Justin Thurgur ‘No Confusion’ LP/CD/DIG (Funkiwala) 4/5

justin-thurgur“No Confusion” is the first album as leader for trombonist, composer and arranger Justin Thurgur. Thurgur is not a new kid on the block though, having been actively involved across a number of music scenes for the past 20 or so years. He is probably best known as the trombonist in the folk group Bellowhead, but his background is in Jazz, African and Latin music. Much of his work has been in collaboration with Kishon Khan (on cross-cultural projects like Motimba and Lokkhi Terra), but he has also worked with a host of diverse musicians including Dele Sosimi, Tony Allen, Tony Kofi, Soothsayers, Roberto Pla and The Levellers.
Together with Khan, Thurgur has formed a record label, Funkiwala, through which they intend to release music from artists who share a similarly eclectic outlook. This integration and interpretation of different musical traditions, although not a new approach, fits within a broader spectrum of fusion styles amongst fellow contemporaries like of Snowboy, Collocutor, Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors, Vula Viel and Sarathy Korwar.
On to the music. Immediately apparent is the energy and broad soundscape of the ensemble, which varies in size and personnel from track to track, but works around a rhythmic core of drums, bass and keys alongside Thurgur and his horns, with augmentation from guitar and percussion. Thurgur and Khan (on keys) are the only constants, but the group dynamics coalesce into a united identity regardless of the configuration. He doesn’t stick to one style preferring a fluid blend within a melodic and groovy whole. Take, for example, the opener, “Straight Down To My Soul”, with its reggae infused groove, the dramatic, 60’s soundtrack cum ethio-jazz of “Meditations” or the Afro-Jazz of “Then And Now” with it’s latin-tinged piano lines. These ingredients aren’t haphazardly thrown together though, Thurgur has a great sense of what works and gets the blend right more often than not.

African flavours are the predominant ones emanating from the tight horn section of Thurgur, Tom Allan (trumpet) and James Allsopp (bass clarinet) with help from Graeme Flowers (trumpet and flugelhorn), Ben Somers (baritone sax), Rob Leake (saxes) and Tamar Osborn (baritone sax). The title track is a great example of the players bringing their A game; the horns really swing with a vengeance and the recording effortlessly captures plenty of live vitality.
Whilst the focus is primarily on the ensemble coming together, the soloing adds to the harmonies in an unpretentious way. Thurgur is very much a team player and doesn’t hog the limelight (which is a shame as I’m fond of a good trombone solo), giving plenty of space and time over to his fellow players.

There are a couple of elements that don’t work for me – the middle eastern intro to “Then and Now” segues awkwardly into the rest of the track and the chorus of “You’ve Got To” feels a bit overstretched, but these are minor criticisms of an album that overall hits all the right spots and acts as a great showcase for live performances.

Andy Hazell

Gilley Wiltz ‘Rise of the Sleeping Giant (It’s My Turn)’ (Harmonic Life Entertainment) 5/5

gilley-wiltzA new name to me and a lovely surprise too, an old school soul voice, one that over time will become distinctive and immediately recognisable, real instruments used to create a very modern bassy sound, the first track to prick my ears up is the mid tempo stepper “Who’s That Woman”, very easy on the ear, if you remember my review of the Masta Edge of Soul album then this ain’t that far removed from it in sound and overall quality, “Gotta be the one” is another that seeps into your head, musically like so many others you may have nodded your head too but vocally he makes it, shame he didn’t use real horns, those squeeze box noises will never do. There are two scintillating ballads on here that have had repeated plays “Save The Best Dream For Me” and “A Million And One” are male balladry at its best. [You know what, just to sidetrack for a moment, I keep being pointed in the direction of Will Downing and I don’t understand it, we are supposed to be talking soul music, well it has to be RIP Will, he hasn’t recorded anything remotely soulful in a long time and his latest album is a mishmash of other people’s music, bland, passionless, gutless music usually churned by the middle class and given Simon Cowell’s seal of approval. The sort of drivel you here piped whilst stuck in an elevator.] For your own sake have a listen to Gilley Wiltz and get yourself back on track. Anyway rant over the supreme stepper “I Gotta Know” has filled the record room and I’m happy again, this really does get into your head, those strong dominant vocals over a healthy rhythm, oh yes. “I Gotta Know” ups the pace and develops into a tasty dancer that has 4am at Soul Essence written all over it, as does the more energetic “Love’s Fever” which could have featured on the new Kindred album, yep it’s that good. The album finishes with another dance-floor friendly opus in “Its My Turn”. An excellent album that is getting repeated plays here at home and in the car, go on let Willy into your life you won’t regret it.

