Category Archives: Album Reviews

Taj Mahal and Keb Mo ‘Tajmo’ (Concord) 4/5

Pairings of musicians sometimes can be contrived and label-led, but not in this case and this is some of the most soulful contemporary blues you are ever likely to hear. Taj Mahal appears to be entering a whole new creative phase in his career and one in which he is solely interested in creating the music he truly loves. Recorded in Nashville and co-produced by the duo, Taj Mahal and Keb Mo team up for a thrilling excursion through various blues sub-genres and showcase their versatility in the process. Delta blues given a thoroughly modern reworking opens up the album on the Stax-influenced, ‘Don’t leave me here’, and this proves to be one of Taj’s finest vocal performances on the entire album, with some stabbing horns to accompany. Likewise, Keb Mo impresses on the mid-tempo soul-blues of, ‘Ain’t nobody talkin’, and here the Hammond B3 licks of Phil Madeira work a treat. In fact, there is an all-star cast of guest musicians on board including singer Bonnie Raitt, percussionist Sheila E and singer Lizz Wright.

A personal favourite is the pan-Caribbean and extremely percussive, ‘Soul’, with elements of blues, funk and reggae, and the horn section straight out of 1970s Earth, Wind and Fire. Gloriously uplifting music. Lizz Wright plays a largely supportive role on the laid back, ‘Om sweet om’, while there is some genuine acoustic folk-blues on the rousing hues of, ‘She knows how to rock me’, with call and response vocals between the main two vocalists. Catchy hooks, tight instrumental performances and a fine pairing of contrasting vocals predominate. The lovely combination of six originals is augmented by some interesting covers, no more so than a zydeco meets the blues interpretation of Pete Townshend’s, ‘Squeeze box’, with a strong, propelling beat.

This may just be a contender for contemporary blues album of the year and, with a little help, it could reach a wider audience and certainly deserves to do so.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Mad Mats Presents Digging Beyond The Crates’ 2LP/CD/DIG (BBE) 3/5

For over 20 years, London’s BBE has used the services of many DJs, producers and taste makers in compiling their large catalogue of specialist compilation albums. And for this set Swedish DJ Mad Mats hand-picks a variety of music styles and flavours from jazz, soul, house and electronica for quite a full-bodied release. For the uninitiated, Mats setup Raw Fusion Recordings in 2002, which was home to releases by Freddie Cruger, Simbad and Povo, in addition to the still productive G.A.M.M. label – home to a series of re-edits and remix releases including eternal DJ favourite Red Astaire’s ‘Follow Me’. More recently, Mat’s Local Talk label has been one of the few decent house labels around, even offering vinyl 12” pressings of their releases.

This 16-track compilation avoids the trendy approach of having very expensive and rare vintage records that many similar products deliver, but rather it focuses on lesser-known titles both old and new that may have slipped through the net, so to speak. These include Bobby Hebb (the original composer of ‘Sunny’) and ‘Evil Woman’, a brilliantly addictive jazz vocal 45 piece, Intimate Disco and ‘Animations’ with its ‎library disco production style from the not often talked about Ebonite label. Psalms ‘Take A Stand’ is a boogie-ish gospel release from 1984, although it sounds much older, but its use of Moog synth bass rather than electric bass and recorded live drums is a nice touch for the era.

Other worthy mentions include Skatalite saxophonist Johnny Moore and the rock steady instrumental ‘Big Big Boss’. This has been a favourite on the reggae scene for a while and is a firm DJ staple. Yvonne Gray ‘Keep The Music Alive’ from 1975 is a tight funky soul piece from California, by the writer who crafted Lou Rawls popular ‘Lady Love’ in ’77. And as mentioned, ‘Digging Beyond The Crates’ also unusually adds newer electronic releases, such as bumpy house single Ossie ‘I Hurt Yoo’ with its Singers Unlimited via Slum Village ‘Claire’ sample, the Dilla influenced hip hop instrumental ‘Badly’ by German beat maker Cuthead from 2015 and BSTC ‎’Jazz In Outer Space’ a disco fused house 12” from 2006.

