Category Archives: Album Reviews

Omara Portunondo ‘Gracias’ (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) 3/5

One of the off shoots of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, Omara Portuondo has in fact led a parallel career since the 1970s and recorded regularly in Cuba before and after the worldwide success of Cuban traditional music. This latest album sees Omara return to the classic Cuban repertoire with a number of guest musicians and singers. Portuondo had tended to shift between styles from bolero to feelin’ and has tended to stick to a more laid back from of Cuban music. Melancholic ballads sung in Spanish are acceptable up to a point provided there is variety elsewhere to compensate. On this album Portuondo invites a number of guest ranging from Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes, one of the pioneers of the nueva trova sound, to Camerounian singer and guitarist Richard Bona. By far the catchiest numbers on this album are the uptempo ones, particularly the pared down reworking of a Brazilian classic, ‘’O que sera’ in collaboration with its original composer and singer Chico Buarque. A reworking of Silvio Rodriguez’s ‘Rabo de Nube’ remains faithful to the original and the most impressive ballad is ‘Lo que me queda por vivir’.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Powerhouse Selector’s Choice (George Phang)’ Vol 1 & 2 Separate 2CDs (VP) 3/5

Amid the mid-1980s digital revolution a number of new producers emerged and of these George Phang was among the most consistent. The first two volumes on offer testify to the calibre of singers and DJs who recorded under Phang. Volume one features dancehall favourite Barrington Levy with two cuts while Frankie Paul who was a pivotal figure in the digital era offers another brace of tasty numbers. Other younger singers would emerge from the mid-1908s onwards and of these Little John has stood the test of time extremely well. While DJs were less prominent from 1984, Phang still believed in their prowess and consequently Josie Wales and Yellowman are both featured here. Volume two adds quality singers such as Frankie Jones, Michael Palmer and Admiral Bailey. George Phang stuck to a similar format with his production chores and it certainly paid dividends in the dancehall. Another two volumes will follow. Tim Stenhouse

Beres Hammond ‘A moment in time’ (VP) 3/5

Following on from the catchy 45 ‘I feel good’ comes the album from Beres which is actually the first he has recorded in some four years. Hammond has always prided himself on his soulful vocals and indeed cut an album early in his career that is now considered a modern masterpiece with soul fans. During the mid-late 1970s he was an integral member of the Zap Pow band that cut some classic roots songs, but Beres has long since departed from that genre. Here he opts for a pop-reggae approach possibly aimed at the US market and this is a qualified success. Key songs include the theme driven ‘Dark clouds’ and ‘Talking Africa’ while his best vocal performance is reserved for ‘I’ll live again’. Sometimes the songs are just a little too sugar sweet for mainstream reggae fans and by offering fewer songs Hammond would have made the album more cohesive as a whole. Nonetheless Beres Hammond’s vocal credentials are impeccable and for long-term fans there will be something to cater for their tastes. Tim Stenhouse

Jorge Ben ‘Jorge Ben (1969) (Dusty Groove) 4/5

In this the fiftieth anniversary of the advent of bossa nova, it is, perhaps, pertinent to reflect on what followed directly afterwards. Bossa nova took elements of US jazz and refined (some would say watered down)traditional samba. Younger artists such as Jorge Ben had taken on board this fusion in earlier works, most notably ‘Mas que nada’, but were eager to explore and combine new American rhythms and associated closely with soul (and later funk). It is in this light that one should view ‘Jorge Ben (1969)’ as an album that marks the transition from the imitation of a prevailing musical trend (bossa nova)to the work of an innovator who would pioneeer what became known as samba rock and one that has long been a rare collectors item. By 1969 Ben had gained notoriety as a composer with ‘Cade Tereza’ featuring on a traditional samba album by ‘Os Originais do Samba’ (released on CD in recent years in Brazil)and with ‘Pais Tropical’ which became a hit for Wilson Simonal.