Brian Goucher

Brian Owens & The Deacons of Soul ‘Beautiful Day’ CD (Sweet Soul) 4/5

brian-owens-deacons-of-soulThis excellent 13 track album has been knocking around since early April but it has been so damn hard to acquire, I decided not to review until it became more widely available. The other issue is the silly price, expect to pay between £34 & £60 which for most working class folk is well out of reach. Amazon have had limited copies and there is a Japanese site that has them but the site is in Japanese and makes no effort to communicate with those of us that don’t speak the language – trying to work your way around that site is an absolute nightmare, a very good friend of mine ordered one from that site and he wasn’t sure whether he was ever going to receive it, whether he was charged the correct price etc. It did arrive but it cost him some serious money. Having said all that, I’m glad I pursued it because at times it really is a thing of soulful beauty. Belated I know but with the year running out quicker than we retain England football managers I decided it should at least get a review not-withstanding the issues discussed. Musically, lyrically and vocally it is the complete album, one you can put on, no skipping of tracks needed, the sound is modern with a very retro 70’s feel, an abundance of strings and horns supported by various other real instruments. The title track had received some plays on soul radio back in April-ish but nothing since, an excellent subtle dancer that really should be more widely known.
For more of the same “So High” shatters the silence, the arrangement echoes Curtis Mayfield – a constant replay here, “Pretty Fine Thing” has prominent horns and guitar and ups the pace a touch. Another standout is “So High”, an uptempo dancer that has everything chucked into the mix. For these old ears the Marvin Gaye inspired “Prayer for the Children” is the best track, an inspired piece of writing with a production to match, and set at a stepper’s pace with an almost choral backing. It really doesn’t get any better than this, the strings are so haunting in this setting, “Desperation” is fast coming up on the rails too, a meaty choppy crossover tune with its dominant percussion, very hard to sit still to this. The last 3 tracks are bonus [Japan LTD CD] tracks which suggests there might be a 10 tracker out there somewhere, but I can’t find it! The last track is another superb grower and 60’s influenced sparse dancer, right up my street, a great way to end the album. I can’t give this album the rating it deserves due to the unnecessary cost.

Brian Goucher

Roland Johnson ‘Imagine This’ (Blue Lotus Recordings) 4/5

roland-johnsonIt’s fast becoming another good year for soul albums, the type you can put on without skipping any tracks, and so to this excellent 10 tracker. Once again we have a lovely warm southern feel utilising real instruments. At the time of writing this is only a download and as is the norm no details of who plays what is available, lets just hope this makes an actual disc release, very retro sounding but it’s the voice that will get into your head eventually, lovely smooth rounded vocals that can go up and down the scale easily. It’s definitely a dancer’s delight but with one of the top deep soul ballads of the year so far kicking off with the on the fours horns and all “Can’t Get Enough” into a superb duet with Renee Smith on the slightly slower “Promised Land”. She appears again on the best dancer “Your’s And Mine” which is a quite superb stroller that echoes the James Hunter Six, I dropped this at my Sunday Soul Sessions at the Courtyard Stanwick and was swamped with punters wanting the details. I mentioned the deep soul ballad on here, well “Ain’t That Loving You” is just that, harking back to the halcyon days, percussion, Hammond, horns drag you into those vocals, the horns repeating their support to Roland throughout. Musically very sparse which is how it should be? The other down-low tune on here is “Mother” which is a meandering finger snapper – a tribute to his mum. Solar radio’s Mick O’Donnel had been playing “Sweet Little Nothings” on his ‘Soul Discovery Radio Show’ for several weeks as an advance from Roland, another top dancer with lots of nice touches so I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this album and I wasn’t disappointed, at times you can hear Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in here which is fine by me. Recorded at Blue Lotus Studios, Saint Louis. 4* due to the omission of who plays what when and where, we need to know this stuff Roland!

Brian Goucher

Philip Clemo ‘Dream Maps’ (All Colour Arts) 3/5

philip-clemoIf improvised music and electronica with a dose of jazz meets with your approval, then guitarist, electronic beats and voice merchant Philip Clemo is likely to appeal. This is an ethereal musical experience and enhanced by a long list of jazz musicians and others, that includes trumpeters Arve Henriksen, Henry Lowthe and Byron Wallen with a host of cellists and drummers of the calibre of Martins France and Ditcham respectively. What comes across are the layered textures of acoustic and electronica sounds, as on the lovely double bass and cellos that combine on, ‘Water in the flow’. Factor in the voice of Evi Vine on the beat driven, ‘Magnetic’, and you have a most interesting cross-pollination of influences.
For jazz fans, the understated trumpet of Henriksen emerges on the gradual build up of sound on, ‘Liberation’, that finally reaches a crescendo. At best once could make a strong case for this music being the ideal accompaniment to an indie film soundtrack, but the question does nonetheless need to be asked of whether it goes beyond a certain level of creativity, with a series of repetitive motifs. Ideally, this writer would like to hear a greater degree of interaction and improvisation between the acoustic and electronica parts. That said, a worthy project and certainly enough musicality to retain the listener’s interest throughout.

Tim Stenhouse