Compilation albums of this type are always a valuable inroad into music that the listener may not be aware of and although a couple of the straighter house inclusions are rather weak and wouldn’t have been missed if omitted, the others are relatively solid additions. I also particularly enjoyed Bill Laurance (the second most famous keyboard player in Snarky Puppy after Cory Henry) and ‘The Pines’ from his 2016 solo LP ‘Aftersun’. I just wish more compilers would move into a more contemporary focus when creating their compilations. New releases will some day be old. So overall this a quite a strong release, with even the cover art which offers a nod to the design of Ernie Hines 1972 album ‘Electrified’ being well thought of.

Damian Wilkes

Various ‘Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power Underground Jazz Street Funk & The Roots Of Rap 1968-79’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Soul Jazz) 5/5

This 13-track compilation showcases how the Civil Rights Movement and the developing black nationalism environment of the 1960s went on to directly influence music culture within jazz, soul and funk aesthetics. Drawing upon various political themes and messages, ‘Soul Of A Nation’ displays how crucial this period was for black musicians, which has since become an influence for many other contemporary artists.

Featured material include jazz footwork classic ‘Mother Of The Future’ by Carlos Garnet from 1974, a universal favourite for decades with this version featuring the vocals of Dee Dee Bridgewater, which I feel just edges the more popular Norman Connors and Jean Carn version. Written by Garnet himself and recorded six months earlier than Connor’s ‘Slew Foot’ album, is also a touch looser than the Connors’ rendition. Jean’s former husband Doug Carn is also included with ‘Suratal Ihklas’, a track not taken from his Black Jazz catalogue, but from his lesser known 1977 album ‘Al Rahman! Cry Of The Floridian Tropic Son’ (released under the name Abdul Rahim Ibrahim). This quite funky number has a somewhat Roy Ayers feel within its production.

Readers of UK Vibe will be very familiar with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, the funkiest poem of all time taken from his 1971 ‘Pieces Of A Man’ album. Interestingly, it features a stellar line-up including Bernard Purdie on drums, Ron Carter on bass and Hubert Laws on flute. Oneness of Juju’s ‘African Rhythms’ from their debut album of the same name in 1975 is also a very well known addition to the compilation, but maybe Soul Jazz could have included the rarer alternative 7” version, as the album mix has appeared previously on numerous other compilations. The other more well known titles include the Roy Ayers classic ‘Red, Black and Green’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ by tenor sax heavyweight Joe Henderson, taken from his very fertile 1970s period with Milestone Records, where he never made a poor record.

Sarah Webster Fabio, the poet, writer and educator is an essential inclusion to the set with probably her most famous track, ‘Sweet Songs’, which has Sarah undulating over a super funky breakbeat rhythm track. Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra’s ‘Desert Fairy Princess’ contains all the hallmarks of a perfect spiritual jazz standard; an infectious 11-minute groove with luscious horns and flute, recorded live in a LA church in 1979. This and other Tapscott releases are taken from the Nimbus West label who have recently repressed some of their excellent back catalogue. Another worthy discussion point is Duke Edwards and the Young Ones ‘Is It Too Late’. Edwards, a percussionist who was at one time a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, but this his only solo project includes this quite remarkable 10 minute emotional account of Edwards discussing the failure of humankind.

Being a Soul Jazz release, this collection features a healthy mix of obscure and more known cuts, but there isn’t a poor track amongst this compilation. This has obviously been very well curated, and yes, there are many omissions that could have been included, but hopefully there will be additional volumes in the future. And it is worth noting that this release coincides with an art exhibition at the Tate Modern, London also called Soul Of A Nation, which runs until 22 October 2017 and features the work of artists during this dramatic but crucial period in American history.

