All posts by ukvibe

Various ‘Afro-Rock Vol.1’ (Strut) 2LP/CD 4/5

This is actually a re-issue of an album that originally surfaced on CD on the little known Kora records back in 2001. Now augmented by a bonus cut, it is an excellent reminder of how the rare African funk/soul/rock scene has progressed in the subsequent decade with a plethora of compilations. Up until then European knowledge of funk-based African music was largely restricted to the Afro-Beat sounds of Fela Kuti. The music on offer covers a number of west and central African countries, but it is the American and even European external musical influences (French heartthrob Johnny Hallyday being among them for francophone Africa) which bring them together and provide the common denominator. James Brown was an obvious disciple for many African musicians, notably after his spellbinding concert in Kinshasa in 1974. For Sierra Leonian Geraldo Pino, Brown was a seminal influence with ‘Heavy. heavy, heavy’ betraying a strong American soul influence. Pino had moved to Lagos in Nigeria by 1968 and it was there that he was exposed to the rise of soul bands. The song featured here possesses a relentless rhythm with nice use of keyboards throughout. Brass laden and bass heavy is one way to describe the echoey produced Mercury Dance Band on ‘Envy no good’. In the band’s drum pattern, they are unquestionably influenced by Fela and the atmospheric recording (sounding like it was made in a cave!) gives a real punch to the song. One of the most melodic songs on the compilation is by Kenyan funk band Steele Beauttah and the simply titled ‘Africa’. This mid-tempo number from 1976 has funk rhythm guitar in abundance. Catchy rhythms also dominate on the Ghanaian soul of K. Frimpong and his Cuban Fiestas on ‘Kyenkyen bi adi m’hanu’ with gorgeous horns. This is arguably the compilation’s most impressive track with vocal chanting and trumpet solo. From 1974 ‘Fever’ (not the classic song immortalised by Peggy Lee) by Jingo has had parts one and two segued together over a driving chakacha rhythm complete with fuzzy synths, flute and rhythm guitar. Fully deserving of a second issue, this time round ‘Afro-Rock’ should reach a much wider audience.

Tim Stenhouse

Nicolas Meier ‘Journey’ (MGP) 3/5

Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier is a former Berklee school of music in Boston alumni like Gary Burton and Pat Metheny, and along with pianist Reinoso whom he met while a student there, has produced his fourth album which sounds very much like a mix of world roots with Turkish music predominant and Pat Metheny influences. Among guest musicians, Gilad Atzmon is featured on clarinet and saxophones and he works extremely well in this context. The jazzy opener ‘Sunrise’ impresses with an acoustic guitar solo and there is sensitive accompaniment too from Atzmon. The more traditional Turkish folk intro to ‘Journey’ with chorus into the bargain leads directly into a contemporary jazz piece where the comparison with Metheny is all too real and the pianist in particular has a definite penchant for Lyle Mays. The suites display both intimacy and introspection without absolutely enthralling the listener with Part IV probably the pick of the bunch highlighting some delicate flamenco-style guitar soloing from Meier. In general this is a pleasant album rather than an outstanding one and a grittier feel to proceedings might be in order for the future. Nonetheless the idea of fusing jazz and Turkish folk is an excellent one and an avenue that Meier should certainly continue to pursue. The evocative cover features a painting from Meier’s Turkish wife Songul.

Tim Stenhouse

Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars ‘World Defeats the Grandfather’ (Sterns) 4/5

Similar to Zaika Langa Langa in Zaire, the Super Wanyika Stars from Kenya have gone through myriad names and off-shoots (Wanyika Les Les, Super Wanyikas and Wanyika Stars among others), but this excellent compilation concentrates firmly on the period between 1982 and 1986 when Issa Juma was lead vocalist. Ironically the lead singer, along with other band members, was actually born in Tanzania, but would find fame if not fortune when the musicians settled in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, when they were initally known as Arusha Jazz. The Swahili style of rumba differs from the classic Congolese equivalent firstly in the absence of brass, a generally lighter feel and the greater emphasis placed upon the bass to propel the intoxicating rhythms on guitars. Sweet harmonies and lovely guitar work are a feature of ‘Barua’ while the infectious bass and keyboard riff on ‘Ma Eliza’ is matched by the harmony vocals. Shuffling drum patterns and catchy guitar licks permeate the pared down Sawhili rumba of ‘Si mimi (It’s not me’)’ with a wonderful breakdown part way through. One inidication of possible influences is evident on ‘Maria’ which, in its use of every daily life tales as lyrics, bears a remarkable ressemblance to the epic ‘Mario’ by Franco with again intricate guitar work brewing up a storm. In general these elongated rumba workouts (eight minutes being the shortest) are ideally suited to the CD format and as ever a beautifully illustrated inner sleeve with notes by writer Douglas Paterson on the band’s trajectory enhance our understanding. Sadly post-1986 health problems and the legal status of band members greatly reduced their output and by the early 1990s Issa Juma had passed away. This compilation, which is superb value at just under eighty minutes, catches the Wanyika Stars in their prime.