For ‘Jorge Ben’ the singer-songwriter enlisted the backing of Trio Macoto and this would be the first of a series of recordings together during which time Ben found his distinctive sound. Arrangements came courtesy of Rogerio Duprat, synonymous with the tropicalia movement, but here never over-intrusive and allowing plenty of space for Ben and Trio Macoto to stretch out. Evidently Ben had come under the influence of the then emerging black consciousness movement in the States and this is reflected in the ‘black is beautiful’ message behind ‘Criola’ and in the lyrics to ‘Take it easy my Brother Charles’, both instantly catchy songs. Perhaps the album’s highlight, however, is the stirring ‘Bebete Vaobora’ with solo guitar intro, impassioned vocals and sparse brass combining to wonderful effect. The signature tunes ‘Pais Tropical’ and Cade Tereza’ are faithfully reproduced whereas ‘Que Pena’ differs from the later 1980s hit duet between Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso in that it is taken a decidedly quicker tempo. For this re-issue excellent graphics with the original (and legendary)front and back cover are supplemented by detailed notes on the recording. By the time ‘Jorge Ben’ had been released, Ben had left his early works such as ‘Mas que nada’ behind and was intent on creating something closer to the roots of samba, but that at the same time would appeal to a younger audience. He would fully achieve his goal five years or so later with the release of ‘Africa, Brasil’. Tim Stenhouse

Herbie Hancock ‘Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock’ (Verve) 3/5

From early beginnings at the Blue Note label, through the apprenticeship in Miles Davis’ seminal groups, and on to electronic wizzardry as part of the Headhunters, Herbie Hancock has condensed a great deal of diverse and vituosic music into a long career spanning five decades. While a single CD of his work can never truly claim to be comprehensive (even a double CD would only barely touch the surface), this CD does provide an overview to the multiple facets of his musical talents. The classic Blue Note sides are represented here by two pieces that illustrate the impressionistic lyricism of his compositions with ‘Maiden Voyage’ betraying the influence of Debussy and Ravel, while ‘Cantaloupe Island’ with its hypnotic repetition has become one of Hancock’s most sampled pieces and is the choice cut from ‘Empyrean Isles’. Chronologically the compilation skips almost a decade, taking in ‘Wiggle Waggle’, before focusing on the jazz-fusion sound of ‘Chameleon’ when Hancock was in his element exploring the outer limits of the synthesizer within improvised music.
The 1980s witnessed a two-pronged approach from the pianist. One the one hand he acted and performed in a retrospecitve of his earlier period in the film ‘Around Midnight’ and from this ‘Chan’s Song’, written by Jean Hancock, is featured. On the other Hancock fused hip-hop rhythms with jazz on ‘Rock it’ which became a sizeable chart hit and is included here with a live version. Of the last fifteen years ‘The New Standard’ is strangely omitted as is the duet album with Wayne Shorter. However, the recent tribute to Joni Mitchell is represented by two versions of ‘River’, the former a duet with Corinne Bailey Rae, and the second a live rendition including the vocals of the composer herself. Herbie Hancock has always strived to avoid being pigeon-holed into playing one type of music, incurring the wrath of so-called jazz purists in the process, and has featured on countless soul/pop albums including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. Wonder repays the compliment with vocals on ‘St. Louis Blues’. The imminent UK tour promises to be a much anticipated revisiting of the pianist’s vast and eclectic repertoire. Tim Stenhouse

Dave Holland ‘Pass it On’ (Emarcy/Universal) 4/5

With a new line up comes a new lease of life and the recent live concert on Radio 3 augured well for the latest formation and new album of Dave Holland’s group. That this more than lives up to its promise is due in no small part to the fact that the line up rates as one of Holland’s finest ever. In particular it was a stroke of genius to have engaged the considerable piano skills of Mulgrew Miller in the band, thus breaking with the tradition of a vibes player that has endured for a decade or so. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin adds new vigour while Antonio Hart cements his reputation as one of the finest alto saxopohone players around. Factor in the non-negligeable talents of drummer Eric Harland and Robin Eubanks on trombone and you have both a formidable and cohesive formation in place.