Damian Wilkes

Dub Gabriel ‘ADSR DUB’ LP/DIG (Destroy All Concepts) 5/5

Being an avid supporter & collector for well over 15 years now of the underground dub sound movement. I've always enjoyed that 'lazer lights in a field' moment that some dub musicians such as Panda Dub and Mayd Hubb, OTT et al travel down through in their creations & mixdowns and the opener track entitled 'Interstella Dub Dwella' it is exactly what my ears delight in, with its swirly hypnotic wash and a bass line straight outa The Clash circa 1980/81. Indeed this album is absolutely seasoned to perfection by speed controlled effects and lazer wonderments, with this aside however the pieces offered on this album ADSR DUB are easy on the ears with laid back powerful sub bass rhythms giving space for a healthy emphasis on showcasing his beloved and masterfully played synthesizer melodies, hook lines and backdrops such as you will hear on 'Cali Collie' a downbeat heavy skanker with a duet of synth lead lines and an almost subliminal sounding melodica yet in lead mode – played by Addis Pablo – throughout the piece. A simple and effective bass line underpinning the chuggin' motion of the piece, if pure hi-end synth ambience married with dub floats your boat then you are going to dig this album. This is the fifth album release from San Francisco resident, multi instrumentalist and regular tourer Dub Gabriel.

Synthesizers and reggae traditionally haven't really had a lasting relationship, it's very nearly always been the good old piano and organ, although some of us of a certain age can remember perhaps having a few vinyl singles by that very jolly reggae band The Vulcans way back in the day, which were released on the original Trojan records label and which featured heavy synthesizer leads and hooklines. For lovers of synths you will hear Korg and Moog throughout this album.

However, occasionally within, the synths give way to a more trad style reggae vibe with other delights emerging, such as the percussion led poetry piece that is 'Real Time Illusion' featuring Spaceape, the short dreamlike journey of 'Black Magic White Lies' with its surreal Elizabethan sentiment in essence, as it were, and we have the magnificent multi vibe piece that is 'Freedom Dub', featuring Ranking Joe with a minimalist psychedelic dub mix, indeed with Krautrock being one of Dub Gabriel's favourite genres aside from dub it's no surprise that this influence would appear across a few tracks. I also find myself delightfully immersed inside the end track of the album, a piece simply entitled 'Fin' which can only be described as absolute ultra ambience with the drum track being its key immersion, an almost feather light journey of nearly five minutes leaving this listener wanting more.

It's been a few years, over four in fact since his last album offering to the dub community; that being 2013's 'Reggaebass Resistance'. This new album, 'ADSR Dub' takes the crown with its blend of dubscapes and ambience, riddim tracks and poetry and its lazer light moments. A crucial listening experience to accompany your accompaniments as one would say. Feel the underground shining, put it on your dub mixtape now.

Gibsy Rhodes

Gaby Hernandez ‘Spirit Reflection’ LP/CD/DIG (Mr. Bongo) 4/5

Chilean-American vocalist and musician, Gaby Hernandez, has been a respected member of the alternative LA music scene for a while and has previously been featured on releases by Dwight Trible, Teebs and Dexter Story in addition to being a member of Build An Ark. Here, Gaby’s third solo release which was originally available on tiny LA indie label Analog Burners in 2016, now sees a larger release via London’s Mr. Bongo, and is a 10-track affair that utilises an abundance of musical influences that range from Latin jazz, electronica and Afro-Cuban styles.

The diversity of influences has materialised from the disparate but somehow connected collaborators and producers used within the project. The jazzy neo soul of ‘I Will Keep You’ features Kamasi Washington on sax, while the atmospheric ‘Messy Love’ includes string parts written and played by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. The more uptempo ‘Super Nova Lovers’ possesses a dreamy quality with its light percussive elements and warm synth chords played throughout. ‘Lo Mas Dulce’ could be described as an electronically flavoured modern berimbau track – or something like that. Other collaborators on the album include Stuart Howard, who is more known by his producer tag of Lapalux, Carlos Niño (Build An Ark, The Life Force Trio) and Dexter Story, who produced half the album.

Lyrically, Gaby takes inspiration from the universal themes of love, nature and spirituality, fused with strong but not overly simple melodies and rhythmic cadences delivered in both English and Spanish, and thus, rather than being quite an underground album ‘Spirit Reflection’ could become quite a popular record amongst music lovers. Even with all its various styles, sounds and influences, it isn’t a difficult album to appreciate, and sonically it’s very strong, original and refreshing with its mixture of synthesised sounds blended with more traditional organic timbres.

