Long-time ECM musician Charles Lloyd has regularly changed formats while maintaining a consistently high standard of performance and here enters into a duet recording with frequent group member and pianist Jason Moran which takes the listener on a highly entertaining journey of sounds past. Saxophone and piano duts are sadly all too infrequent, but when the right combination comes together, the effect can be spectacular as was the case between Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, or between Joe Lovano and Hank Jones which were both meetings of equals, although with obvious generational differences in the case of the latter. This new collaboration is very much a teacher-student relationship, though with the most gifted of students in Moran who excels on the standards in particular. The repertoire is neatly divided between a choice selection of the American songbook, some new original compositions from Lloyd and a few surprise inclusions from the 1960s singer-songwriter tradition. On Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ Moran convincingly plays in the stride tradition of the piano masters such as James P. Johnson and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith whereas Lloyd counterbalances this with Coltranesque sheets of sound from the ‘Blue Trane’ era. By contrast, there is a Monkesque flavour to Moran’s playing on the opening piece, Strayhorn’s ‘Pretty Girl’. Gershwin’s ‘Bess you is my woman now’ receives a stark deconstruction of the melody. As for Lloyd himself, he is at his most plaintive on the Joe Greene composition ‘All about Ronnie’ with the kind of tune that pianist Bill Evans could have weaved magic out of while a gorgeous rendition of ‘You’ve changed’ impresses. A lengthy, just under thirty minute suite, composed by Lloyd, features some evocative flute playing on part one of ‘Journey up the river’ whereas another shorter self-penned number ‘Pitcogram’ is much freer in form and sounds slightly out of place on the album, though does make for a varied approach. Both Dylan’s ‘I shall be released’, one of the most lyrical of the musical poet’s signatures and Brian Wilson’s ‘God only knows’ are instantly recognisable and work well in a jazz idiom. This is an album of solid confirmation rather than one of major innovation, but one that is an extremely enjoyable listening experience for all that. Jason Moran really ought to record a solo album in this vein. As an interesting aside, the cover features one of ECM’s most intruiging cover photos which is an artefact from an Afro-Brazilian musuem. A Brazilian music project from Charles Lloyd would be a mouthwatering prospect. Tim Stenhouse
Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez is one of the stalwarts of the Concord label and its Concord Picante Latin offshoot and has been a long-time recording artist since the early 1980s. Some of his most memorable albums have been in a live context where tradtional Afro-Cuban rhythms such as cha cha and mambo have fused with R & B, bop-inflected jazz to produce an intoxicating melting pot of sounds. A highpoint was reached in the early 1990s with ‘Live at Kimball’s’ and those that witnessed him live during a brief mid-1990s UK tour could not fail to have been impressed. This latest live offering is in fact a series of performances in California with a re-invigorated band and again covers a wide spectrum of influences. A lovely fluid moving opener ‘Promenade’, composed by trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, set the scene ideally. Poncho Sanchez has long loved to combine his favourite soul and funk tunes of the past with some tasty Latin flavours and this musical salsa here is a intruiging reworking of the blass standard ‘Crosscut saw’ that Albert King made a hit out of and guest guitarist George Dea does a fine job of receating the blues in a Latin idiom. This is a much neglected musical fusion that was very much in vogue during the 1950s with mambo and in the 1960s with Latin soul, but apart from ther sterling efforts of Carlos Santana has been largely ignored ever since. Two jazz standards that are often given the Latin jazz treatment, ‘Mambo Inn’ and ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, are effortlessly segued into one here and some steaming ‘palante’ (driving) music is created in the process. A medley of early Sanchez compositions are revisited in twelve minutes of mambo-infused heaven and include ‘Mi negra’, ‘Baila, Baila’ and ‘Bien Sabroso’, the latter being the title track of arguably Poncho Sanchez’s best studio recording. Factor in some more refined playing on the sensuous Clare Fischer composed ‘Morning’, performed here as a cha cha and a faithful reworking of the Mongo Santamaria evergreen ‘Afro Blue’ and you have a fine example of modern day Latin-infused jazz. It is of note that Poncho Sanchez recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Latin Recording Academy and certainly he served an ideal apprenticeship with the very best in the 1970s as lead percussionist in Cal Tjader’s band, and performing equally as part of Clare Fischer’s Latin ensemble before branching out as a leader in his own right. Tim Stenhouse
Celluloid records was the brainchild of Parisian-based Jean Karakos who spent most of the 1970s co-running specialist French record shops
and the jazz label BYG and this creative individual had a truly catholic approach to music in general which is rare in an industry largely driven by financial gain. However, an early 1980s trip to New York where he met eclectic musician Bill Laswell and it was this encounter and the resulting musical discoveries of the emerging New York underground scene that led to the creation of the Celluloid label and some of the early productions released which tended towards the last vestiges of new wave. By the mid-1980s these included a myriad of styles from the disco not disco/mutant disco sounds of Modern Guy and ‘Electriques Sylvie’ with Material’s classic dance number ‘I’m the one’ and the emerging rap beats of Fab Five Freddy and ‘Change the Beat’ and Grandmaster D. St and ‘Home of hip-hop’.