What really impresses on this release, however, is the sheer variety of styles that are covered. Extremely catchy and accessible is the groove-laden ‘Modern Times’ that bears the influence of Horace Silver in his Blue Note prime and this will surely garner radio airtime. Likewise the melodic title track, a tribute to drummer Ed Blackwell, ends the album on a high note. In between these two pieces there is the cool jazz of ‘Lazy Snake’, the Latin tinge that permeates ‘Sum of all parts’ on which the band effortlessly shifts from samba to hard bop, and the blues-inflected ballad ‘Processional’ that infuses warmth. By far the longest piece on the album, ‘Rivers Run’ has a decidedly free-jazz feel and is a tribute to saxophonist/flautist Sam Rivers. Holland has reinterpreted several compositions on this album that have been recorded previously by earlier formations and it is the extent to which these tunes have been reinvigorated in the new line up that makes this such an enjoyable experience. Expect this latest offering from Dave Holland to figure prominently among the end of year best jazz albums. Indeed in the fullness of time it may just be hailed as a contemporary classic. For the time being, though, it is a winner of an album from start to finish. Tim Stenhouse

Stan Getz ‘Sweet Rain’ (Verve) 5/5

For almost a decade Stan Getz became associated internationally with the bossa nova sound. However, in 1966 he returned to a more straight ahead sound when recording a live album with Roy Haynes and Gary Burton in 1966. The following year he recorded his first studio set and this resulted in arguably his finest album of the entire decade contained herein. A new creme de la creme line up included a young Chick Corea on piano, the great Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate filling in for an ill Roy Haynes on drums. Three of the five compositions were new with two from the pen of Corea (’Litha’ and ‘Windows’) and one from Mike Gibbs (’Sweet Rain’). Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder with the production genius of Creed Taylor, this is an outstanding outing that covers all of Getz’s musical moods. Melodicism is the name of the game on ‘Windows’ with Corea stretching out while on Dizzy Gillespie ‘Con Alma’ the piece is transformed into a waltz-like reverie. On ‘O Grande Amor’, a Vincius de Moraes and Tom Jobim song, Getz revisits briefly the bossa nova territory and pays tribute to the two writers who typified everything that was best in contemporary Brazilian music. Throughout Getz’s tenor playing is plaintive and warm, caressing the melody. By the time this album had been recorded, Getz was off on another tangent, this time exploring a harder north-eastern Brazilian sound live with Baden Powell.

Tim Stenhouse

Stan Getz 5 CD ‘The Bossa Nova Years’ 5/5 (Verve)

With the fiftieth anniversary of the advent of the bossa nova sound we have a timely reminder in this five CD box set of Stan Getz’s contribution to the genre. Bossa nova mania hit the US in the mid-1960s as both and musical and dance craze, and every conceivable artist from pop to easy listening music recorded their fare share. Within the jazz sphere the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and the Paul Winter sextet were more successful than most. However, the unquestioned master interpreter was Stan Getz. Over a series of five albums he explored its various forms and in so doing showcased some of the new and classic composers of Brazilian music, notably the creative genius that was Antonio Carlos (more affectionately known by Brazilians as Tom)Jobim. Bossa nova and Getz were made for each other and the music fitted like a glove into his expanding repertoire. When re-assessing the albums as a whole, the vastness of the enterprise readily becomes apparent. Getz recorded all five LPs within a two year period before setting off on lengthy tours round the globe to popularise the sound. Of the earliest recordings, the debut, ‘Jazz samba’ has a special place. From the opening bass solo on ‘Desafinado’, it heralded a new wave of sound that would have an unprecedented impact on music.