But being negative, it probably does not have a ‘stand out’ track, for example, something that DJs would identify with as being overly accessible or crowd friendly, but this is due to ‘Spirit Reflection’ being quite a fully rounded set. Therefore, this is not a very harsh criticism, but DJs, journalists and writers tend to focus on finding songs that can entice the public into gravitating towards an album. But here, the record is aimed more towards an entire listening experience rather than the modern playlist approach. And I’m after a copy of the original double vinyl test pressing which includes the instrumentals – if anyone has a spare!

Damian Wilkes

Hifalutin ‘Animals In Dub’ (Private Press) 5/5

At a wonderfully traditional album running time of around 44 minutes, Hifalutin presents us with his creation, an uptown underground sixteen tracker with the vast majority of pieces running at under three minutes each, he seems to understand as an artist the importance of ‘attention span’ with one’s listeners, he gives just enough time for the listener to settle into a piece and to enjoy it for a moment in time then it fades out and on with the next. The tracks here on this album were originally released as two track EPs some time ago and more recently Hifalutin decided to release them all as one ‘Animals In Dub’ package.

Modern underground ‘fusion dub’ becoming more prominent now with Nepal resident and musician Hifalutin, a multi-instrumentalist that has the required knowledge and understanding of reggae and dub music – ‘that feel of the mix’ – and then he lets that feel shine through into his own particular trademark style of playing and then by adding just a little bit of something else – the way it’s blended together and mixed, he delivers here a very interesting instrumental dub album with a crisp clean modern sound alongside warm bass and low-end organ sections, he doesn’t over do it with echo’s and dubby effects they are there though presented in their many different forms and disguises with some nice dub vocal snippet inclusions appearing on some pieces.

Instrumentation wise you will hear some nice horns, most notably the muted trumpet on ‘Puddles Poodle Dub’ married with its wirly sounding Jackie Mittoo style organ, and whilst I’m on the subject – organs, you will discover some really cool organ work from his studio keyboards feature across the tracks, especially on another standout track ‘Monkey Fat Dub’, and on the organ led ‘Panda Dub’, with its fusion funky drum rhythm sections in contrast to its one drop sections yet predominantly this track is a pure groove funker.. in dub style and fashion of course. These funky rhythm sections (or prehaps they could be taken as medium speed Jungle rhythms) season many tracks throughout this album, as do occasional electric lead guitars, catching the ears with the Santana vibe superbly mixed ‘Come As You Aardvark’. Another standout track warranting a mention is ‘Elephant Dub’, on this he manages to encompass jazz/funk and drum ‘n’ bass/jungle into one cool rhythm track, yet in a dub style and fashion, this album is sounding good in both headphones and on studio monitors. An album of varying tempo and inspired styles; I really do feel a subliminal jazz vibe hovering around the whole, it’s quite possibly the superbly played horn section that gives this vibe, yet it’s funk, yet it’s drum ‘n’ bass, it also has its share of traditional minimalist steppa style such as ‘Turtle Dub’ and other one drop tracks.

Overall this is a laid back album helped along of course by the chilled bass lines. It has its own little punch though so be ready for the funky bits, do indulge yourself with this dub album for variety is the spice of life, for some reason that I simply cannot explain is that after listening to this album, each time that is, I’m drawn to searching out and playing certain tracks from the first three UB40 albums, not sure why to be exact, perhaps it’s something about the mixing and sound style similarities I’m picking up on with ‘Animals In Dub’ and by contrast with a handful of UB40 dub style tracks from that early period. Looking forward to the next Hifalutin album already.

Gibsy Rhodes

Ferenc Snétberger ‘Titok’ (ECM) 4/5

Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger will be a new name to most, but his ‘In concert’, debut album for ECM was critically acclaimed, not least among guitar specialists, and this collective all original new recording of compositions, which actually dates from 2015, builds upon the first offering and beautifully combines folk and jazz elements. Snétberger has a love of Latin American music and this does come through as a secondary influence, though to these ears it is the central European folk influence that is strongest of all. What really impresses is the lovely balance struck between, on the one hand, the natural empathy between the leader and his fellow trio members, double bassist, Anders Jormin, and drummer Joey Baron, and, on the other, the ever melodic spontaneous conversations that the trio enter into. On the title track, the bass-led intro results in some improvised exchanges and Snétberger sounds not dissimilar to Egberto Gismonti here. Delicate melodicism is the order of the day on, ‘Kék Kerék’, where there is a greater sense of urgency, with leader and double bassist playing off one another in some gorgeous passages. The ballads are specially strong, with, ‘Renaissance’, the prettiest of numbers while, elsewhere’ the numbers have a Middle Age classical guitar influence. In contrast, ‘Cou cou’, has a semi-improvisational feel and is at once relaxed and informal in character.