Possibly one criticism that one could make of the label is that there was never a truly distinctive sound that characterised the label in the way that other dance-related labels such as Salsoul or Prelude had. That was simply not the point in the case of Celluloid. Eclecticism was a virtue and should be cherished at all costs. Thus on this lengthy anthology the dub-soaked reggae of Winston Edwards and Blackbeard on ‘Downing Street Rock’, a rare British participation sits cheek by jowel with French wannabee new romantic Nini Raviolette and ‘Suis-je normale?’ Celluloid was ahead of the game in its coverage of African music, especially the fusion of electronic dancefloor beats with more traditional African instrumentation and has not yet received its full due for promoting the new centre of African music that Paris had become by the mid-late 1980s. Here Manu Dibangu’s seminal dancefloor burner ‘Abele dance’ and Touré Kinda’s Senegalese pop effort ‘Amadou Tilo’ are included and Mandingo’s ‘Harima’ typified the cross-fertilisation of musical styles that Celluloid positively encouraged. It is a pity there are not more examples of the African-oriented output are in evidence, but digital fans will have the davantage of hearing Fela drummer Tony Allen performing as part of B Side on ‘So hot’. Occasional revamping of previously cult musicians surfaced on the label and the Last Poets, who were arguably the pioneering group behind a more politically-driven form of rap, are represented in their 1980s manifestation with ‘Mean machine chant/mean machine’ and even Cream’s Ginger Baker managed to get a look in with ‘Dust to dust’. As to be expected with a label that prided itself on its 12″ single output, the versions here come in their full elongated form and represent terrific value for money if you are a musical devotee who has an open-minded approach to the dance-driven side of the music industry. The downloaded version features additional numbers from Grandmaster D.St, Shango and even a single of Jimi Hendrix. Tim Stenhouse
Now resident in New York, Polish trumpeter is one of the longest serving ECM musicians on the label having debuted back in the mid-1970s with the excellent ‘Baladyna’ and in the 1990s the superb tribute to the recordings of Komeda on ‘Litania’. Over thirty-five years on and now in his seventieth year, Stanko has decided to depart from his long-standing European formations to instead put together a new group who are all United States-based and relatively young in years. He sounds re-invigorated as a result and the double album has a freshness to it that is the sign of a musician who feels that they now have a new lease of life. The doleful lament of ‘Metafizyka’ receives a sparse accompaniment from the quartet while on the freer flowing ‘Miknokosmos’ there are elements of mid-1960s Miles Davis and Stanko surely has that overall sound in mind for this talented new group. On the urgent sounding ‘Assassins’ Cuban-born pianist David Vireilles lays down some percussive vamps and staccatoesque rhythms that indicate he has been listening not only to the great Afro-Cuban tradition, but also to the likes of McCoy Tyner to whom he most resembles and even twentieth century Western classical composers such as Bartok. On the ballad ‘Dernier cri’ there is some impressive cymbal work from Detroit born drummer Gerald Cleaver and in general a genuine warmth to the ensemble performance. The second CD features ‘Oni’, a gentle waltz-like piece with an extended passage by Vireilles and the gorgeous clarity of tone that so typifies Stanko’s own playing. A floating, melancholic air is conjured up on ‘Tutaj'(‘Here’) and here drums and piano combine to create a piece of great beauty. Two lengthy versions of the title track open and end the album and Tomasz Stanko is clearly in a fruitful period from a compositional point of view. An impressive debut from the quartet and a live recording beckons at some point.
