-Americans and a song that francophone Africa was not blind to. Similarly, Ray Charles seems to have been a major influence and that is reflected in the reworking of the instrumental, ‘Mint Julep’, which, here, receives a blues-rock reading, while the epic nine and a quarter minute, ‘Métronomie’, is a rolling blues-jazz instrumental with Hammond organ and underpinning psychedelic rock feel on bass and drums that hints at the jazz-rock influence of Miles Davis circa ‘Bitches brew’. The second CD takes us all the way through the 1970s and Ferrer’s love affair with the English language and music culture is all too evident, with psychedelic rock the order of the day on, ‘Looking for you’ and the 1972, ‘Cannabis’, while other titles such as, ‘Mashed potatoes’ (a culinary discovery for a Frenchman, perhaps, and distinctive from the French love of pureed potatoes), ‘Moby Dick’, and even one song devoted to England, ‘L’Angleterre’, speak for themselves.
That Nino Ferrer has long been considered an integral part of French popular music culture and someone who opened the eyes and ears of the French population to emerging popular music trends in the UK and US is strongly hinted at in the range of francophone singers interpreting his music on the third CD. The lushly orchestrated, ‘C’est irréparable’, by Egyptian born (to Italian parents) French actress and singer Dalida (1965) is bettered by the wonderful and distinctively feminine resonance of male Spanish singer Nilda Fernandez on the jazzy big band take of, ‘La maison près de la fontaine’. A real discovery comes from Denis Colin et Ornette (a nod to Ornette Coleman, possibly) on the low-fi and melodic, ‘La désabusion’ and again on, ‘Le blues des rues désertes’, the latter of which has a sparse jazz feel with bass clarinet intro. Their own tribute album, ‘Univers Nino’ (2014) is worth investigating. Among the other creative re-interpretations, Manu Dibango is very much at home on,’Je veux être noir’ (1969), jazz singer Stacey Kent on, ‘La rue Madureira’ with Creed Taylor influenced orchestral arrangements, and an unreleased Arthur H take on, ‘Moses’. A pity there is no essay in French or English on the phenomenon that was Nino Ferrer. Otherwise, a praiseworthy retrospective on his career and influence on other musicians.
With some considerable waiting on my behalf, for the arrival of the vinyl, it is clear the vast majority of you have been getting off on this superb modern soul album for some while having purchased the CD, so I am running a little behind, so to speak. So to the music. Side A has floored me with some superb dancers, opening up with the bass-heavy “All She Wants To Do Is Me”, which should have been rocking dance floors across the globe, as he sounds on fine form and as we have grown accustomed to hearing, with the title track being the big track for me; a string laden kitchen sink drama, a crossover monster which once again will cement the sales of this album as this is what soul radio and its devotees crave. The production duties have been carried by those legends, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, highlighted on the down-tempo tracks. Give “Love Like Yours and Mine” a blast as this could have appeared on a myriad of albums over the past ten years which shows he still has the vocal prowess of old, it’s timeless. The stripped down “Looking for Sadie” took a couple of plays but it was worth the commitment and the strolling “Goosebumps Never Lie”, finishes side one in fine form – a stunning return for Peobo since his “Missing You” album all those years back.
Flipping the vinyl over for Side B brings us in to ballad heaven, the best of which, “Here For You”, comes complete with gritty production. The album has some real ups and downs but the inclusion of a ‘live’ recorded medley of his previous hits, is completely off-kilter although I can understand why it’s on here with such a long gap in releases from Mr Bryson. Side A appears to be dominated with writing skills by James Harris III and there appears to be an array of players in on the act, at times bringing something to the table. Musically, at times, the album is a real treat, a recommended release with side A dominating, and a very worthy release to add to the output of a man who has given us an array of, simply, quite superb tuneage over the years. Just one gripe; the Digi-Card included within didn’t work for me – “the folder couldn’t be found”!