Tim Stenhouse

Soul Jazz Orchestra ‘Rising Sun’ (Strut) 3/5

Canadian group the Soul Jazz Orchestra were formed in 2002 and have been influenced by a heady mixture of Afro, jazz, soul and Latin sounds with Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astatke and the McCoy Tyner big band obvious namechecks. Two previous albums were recorded for the Toronto label Do Right!, but this is their first for Strut with DJ Gilles Peterson a big devotee. The band work best on the big band numbers which display a Latin sensitivity such as ‘Serenity’. Here we find the more reflective side to the group with flute and clarinet solos featuring heavily. Likewise ‘Lotus flower’ impresses with its big band arrangements, modal bass and funky drumming. This is where the Soul Jazz Orchestra identity truly lies and perhaps a whole album in this particular vein would be a potential future project that might introduce them to a whole new audience, especially one specialising in jazz. Otherwise there is some manic Afro-jazz on ‘Mamaya’ that works quite well and some less successful Ethio-jazz on ‘Negus negast’. They simply sound too polished to carry off the gritty sound of jazz Ethiopian style. A more natural environment is that of spiritual jazz and the excellent Japanese koto intro to ‘Consecration’ leads into a wonderful mid-tempo groove with fine ensemble work by the brass section. The Pharoah Sanders club classic ‘Rejoice’ in two parts is given a decent reworking and after an introspective intro gives way to an Afro-beat treatment that departs from the original before finally settling into a jazzy interpretation with less emphasis on vibes than in the original. An evocative cover picture depicts an ancient sundial in gold and orange.

Tim Stenhouse

Niño Josele ‘Española’ (Warner Spain) 3/5

Flamenco guitarist Juan José Heredia to give him his real name has always had an interest in jazz and this is reflected in the fusion of the two genres found herein. In fact he has even played as second guitarist on a recent album by Paco de Lucia and as such is greatly respected in the Madrileño music scene, having accompanied singer-songwriter Juan-Manuel Serrat, Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and even flamenco great Enrique Morente. This album is partly recorded in Madrid and otherwise in New York where the guitarist has enlisted the services of some of the cream of jazz musicians in the Big Apple including saxophonist Phil Woods and trombonist Angel ‘Papo’ Vazquez. Produced by film director Fernando Trueba, who has been behind several excellent Latin jazz projects in recent years, the music oscillates between instrumental flamenco and flamenco jazz. An obvious homage to Paco de Lucia comes in the shape of ‘Camino de Lucia’ while the title track is a beautiful guitar reworking of the famous McCoy Tyner composition. For jazzistas, ‘Waltz for Bill [Evans] provides a showcase for Woods to excel musch in the way Paul desmond did way back on the Spanish-tinged pieces by Dave Brubeck. The catchy rumba ‘Gloria bendita’ has definite crossover potential and trombonist Vazquez takes an excellent solo here. An interesting album with plenty of avenues to explore in the future for Josele.

Tim Stenhouse

Mulatu Astatke ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’ (Strut) 4/5

This the much anticipated follow up to Mulatu’s album with the Heliocentrics, this time recorded in Addis Adaba, Boston and London, and it does not disappoint. Throughout there is an effortless feel and the original 1960s and 1970s atmosphere of his original classic albums is rekindled without it being in any way contrived. The music is inspired by Astatke’s travels, taking in residencies at Harvard university where he taught and even recent tours to France. The latter is alluded to in the mid-temp groover that is ‘The way to Nice’ , featuring a muted harmon solo, while for the former ‘Radcliffe’ has a distinctive late night set at the Village Vanguard feel with jazzy vibes helping to create a moody and reflective ambience. A lovely laid back jazz groove is conjured up on ‘Ethio blues’ which betrays a homage to Duke Ellington in the use of horns and to Milt Jackson and the Modern Jazz Quartet in the use of vibraphone. In a more uptempo vein are two reworkings of his earlier repertoire, namely the Latin-soul flavoured ‘Boogaloo’, which in style is reminiscent of both Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Watermelon man’ and Eddie Harris’ ‘Cold duck time’, and the heavy percussion workout number that is ‘I faram gami I faram’. This features a delightful Latin jazz piano vamp with wailing chanting and could just as easily be something that the Latin Jazz Sextet conjured up, with salsa-esque horns and haunting jazz-inflected vibes making this a clear album highlight. Modal piano hues in a larger setting that McCoy Tyner might be familiar with are demonstrated further on the big band latino of ‘Green Africa’ which echoes ‘Afro Blue’ in its form with an Ethiopian string instrument adding a touch of authenticity to proceedings. One minor gripe with this otherwise excellent release; the voice of Mulatu Astatke presenting the album on every single track does begin to grate by the end. This aside, ‘Mulatu steps ahead’ is a terrific example of Ethio-jazz with Mulatu Astatke’s sound as contemporary as ever.