It is now some fifteen years since the passing of Fela Ransome Kuti and there have been various re-issue programmes that have been underway ever since. However, none have been as comprehensive as the latest from Knitting Factory records, the label offshoot of the left-field music venue in New York. This excellent value for money anthology provides a fine overview of Fela’s career, though once you have been hooked by his music you will wish to acquire individual albums. These will be released on a two album per CD set over the forthcoming months from March through September this year. On offer here are full length versions of some of the classic Fela songs which effortlessly combine biting political and social satire with pounding Afro-Beat rhythms and for the uninitiated these are immediately addictive. Thus ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ depicts the toils and tribulations of the Apartheid regime in South Africa while equally compelling and uncompromising are elongated numbers such as ‘Expensive Shit’ and ‘Black Man’s Cry’. From the earlier period in Fela’s career, ‘He miss road’ is a driving number. For long-time fans there are a couple of interesting compositions that are not quite as well known. In particular the laid back number, ‘Trouble sleep yanga wake am’ gives the listener the opportunity to hear the iconic Fela sound at 3/4 pace which makes for a refreshing change and this is largely an instrumental piece weighing in at just over tweleve minutes with some lovely saxophone soloing from Fela. From the end of his career, ‘Underground System (Part 2)’ features some terrific call and response vocals that are a trademark of the Fela sound with an extended rap from the leader in pidgin English. It is often forgotten that Fela Kuti was an accomplished instrumentalist as well as a tireless campaigner for human rights. However, even a 2 CD retrospective could never hope to fully capture the comprehensive picture of just Fela Kuti’s musical career highlights and there are some notable omissions, ‘Roforofo flight’ and ‘Shakara’ being obvious contenders for inclusion. The deluxe edition has as a bonus the live performance of Fela Kuti’s band at the 1984 Glastonbury festival. A fine place to start one’s appreciation of an African musical legend. Tim Stenhouse
Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf has quietly established a reputation as a highly creative musician who is capable of successfully fusing tastefully carved out electronica and drum beats with improvised jazz and in this respect alone bears comparison with Niels Peter Molvaer. His previous release, the excellent ‘Diagnostic’, from 2011 illustrated this point perfectly, though where the comparison differs is in Maalouf’s desire to bring a distinctive Arabic flavour to proceedings. However, with this new all acoustic project he may just have recorded the album that will catapult his music to a vastly wider audience. It certainly deserves to attract international attention. No less than the French Cinémathèque in Paris, where Maalouf is resident, commissioned the musician to compose music for a silent film project. The fruits of this collaborative enterprise reside within this new album. Parallels immediately spring to mind with the seminal Miles Davis collaboration with French director Louis Malle on ‘Lift to the Scaffold’ and this new recording stands comparison remarkably well. Indeed Maaalouf wanted to use the framework of the acoustic quintet formation, just as Miles did, but in addition the former has brought his own cultural capital on board. Enlisting the support of New York’s finest musicians including bassist Larry Grenadier, saxophonist Mark Turner and drummer Clarence Penn and recorded in the Big Apple, this album makes for compelling listening from start to finish. The atmospheric ‘Waiting’ sets the scene while the quintet have plenty of opportunity to really stretch out on the uplifting ‘Questions and Answers’ (not the Pat Metheny composition of the same name) and the driving piece that is ‘Certainty’. Perhaps it is on the mid-paced numbers such as ‘Suspicions’ that the quintet sound most convincing of all and the ensemble playing is of the highest order with fine comping from pianist Frank Woeste. Lavishly packaged in a box with striking artwork from Manuel Baena Joux and with incisive bi-lingual sleeve notes on the project, this album is unquestionably Ibrahim Maalouf’s finest achievement to date and one that could prove to be a watershed in his already productive career thus far.