Thereafter Brazilian music would be primarily associated with this fusion of jazz and samba. The collaboration with guitarist Charlie Byrd was very much a vision of bossa nova from an American perspective, but one in which the reflective musings of Byrd and the contemplative wailing of Getz were visionary on pieces such as ‘Samba Triste’. In contrast the big-band outing ‘Big Band Bossa Nova’ served as an introduction to the orchestral skills of Gary McFarland who delivered here on his early promise and included the additional talent of guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Hank Jones. Getz and Mc Farland were possibly inspired by the Gil Evans and Miles Davis collaboration on ‘Sketches of Spain’ and Getz is on top form on the original bossa tune ‘Chega de Saudade’ and the delightful ‘Bim Bom’. For sheer unadulterated pleasure, however, the album recorded with guitarist Laurindo Almeida, comprsing lesser known tunes is a revelation to this writer’s ears. This was a magical collaboration helped in no small measure by the outstanding Brazilian percussionist including Edison Machado on drums. This sound might now be termed hard bossa and it was ironic that it took a native of Sao Paulo (Rio being the home of bossa nova) to unlock the genie from the bottle. Tracks such as ‘Outra Vez’ and ‘Maracatu-too’ are testimony to this superlative duo in action. Of the reamining two albums, ‘Getz/Gilberto’ is of course a well loved old chestnut and one that includes the vocal genius that is Joao Gilberto. Nobody typified the voice of bossa nova better. Curiously, though, it was his then wife Astrid who scored a worldwide hit with Getz on the unforgettable ‘Girl from Ipanema’. A final album, following up on the earlier success of the Getz/Byrd album, ‘Jazz Samba Encore’, this time with the collaboration of guitarist Luis Bonfa, met with more critical acclaim. The 5 CD set is attractively packaged in case with separate digipak gatefold sleeves, original notes and graphics. No extra tracks. Tim Stenhouse

Adriano Adewale Group – Sementes (Segue Records SEGCD0801)

Adriano Adewale might have been born into one of the world’s biggest urban sprawls (Sao Paulo) but his music is deeply rooted in a rural Africa and its offshoots around the world. The name of this debut album “Sementes” (meaning ‘seeds’ in Portuguese) is both apt and evocative. For me, the overwhelming feeling is a sense of organicness (the album feels like it has been nurtured rather than composed) and also a very natural acoustic quality to the recording. You can feel the hands of the musicians, not the producer or the technology. Nothing feels forced or out of place. It really is a beautiful, sumptuous, sound. The album’s artwork by Claire Curtis really sets the scene too using woodcuts and subtle natural painting. When Adriano selects his instruments for each track it’s with the surety of knowing the exact sound required. In our minds the interplay of wood, skin and seeds paints rippling landscapes of sound; I hear (or is it see?) stands of dry grass, bubbling rills, clattering rushes, dusty plains broken by smooth hills, distant forests washing up against purple-tinged mountains, diamond -crusted indigo skies, thick water-storing trees, cattle, villages, birds, rocks, paths that disappear into hollows, bleached bones, vibrant green shoots in red soil, men, women and children, generations of peoples, endless stories rooted in the earth.

Add the unmistakeable springs of musical water that burst forth from Kadialy Kouyate’s kora, Marcelo Andrade’s sometimes playful, sometimes mournful flute and saxes and Nathan Thomson’s fluid double bass and all these stories come to life. This is music that each can listen to and take something personal away from: each person their own landscapes, their own stories. This is just my overriding experience of this album. However, there are other voices here too. Virtuoso guitarist Antonio Forcione adds his talent to one track and the album’s producer, Gilad Atzmon adds his accordion and clarinet to various tracks also.

Adriano says that the album is a reflection of his surroundings, his experience of living in London, his childhood in Brazil, his friends. However, it also addresses his wider environmental concerns, issues of faith and also African-Brazilian and European identity. It is well known that after spending time in Africa he rid himself of his previous surname – Pinto – and decided to choose for himself something that better reflected who he was, who he wanted to be and so the two new surnames: Adewale (from the Yoruba culture of West Africa) and Ituana (from the indigenous language and cultures of Tupi-Guarani in central South America). Without interviewing him personally, I can’t tell how he approached each individual track, what the tunes mean to him personally, what his story is, but I can try and give my impressions; ultimately you must come up with your own.