Classically trained with Julian Bream one possible influence, Snétberger has clearly soaked up the playing of fellow Hungarian Gábor Szabó, Pat Metheny and Jim Hall, while the national composer Béla Bartók is surely a figure whose music the guitarist has called upon for inspiration. Quietly, this album gently gets under the skin and slowly, but surely, occupies the soul. There is nothing overtly flashy about Ferenc Snétberger’s style of playing. Just an overriding feeling of deep musicality.

ECM seem to be in a rich vein of guitar albums at present with the recent sets by Ralph Towner and Bill Frisell, and this new album certainly deserves to be considered within the same esteemed company. A warm recording sound quality, as might be expected from the Rainbow studio in Oslo, permeates the pieces.

Tim Stenhouse

Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet ‘December Avenue’ (ECM) 4/5

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has made Manhattan his home since 2008 and rapidly established a new band. This, his twelfth album in total for the label, is recorded at La Buissonne studios and features new elements in the line-up with a lovely juxtaposition of styles. A strong and young Caribbean representation comes in the presence of Cuban pianist David Virelles and double bassist Reuben Rogers from the Virgin Islands. Jointly, they add a whole new dimension to the music, arguably the most identifiable presence since Bobo Stenson was in the band in the early 1990s, and Stańko clearly revels in their presence and youthful exuberance. Another youthful participant is drummer Gerald Cleaver is one of the hottest new talents and three members of the rhythm section contribute three originals, with the other nine composed solely by the leader.

The general tone is contemplative, and the reflective ballad, ‘Blue cloud’, is typical of the album as a whole. Some of the pieces are quite abstract in character, and this is exemplified on, ‘Conclusion’, a number that breaks down into a piano solo, before rebuilding itself as a quiet quartet piece. Stańko’s distinctive breathy tone is emphasized on the opener, ‘Cloud’, which is a wonderful calming and reposing way in which to start off the album. Cleaver displays a deft hand on percussion on the ballad, ‘The street of crocodiles’ and there is fine balladry work all round on, ‘Ballad for Bruno Schulz’.For a complete shift of tempo, ‘Burning hot’, has a more complex and even funkier tone to it with Stańko’s contribution having something of an early 1970s feel. The title track has a Monk-esque post-bop feel and is intended to convey the atmosphere of a busy Christmas period of anticipated preparation. Here trumpet and piano operate in tandem, Nothing revolutionary here, but long-time devotees will find much to admire nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Rob Luft ‘Riser’ CD/DIG (Edition) 5/5

Rob Luft is a London based, twenty three year old guitarist and composer and “Riser” is his debut album, released on the ever-impressive Edition label. It is an astonishing debut, especially given the fact that up until recently Luft saw himself primarily as a performer, rather than a composer. As he explains; “Riser marks the first occasion on which I’ve released a selection of my original songs. I have always considered myself as being primarily a performer and secondly a composer. I feel more at home standing on the kind of ‘Riser’ that can be found in London’s jazz clubs rather than sitting at home writing music”. The ten original tunes he has penned for this album well and truly prove that he is already an accomplished writer and performer, giving the listener the best of both worlds in abundance.

This album is so fresh and inventive, it has it all. Startling compositions that brim with a joyous air of inventiveness are performed with an ease of grace and skill by the musicians involved. Luft plays acoustic and electric guitars, and is joined by Joe Wright on tenor saxophone, Joe Webb on piano, Hammond organ and harmonium, Tom McCredie on bass, and Corrie Dick on drums. This acoustic quintet work brilliantly together with their youthful exuberance meeting head-on with a deft maturity, making for a rich and rewarding listening experience.

