All posts by ukvibe

Web Web ‘Dance Of The Demons’ LP/CD/DIG (Compost) 5/5

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.

Damian Wilkes

Willie Hightower ‘Out Of The Blue’ LP/CD/DIG (Ace/SoulTrax) 5/5

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.

Brian Goucher

Nino Ferrer ‘Et toujours en été – Best Of’ 3CD (Barclay/Universal France) 4/5

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.

Tim Stenhouse

Peabo Bryson ‘Stand for Love’ LP/CD (Perspective/Caroline) 3/5

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”!

Brian Goucher

Tord Gustavsen Trio ‘The Other Side’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Pianist Tord Gustavsen returns with a reflective trio album that in the first half focuses on his own fully matured composer talents, while in the second half, he adapts J.S. Bach original pieces for a jazz context, and in the process offers something different to the long tried and tested Jacques Loussier approach. Bach is that most jazz-friendly of early classical composers and as such ripe for re-evaluation.

On the wonderful Gustavssen original, ‘Re-melt’, it is the simplicity of thought that is communicated and to this extent, comparisons with EST are inevitable (though as a whole unmerited), and the unity of the trio is commendable. However, Tord Gustavsen departs from anyone else on the other worldy track, ‘Duality’, which features a bowed double bass and piano centre stage, with a gentle drum roll and atmospheric cymbals. Electronics come into play subtly on ‘Taste and see’, with a repeated motif on piano and the sound of a violin conjured up with the use of contemporary instrumentation. By contrast, the leader’s adaptation of a Ludvig Mathias Lindemann piece, ‘Kirken, den er et gemmelt hus’, has a strong early music undercurrent. Influences extend beyond to modal music and Spanish-tinged percussion on the adaptation of the traditional, ‘Igen vinner frem til den evige ro’.

The second half of proceedings are dominated by Bach and a particular favourite adaptation is, ‘Schlafer bruder’, which receives a distinctly modern update on the opus with gorgeous blues inflections, while the more austere sounding medley, ‘Jesu, meine Freude/Jesu, det eneste’, is more faithful to the original intent of the composer. Recorded at the Rainbow studio in Oslo, the trio music comes across as though it were being communicated from the very same room which you are listening to the music in, and this resolutely calming influence is reinforced by the rustic orange inner and outer sleeve. A fine start to the autumn for ECM, then, and another quality recording from Tord Gustavsen in trio format, and arguably the one that best suits his natural musical inclinations.

Tim Stenhouse

Johnnie Taylor ‘Ear-ga-sm’ / ‘Rated Extraordinaire’ SACD (Vocalion) 4/5

Soul-blues is a largely southern American art form and one that singer Johnnie Taylor, born and raised in West Memphis, perfected with his initial work at Stax, culminating in the number one R & B and top five pop chart smash, ‘Who’s making love?’. This excellent paring of albums takes the story on several years to the mid-1970s when Taylor was now singed to Columbia records and is a smoother affair, though the subject matter remains the same, but with a classic mid-tempo Chicago soul feel. The first album hit big with the enjoyable, ‘Disco lady’, which is actually frequently compared with Marvin Gaye’s offering to the disco era,’ Got to give it up’, and is a mid-tempo number complete with Bob James style keyboards. The rest of the album is very much a continuation of what preceded at Stax, with classy soul-blues such as, ‘I’m gonna keep on loving you’. There is even a welcome touch of gospel on the laid back, Running out of lies’.
The follow-up, ‘Rated extraordinaire’, has a more varied line-up with strings arranged by Wade Marcus and produced by Don Davis. Moreover, it was recorded in Detroit and Muscles Shoals, Alabama. A lesser hit came in the form of, ‘Your love is rated X’, while for the strongest song on the album in terms of production and instrumental accompaniment, a clear contender is, ‘You’re the best in the world’, which comes with lovely flute and guitar. Northern soul fans will marvel equally at, It don’t hurt me like it used to’. A quality ballad is delivered in, ‘Pick up the pieces’ (not the Average White Band composition).

While Johnnie Taylor fared less well at the end of the disco era, he returned to top form with independent label Beverley Glenn and arguably his strongest interpretation of all, the magisterial, ‘Just ain’t good enough’, from 1982. Among his label mates at the time, were one Anita Baker and her former group, Chapter Eight.

Tim Stenhouse

Children of Zeus ‘Travel Light’ LP/CD/DIG (First Word) 4/5

As one of the UK’s most anticipated albums, ‘Travel Light’ is the long awaited full length 14-track LP by Manchester duo Children of Zeus, consisting of group members Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, who are both experienced contributors to the North West music scene over the last decade or so with this project placed on the ever consistent First Word Records. After the success of their singles and ‘The Story So Far’ (2017), an EP of previously released material compiled into one project, ‘Travel Light’ contains all new tracks of hip hop influenced contemporary soul music, and thus, it omits their now classic ‘Still Standing’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘Push On’.