Algerian born, but now French resident singer Khaled was one of the major stars of world roots music from the 1980s onwards, but has been badly advised on this project which has the pop producer’s Red One (he of Lady Gaga and J. Lo) ultra glossy production all over it. This change in sound to a pumping dance music beat may attract a few non-roots fans, but is far more likely to alientate his grass roots base who are used to quality music. There are three French language songs featured and ‘Encore une fois’ is clearly aimed at commercial success, but in the process has sucked all the originality that typifies Khaled’s music out of him. There is some much needed relief on ‘Dina Labess’ which is a thinly disguised ‘Didi Pt 2’, though even here the production sound becomes all too intrusive. Only in the seocnd half of the album is a total abyss narrowly avoided and here may lie the genesis for a far more interesting project, namely fusing folksy acoustic Algerian sounds with Andalusian flavours. The modern update on Arabo-Andalusian music on ‘Elle est partie’ is both compelling and inspiring and this is a pathway Khaled would be wise to follow in future if he wishes to retain his credibility as a roots musician. There is no question that Khaled’s voice is as strong as it ever was, but this is is a deeply misguided project that is best committed to the dustbin with the swiftest possible haste. Tim Stenhouse
Singer-songwriters who can also plays several instruments are thin on the ground and in the case of French music, relatively uncommon. All the more reason to appreciate the sound of young musician M, better known as Matthieu Chédid (son of singer Louis Chédid). If contemporary grooves that take on board the influences of Prince and even Jimi Hendrix are your bag, then this slice of twenty-first century music may well appeal. M has steadily built up a devoted audience across the Channel with previous albums such as the live ‘Saisons de passage’ and ‘Un monstre à Paris’ both selling around 150,000 copies. That number doubled with ‘Mister Mystère’ and the latest album is set to be both a commercial and critical success. In typical creative French fashion, the new album plays upon the phonic resemblance between Chédid’s first name and the places one dreams of. His music features inventive arrangements that are sometimes experimental in nature, with poetic and lyrical songwriting hinting strongly at a mature sound. Key songs include the softer sounding ‘Laisse aller’ which hints at ther soulful side of Prince while arguably the most compelling number of all is ‘Baïa’ which has a Middle Eastern guitar intro that leads into a mid-paced flamenco-latin piece that has definite single potential. In contrast there is some retro retreading of the jazz manouche tradition on ‘La maison de Saraaï’ that hints at a change of musical environment in the future. So convincing is the sound that Chédid may do well to devote an entire project ot this style which would attract a whole new audience while adding to the existing one. For fans of rockier sounds, look no further than ‘La grosse bombe’ which is a homage of sorts to one of Chédid’s idols, Jimi Hendrix. Matthieu Chédid is a well rounded musician who is capable of performing in a variety of styles and doing so in a totally convincing manner. He is unquestionably one of the singers to look out for in furthering the already honourable French chanson tradition, but does so in a thoroughly modern fashion.
Guitarist Joe Bonamassa is diversifying into new territories while not losing his blues-rock roots and this latest project focuses on an all instrumental set that uses at its inspiration the early ‘We want Miles’ double album that Miles Davis recorded after his lengthy absence from the music scene during the mid-1970s, but is influenced in equal measure by Weather Report, Earth, Wind and Fire and even Jeff Beck and Led Zepplin. In actual fact, only one number sounds anything like the jazz-rock pieces Miles had assembled, but this is a funk-tinged jam session-style with some tasty grooves, the best of which feature in the second half of the CD. Moody and downbeat is the atmospheric ‘The best ten minutes of your life’ which is a truly slow burner of a number weighing in at over ten minutes and with delicate 1970s keyboards from Renato Neto that conjurs up the Temptations classic ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ theme. If the bassline by Mike Merriott could be off a Headhunters slow jam, then the keyboards are heavily influenced by Chick Corea circa Return to Forever. In an uptempo vein with a definite nod to the Headhunters is ‘Dope on a rope’ with some fine guitar soloing from Bonamassa. One of the most compelling pieces is the final on, ‘New York Song’ which is a soulful ballad that showcases the skills of Neto who sounds as though he has been soaking up the sound of one Donald Fagen. One might question whether there is a truly distinctive ensemble sound given the band’s disparate influences, but there is no disputing the quality of the music generated and its sheer listenability. Joe Bonamassa is definitely in a highly productive stage of his career and future releases promise to be just as open-mided. Tim Stenhouse
This live performance can now be seen with hindsight as a tribute of sorts to the passing of Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably the greatest ambassador of Indian classical music of the twentieth century. Produced by Alan Kozlowski, a long-time devotee of Shankar’s music and himself a student of the maestro, the concert dates from October 2011 in California with a seemingly frail looking leader aged ninety-one. However, that exterior is soon forgotten once the music commences and Shankar’s face visibly grows younger as the sheer joy of making music become apparent. Glorious long flowing raggas typify the quality music on offer and the other group member’s are clearly revelling in the presence of the veteran musician. Alan Kozlowwski is the ideal person to film proceedings since not only is he genuinely empathetic to the music of Ravi Shankar, but als has experience of filming other musicians, most notably the documenary of Jackson Browne. At eighty-four minutes, this is a fine way to view the sitar master in a live context, though you will probably also wish to view documantaries on ihs life as well. Kozlowski produced a separate homage to Ravi Shankar entitled ‘In Celebration’ that was co-prodiced with George Harrison. This is an all region DVD release. Tim Stenhouse