Luft’s background as a very young member of The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, along with his work with saxophonist Martin Speake, drummers Enzo Zirilli and Phelan Burgoyne, trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen, appear to have given the guitarist a wealth of varied experience in a relatively short space of time. His own music is multi-faceted, taking on board many musical influences and styles, ranging from contemporary jazz, Celtic folk, Afro-Caribbean, indie-pop and ambient dance grooves. That may sound like a heady mix, but it all gels together in such a fascinating and subtle way that it all just sounds as if it was always meant to be. His writing is extremely melodic and surprises and delights in equal measure.

Luft veers away from what you might expect a debut album to be. It’s very much a group recording, one where the guitarist is certainly the leader and driving force, but where he gives room for the other musicians to shine. And this is clearly down to the writing. These are proper tunes, carefully constructed with ideas to burn, written, I would imagine, with a very clear idea of what the composer wanted to achieve. This isn’t an album or a guitarist where the debutant invites comparisons in any context really… certainly not in your archetypal Jazz trio/quartet/quintet tradition anyway. Luft is very much charting his own course and seems pleasingly unafraid to do so. He has his own character and creates his own sound through his artistic vision, in the same way that one might think of how Pat Metheny or Kurt Rosenwinkel forged and developed their own style and sound. The resulting music is highly original, versatile, compelling and ultimately wonderfully satisfying.

“Night Songs” opens the album, with its infectious rhythms burning brightly. Darting exploratory phrases combine with striking melodies with an urgency that has this listener on the edge of his seat from word go. The combined interplay between sax and guitar, drums and bass, enriched with soaring Hammond organ are a feature throughout the recording, and this first track combines all of these elements perfectly. The title track “Riser” begins with lush acoustic guitar before the overall sound begins to resonate with a joyful, playful vivacity. Reminiscent in some ways of tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard in his early days, there’s an African-inflected vibrancy to this tune. “Beware” has a more ethereal feel to it, with its Celtic overtones and fluent guitar and sax interplay taking me back to the wonderful music of Tim Garland’s “Lammas”. The atmospheric “Slow Potion” is a beautiful piece of music. Folksy guitar combines with a crystal clear electric guitar, floating above a musical pallete of colour and texture. “Different Colours Of Silence” with its reflective Bill Frisell-like intro, develops into an energetic and life-affirming celebration. The thoughtful yet anthemic nature of “Dust Settles” reminds me of Brian Blade and The Fellowship. Uplifting and thought-provoking. “Shorty” benefits from a rhythmic fluency with its jazz, rock, funk grooves dripping out of my speakers as the whole band stretch out in irrepressible style. “Blue, White and Dreaming” is a haunting piece, notes cascading like a gentle waterfall, ripples of sound spreading outward from a pool of clear water. The penultimate track “St. Brian 1” provides yet more excellent interplay from this quintet, with an upbeat mood effervescent and decadent. And so we come to the final piece “We Are All Slowly Leaving”. If you’ve made it to this part of my review then hopefully you’re thinking by now that maybe this album’s well worth checking out. Well, it’s not very often as a reviewer or general avid music lover I’d say this, but the last track of this album is just so incredible that it makes “Riser” worth buying right now, just for this track, let alone everything else that preceded it. This is a stunning piece of music. It’s an adventurous journey, perhaps similar to how Pat Metheny or Weather Report might have taken us on a journey. The opening meditative acoustic guitar leads into a Coltrane-esque spiritual vibe, with the ensuing passage of sound embracing hypnotic grooves and a deep, atmospheric intensity. This is truly brilliant music, leaving me in no doubt whatsoever that Rob Luft could have so much to offer the world of jazz for many years to come.

“Riser” excels as an album in many ways. Brilliant writing, fabulous individual and collective performances, recorded par-excellence at Real World Studios. But perhaps the best recommendation I can give it, is that I just keep coming back for more. Each and every time I listen to it I feel enthused and invigorated. I love it.

The album is out now and will be officially launched at Kings Place in London on 23rd September 2017.