The production has slightly moved away from the more sample heavy ideology of their older releases – which is a shame, as that was what for many helped garnish interest in their music; using 1970s soul and jazz grooves such as those by Billy Brooks, Grant Green and Ahmad Jamal, mixed with their modern approach to contemporary UK soul. Nonetheless, sonically, the album is still fundamentally based around soul/funk drum breaks, warm analogue synth sounds and electric piano voicings laced with Tyler’s rich soulful vocals.

The tempos are generally downtempo with ‘The Story So Far’ beginning where they mean to go on with its sparse but somewhat epic production mixed with the recollecting of memories and positive future possibilities. The slow jam-esque ‘The Heart Beat’ highlights previous emotional pain, and with its nod to lover’s rock, ‘Hard Work’ eludes to the difficulties in maintaining long-term relationships. My personal favourite is ‘Vibrations (Divine Signature)’, which at 116 BPM is the most uptempo piece of the set, with its chord structure reminiscent of Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, another UK soul outfit, and its ‘vibe, vibrations’ vocal hook in the chorus taken from James Brown’s ‘Mind Power’ (1973) and later ‘Stakes Is High’ by De La Soul (1997) with rim shot hits and deep sub bass patterns providing a perfect example of how soul music can also have a futuristic attitude. Confusingly, the album states that the duo produced the track yet on their Bandcamp webpage is identifies London producer K15.

I’ve probably played a Children of Zeus track every week during my DJ sets over the last year or so, and thus, I’m a considerable fan, but if I have a criticism it’s the added raps in some of their songs as I would argue that they don’t enhance the tracks in any way. The production is of a very high quality, the (sung) vocal performances are impeccable and perfectly compliment the strong production values, but the raps are not of the same quality and are quite basic. Konny Kon is a brilliant producer but an average MC, and so combined with Tyler’s fluid vocals (he also raps) there is an imbalance. My hip hop background does mean I’m usually quite critical of hip hop related material and elements after being spoiled by Organized Konfusion, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr and others, but the released clean version did help.

As someone who has visited, bought records and DJ’d in Manchester numerous times since the 1980s, Children of Zeus remind one of the lineage of Manchester’s deep black music culture and history, including the late night soul blues parties in Moss Side, The Gallery on Saturday nights with Soul Control sound system and the PSV Club in Hulme. Children of Zeus are essentially an extension of the Manchester street soul scene that stretches back to 52nd Street and beyond and their popularity will undoubtedly increase with the release of ‘Travel Light’, helped by an audience hungry for modern UK soul music.

Live tour continues…

Sep 22 Finsbury Park London
Oct 13 The Wardrobe Leeds
Nov 02 O2 Academy 2 Oxford
Nov 23 Band on the Wall Manchester
Nov 26 The Bodega Social Club Nottingham
Nov 27 Hare & Hounds Birmingham
Nov 28 Rough Trade Bristol
Nov 29 Ghost Notes London
And many more…

Damian Wilkes

Erroll Garner ‘Nightconcert’ CD (Mack Avenue) 5/5

Unreleased live recordings can sometimes be poorly recorded and of strictly limited historical interest only, but this is a gem of a recording. Clear and vibrant recording quality from a November 1964 live concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and almost eighty minutes of sheer musical bliss. The trio are in terrific form, with long-time bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, and Erroll Garner demonstrates why he is second only to Art Tatum in terms of virtuoso technique, and with the ability to make the piano sing. A quintessentially classic repertoire that borrows predominantly from the great American songbook is enhanced by a trio of Garner originals. The one-off, ‘Amsterdam swing’, is precisely that: a storming stroll through pianistic jazz swing, but Garner’s versatility is further demonstrated on the gorgeous balladry work of, ‘Theme from a new kind of love’. Indeed, some of the introductory motifs give no clue whatsoever as to what is about to follow and Erroll Garner marvelled at leaving the audience in suspense until the very last moment. This is the case of, ‘Green Dolphin Street, which starts off slow and then moves up into another gear or two, with a delicate passage part way through. At various places throughout, Kelly Martin on drums excels with his own distinctive and thrilling brand of latinized hi-hat drum rolls, and Erroll Garner was a fervent admirer of Latin music. For some blues inflections, ‘Night and day’, fits the bill admirably. The trio work wonderfully in tandem at all times and that is one of the many joys of this live album, with, Easy to love’, just one major highlight of a stunning set, and the unobtrusive audience applause leaves little doubt as to their considerable listening pleasure of proceedings.