The album starts off with the sprightly Sempre, featuring Adewale’s smile-inducing vocals (I’ve no idea what he’s saying, but it sounds uplifting!). Throughout the track (and the whole album) his drumming never dominates the whole sound of the band, even when he’s crashing around a whole variety of percussion instruments. It’s always the band and the album that come first, never “Look at me: I’m a Drummer”. Sign of a good bandleader in my book. Next is the serene, timeless Domingo featuring Kadialy Kouyate’s stately kora playing and, later, Marcelo Andrade’s flute (loving the subtle accordion and clarinet lines from Gilad Atzmon also) over an understated percussive figure and repeated bassline. Quite hypnotic.

Comboio has a more obvious Brazilian start with its bouncing surdo 2/4 beat, busy tarol (a rattly Brazilian snare drum) and martial reeds but then descends into something darker, Atzmon’s clarinet being particularly unsettling; maybe that’s city-life, I don’t know, but it ain’t for me! Family Album starts with the sound of Adewale calling out, as if to family, friends – nobody seems to answer. Has everyone gone away? Slowly kalimba, kora and flute start to speak into the space as other voices, whispers, ghosts maybe, appear from the thin air. Listen, make up your own story…
Assim is another of those musical soundscapes that makes you want to lay back in the shimmering heat, close your eyes and drift off down the river created by the crystalline kora and thick, pulsating double bass, whilst Adriano’s udu (clay drum) nudges at you like a huge fish and the zephyrs of Gilad’s clarinet spin you in circles, round and round, down the river, toward the horizon…

Passa Por Mim cracks along, driven by the peculiarly dry quality of the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine played on the skin) over a jaunty flute melody. Telefone, in my ears, is a midnight jazz-tango – if not in rhythm, then in emotional tone; with Andrade’s soprano sax rising up into the air like a voice lifted in both love and lament – gorgeous! Beautifully underpinned by the rest of the band and with extra accompaniment from Atzmon’s lush, romantic accordion, as close as the warm, dark, pressing night. Encanto – has one of the catchiest melodies on the album, alto sax and clarinet uniting as one over Thomson’s throbbing bass-line and Kouyate’s kora. Adriano’s ‘old boss’, Antonio Forcione, contributes some wonderful guitar solos on this track which makes you wonder what they’d come up with if the guitar and kora were allowed to spar directly against each other. Sementes closes with a short track called Together, featuring Adewale on pipes (I think they are long bamboo tubes hit at the ends with a flat paddle to produce a percussive but quite eery sound almost like a giant guitar being plucked) and also Kadialy Kouyate’s vocalisations over soprano sax and Maasai flute from Thomson.

I’ve mentioned Thomson’s double bass which infuses the album with a warmth and presence similar to that found in the work of someone like Danny Thompson. But if you read the credits carefully you’ll notice that he also contributes standard flute, an alto flute and a Maasai Flute to the album, as well as Kalimba (thumb piano). At first the album felt ‘friendly’ to my ears, but didn’t leap out; with each fresh listening, I hear more and more layers and see more details in the landscape. Fresh horizons open up, I elaborate my stories. It gets deeper, richer. My recommendation? Buy the album, stay at home, go on a journey. Glyn Phillips

Putumayo presents Acoustic Arabia Put 282-2

Great mix of artists on this collection with Jamal Porto and Rasha from the Sudan, Les Orientales, Souad Massi and Maurice El Medioni from Algeria, Zaman from Palestine, Zein Al-Jundi from Syria, Charbel Rouhana and Hani Siblini from Lebanon, Mousto Largo from Morocco and Tiris from Western Sahara. Superb traditional music, highly recommended. Graham Radley