Mike Gates

Tom Browne ‘Brother, Brother. The GRP / Arista Anthology’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 3/5

Probably better know in the UK for his major pop chart hit in ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ than in his native country, Tom Browne is a frustrating musician in some respects. He started off in jazz-fusion at the very end of the 1970s, modified his style and scored individual single successes with a style some would describe as jazz-funk, and then got somewhat sidelined by the hip-hop revolution and changed his style again. Compare this with the two major trumpeter players of the 1980s, the resurgence of Miles Davis who came out of semi-retirement to record again with a new generation of musicians, and the young pretender to the throne in Wynton Marsalis, who after a promising early series of albums that included performing with the classic 1960s Miles Davis rhythm section, then turned his back on moving forward and instead pursued a revivalist career, harking back to the jazz tradition.

By the 1990s, Tom Browne’s sound had become somewhat dated and one wonders whether had he not scored the major hit in ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ (of which there are no less than three separate versions on this anthology, the original album version, a 1991 extended version and a more recent mixed version) as early on in his career, his music might have travelled a different path, with more satisfying results. Be that as it may, for devotees of the Tom Browne sound, there will be a good deal to delve into and the anthology is comprehensive in including harder to find 12″ versions.

The debut album, ‘Browne Sugar’, was a modest top fifty R & B album entry and, frankly, there is little among the five pieces selected that distinguishes him from any number of musicians from the era when jazz was well and truly in the doldrums with the onslaught of disco and rock. Chuck Mangione seems to have been a guiding influence here and the latter had some major commercial successes in the 1970s before disappearing altogether when acoustic jazz came back into vogue during the 1980s jazz revival. A reasonable mid-tempo stab at Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s goin’ on’ features collective vocals in the chorus, but not on par with the Harvey Mason cover.

A second album from 1980, ‘Love Approach’, would prove to be the major breakthrough for Tom Browne, with a number one R & B single in ‘Funkin’ For Jamaica’, which crossed over into the pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic. As a whole, the album contained nothing else quite as ‘sellable’ to a wider audience and only three tracks including the big hit are included here. The far stronger ‘Magic’ album was released in 1981 and this is by far the most balanced of all Browne’s recordings and also included a reasonable chart hit in ‘Thighs High (grip your hips and move)’, and betrayed a bass line that paid direct homage to the Funkadelic and Parliament P-funk school with ‘Not Just Knee Deep’, immediately springing to mind. Jazz-funk was very much flavour of the day in the UK at the beginning of the 1980s, with home-grown talent such as Incognito and Level 42, and veterans such as Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith enjoying a new surge of popularity. Another single, the title track, was a good deal poppier and the 12″ version is added with vocals by Cliff Branch Jr.

The next album, ‘Yours Truly’, was another well-balanced set, but frustratingly here, the three interpretations of John Coltrane standards, ‘Naima’, ‘Lazy Bird’, and, ‘Come For The Ride’ are all left off this compilation which is a mistake. Clearly Browne was rediscovering the roots of jazz and the listener should have been made aware of this, but you would never know based on the more commercial side of Tom Browne that is showcased here. All the more frustrating because this could easily have replaced throwaway disco-tinged numbers such as ‘Let’s Dance’, which is not the Nile Rodgers and David Bowie collaboration number.

A new single, the lengthy titled ‘Fungi Mama/Bebopafunkadiscolypso’ was a minor hit in the UK, but nothing on the scale of ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’. That said, it was an indication that Browne was open to different influences and here the combination of calypso, gospel vocal harmonies and P-funk with jazz was one that he could and, perhaps, should have explored in greater depth because no one else was fusing these genres so effectively. In a not dissimilar vein, ‘Bye Gones’ combined assorted stylistic elements and the extended remix is included here.

Thereafter, Tom Browne fell victim to major changes in the music industry and allowed himself to be led rather than pursuing his own distinctive trajectory and this was typified by ‘Rockin’ Radio’ and his carer petered out somewhat. Liner notes by writer Kevin Goines places Browne’s career in a wider historical framework and there are useful quotes from bassist Marcus Miller, keyboardist Lesette Wilson as well as by the trumpeter himself.

Do search out the BBR re-issued an expanded edition of ‘Magic’ when investigating further.

Tim Stenhouse