A beautifully illustrated inner sleeve with black and white photos of the concert venue and colour photos of the pianist is rounded off by lengthy and informative notes by Dr. Robin D. G. Kelley. A worthy addition to the outstanding re-issues/unreleased material from the Sony Columbia label archives. Full marks to Mack Avenue for uncovering this masterful recording.

Tim Stenhouse

Stanley Clarke ‘The Message’ CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5

Bassist, composer and producer Stanley Clarke is a musician of many talents and first came to international prominence in the 1970s with fusion bands (Return to Forever) and a host of other jazz musicians. Major success followed later in the early-mid 1980s as part of the Clarke-Duke Project and then as a producer for younger musicians/singers, but in recent years Clarke has returned to leader duties. This latest album is a summation of his multi-faceted career, and that means the good, bad, and indifferent. On the plus side, the quartet he currently works with operates best when in acoustic mode as on the uplifting and straight ahead ‘The Legend Of The Abbas And The Sacred Talisman’. Here acoustic piano (the excellent pianist Beha Gochiasvili) and bass combine wonderfully on a melodic number, and the same could be said of ‘Alternative Facts’. The only pity is that the rest of the album veers off in too many directions, some of which are wholly unappealing. Why incorporate rock guitar on ‘The Rugged Truth’, or deploy synths on the potentially interesting Indo-Jazz fusion of ‘After The Cosmic Rain/Dance Of The Planetary Prince’. Tablas and drone are by the 1980s style synth sound and that is a great pity because the idea of bringing together acoustic jazz and Indian classical is a praiseworthy one. Why not go the whole hog and devote more time to this? This is a critique that is equally valid of Stanley Clarke’s all too brief foray into western classical on the album. Lovely performance of a ‘Bach Cello Suite 1 (prelude)’, but why just one piece and how does that fit into the album as a whole? Again, a separate album devoted to Bach interpretations would have made more sense.

To confuse matters further, beat box and other voicings appear at various points. Of the former, Doug E. Fresh offers up some inventive sounds on ‘And Ya Know We’re Missing You’, but once again does this really make for a cohesive whole? In short, too eclectic by far and a frustrating hit and miss listening experience of an album.

Tim Stenhouse

L.T.D ‘Something to Love’ / ‘Togetherness’ / ‘Devotion’ / ‘Shine On’ 2CD (Robinsong) 3/5

Jeffrey Osbourne became a household name in the soul and pop charts in the early-mid 1980s with the hit single, ‘On the wings of love’, and scored some memorable dancefloor hits as well as quality ballads. This four album set goes back in time to his period as lead singer with LTD and it is in truth a mixed bag. The group struggled to find an identity to begin with and that is reflected in the first two albums here with songs that can come across as a pastiche of the more successful soul and funk groups of the 1970s such as the Commodores and the Isley Brothers among others. By 1979, however, LTD had started to attract more attention for their own talents, especially with a vocalist as strong and distinctive as Osbourne now at the helm. This is typified by the album, ‘Devotion’, with the jazzy tinged mid-tempo number, ‘Sometimes’, and particularly the modern soul favourite, ‘Promise you’ll stay’. It has to be said that some of the attempts at funk now sound dated, with, ‘Stand up’, a blatant take on Parliament’s superior, ‘Flashlight’. Nonetheless, the ballads are generally strong with, ‘Share my love’ and, ‘Stranger’, precursors to what would follow for Osbourne as a solo artist. Best of all, the joyous uptempo groove of, ‘Feel it’. The follow up from 1980, ‘Shine on’, witnessed Jeffrey Osbourne as an increasingly dominant figure in the band, as co-writer as well as continuing as lead. In this respect, one can, in retrospect sees parallels, between the band and Osbourne, with Lionel Richie and the Commodores and thus a split was inevitable. Before that took place, the last album with Osbourne was duly delivered and the catchy, ‘You gave me love’, with a repetitive guitar riff that lingers long on the mind. A quality ballad comes in the shape of, ‘Where did we go wrong’, with something of a Philly International feel. Interestingly, some of the soul-disco numbers now sound most contemporary and these include the syndrum-aided, ‘Lovers everywhere’, and the uptempo synth bass sound of, ‘Don’t cha’ know’. Excellent Fender Rhodes accompaniment comes from the talented brother of Jeffrey, Billy Osbourne. With Jeffrey Osbourne’s departure, the group soon lost a good deal of its impetus and folded up just a few years later in 1983, just as Osbourne’s solo success with reaching its zenith. Informative sleeve notes are from Charles Waring. Of note, ‘Love to the world’, one of LTD’s more popular songs, is not included here.

Tim Stenhouse