Tim Stenhouse

David S. Ware ‘Saturinian. Solo Saxophone Vol.1’ (Aum Fidelity) 3/5

This CD captures David S. Ware in a live performance at the Abrous Art Center and is a full-on solo saxophone performance from October 2009. There are only three extended pieces on offer and at forty minutes there could have been a more generous coupling for the listener, possibly with a trio or even quartet outing. Nonetheless for devotees of Ware, this will prove to be a rewarding experience. Ware introduces reed instruments that became famous with Roland Kirk in the 1960s and 1970s such as the stritch (a kind of elongated soprano saxophone for the uninitiated) and the less well known saxello. Far from being squawking melodic-free improvisations, there is a great deal of solemn reflection in ‘Anthe’ and even joyous gospel spirit in ‘Pallene’. Not for the faint hearted among saxophone aficionados, Ware is to be commended for his no holds barred approach and no attempt at any kind of compromise to commercial pressures whatsoever. His fans would expect no less.

Tim Stenhouse

Josefine Cronholm ‘Songs of the Falling Feather’ (ACT) 3/5

Swedish singer Josefine Cronholm belongs firmly in the singer-songwriter category and if anything her music verges towards the folk-rock era of early Joni Mitchell with the odd nod to jazzier inflections as previous collaborations with former Miles Davis percussionist Marilyn Mazur have hinted at. Now resident in Copenhagen where the album was recorded, Cronholm has co-produced a reflective and intimate album that in some ways is comparable to Joni’s ‘Blue’ recording. This is most evident on ‘Winter princess’ which is, perhaps, her finest vocal performance while ‘Quiet’ enters Norah Jones territory and with the subtle use of trumpet is the closest that Cronholm gets to jazz. Pared down instrumentation on the folksy ‘Seagulls’ with just guitar to accompany impresses and the use of strings is never intrusive. In general the sparseness of the musical environment merely reflects Cronholm’s own upbringing in the wide expansive forest land of Sweden. The project is the brainchild not only of Josefine Cronholm, but of co-arranger, producer and fellow musician Henrik Lindstrand. The majority of the album is in a similar laid back mood and some change in tempo would have provided the listener with a little more variety. Nonethless this has plenty of potential to appeal to a diverse audience from folk fans through to mainstream pop.

Tim Stenhouse

Jimmy Giuffre ‘Jimmy Giuffre 3’ (Poll Winners Records) 5/5

Another superb value two LPs on 1 CD release that captures clarientist Jimmy Giuffre at his absolute peak and in a chamber jazz setting that even today sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded. The coupling brings together the ‘Jimmy Giuffre 3’ and ‘Travelling light’ sessions, both dating from December 1956. They are definitive examples of what came to be known as the west coast sound in its most intimate of surroundings. On the former the line up of Jim Hall on guitar, Ralph Peña on bass and Giuffre on clarinet produces some superlative music, none better than a seminal version of ‘The train and the river’. 
Above all it is simply the sheer joy of playing together that jumps aout at thel istener and this is no hasard encounter since the trio regluarly practiced together in bassists Peña’s Hollywood garage. The album cover says it all really with a classic photograph from none other than William Claxton. For the second album, we find a highly unusual combination of trio plus valve trombone with Giuffre alternating between clarinet and tenor saxophone with Bob Brookmeyer replacing Peña in trio duties on trombone. Despite the addition of brass, the trio still manage to maintain their individual as well as collective positions from previuosly and this is none better ilustrated than on the title track opener. Given the telepathic relationship betwene musicians contained on these albums, it is surprising that Giuffre and Hall only recorded once more and this was in 1963. One would have loved to hear the trio stretch out in a live setting. Extensive new liner notes and orginal Downbeat reviews of the albums greatly enhance our appreciation of the music within. A winner all the way and the starting point for all chamber jazz that followed including the great Oregon.

Tim Stenhouse

Sebastien Texier Trio ‘Don’t Forget You’re An Animal’ (Cristal) 4/5

Multi-reedist Sebastien Texier comes from an impeccable French jazz family background, being the son of bassist Henri and this excellent trio outing will do a great deal to enhance the standing of the former as a leader in his own right. In fact the ambience is very much that of the now defunct Label Bleu label out of France and there is sparse intimacy to proceedings that is not dissimilar to Steve Lacy, or even the classic Sonny Rollins mid-50s recordings while other influences would probably include Eric Dolphy and Jan Garbarek. The all-original compositions are at once melodic and challenging and Texier alternates between clarinet on lyrical pieces such as ‘Lilian tears’, bass clarinet on freer improvisations such as on the bizarrely titled ‘Pain de singe’ (literally ‘monkey’s bread’) and more conventional soprano saxophone on some of the other pieces. A quasi-oriental feel permeates ‘Hyena’s night’ that picks up in tempo part way through and with plenty of gusto in the reed solo. Father Henri guests on three tracks, though regular trio bassist Claude Tchamitchian impresses, particularly on the co-written composition ‘Tango’. Evocative clarinet playing on ‘Yellow cab experience’ wonderfully conveys the urgency of a taxi ride in the Big Apple. A beautiful clarity of sound on the recording simply adds to the pleasurable listening experience. Now approaching his fortieth year, Sebastien Texier is definitely a musician to watch out for in the future.

Tim Stenhouse