Category Archives: Album Reviews

Dave Brubeck ‘Ain’t misbehavin” 2CD (Union Square) 4/5

The death of pianist and composer Dave Brubeck in December 2012 at the age of ninety-two was a great loss to the world of jazz and to music in general. His towering contribution spans some seven decades and no anthology can ever claim to capture the entirety of such a staggeringly fruitful and creative career. That said, Union Square go beyond the obvious to provide a well thought out overview of the Columbia years, in studio and live formats, with the odd caveat. It was while at Columbia that the classic quartet including the fabulous alto saxophone playing of Paul Desmond, the surefire bass of Eugene Wright and the dynamic polyrhythms of Joe Morello reached full maturity and from an early example of the quartet in full bloom, ‘Brubeck Time’ in 1954, the standard ‘A fine romance’ and the beautiful Brubeck composed ballad ‘Audrey’ are taken. This was already a band in complete control. Of course the seminal ‘Time Out album could not be excluded and ‘Take Five’ is arguably the most instantly recognisable piece in jazz history alongside ‘So what’ and a few other worthy candidates. It should not be forgotten that at the time this most unusual of time signatures (in 5/4 time) was positively frowned upon by the head of Columbia jazz and was seen as something of a risk. The gamble paid off handsomely and ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ is almost as compelling and has been covered countless times with vocal version by Al Jarreau and French jazzer Claude Nougaro especially memorable. The follow up album ‘Time Further Out’ was no mere re-hashing of the first and ‘It’s a raggy waltz’ and ‘Unsquare dance’ both contained in this compilation are fine examples of Brubeck’s genius for finding instantly catchy melodies from then unorthodox time scores. Dave Brubeck loved reworking other famous pieces from film and the American songbook and on ‘Dave digs Disney’ scored another winner of an album with ‘Someday my prince will come’ and ‘Heigh-ho’ included here. Miles Davis would cover the former and it has become a staple of the jazz repertoire ever since. From the Columbia period, Brubeck’s most adventurous excursions were his jazz impressions of places the quartet visited on tour and some of these are found in the present anthology. From ‘Jazz Impressions of Eurasia’ the lengthy ‘Brandenburg Gate’ is another Brubeck classic and he has performed this on countless occasions including with a symphony orchestra. It is a pity that no numbers from ‘Jazz Impressions of Japan’, on a par with Horace Silver’s ‘Tokyo Blues’ are included with ‘Koto song’ being a particular favourite. Likewise ‘Jazz Impressions of USA’ featured ‘Summer song’ that would have been a worthy inclusion. Much under-estimated is Brubeck’s solo work and here a fine rendition of ‘The Duke’ and ‘In your own sweet way’ are illustrations of his essentially blues-inflected style. For those wishing to hear more of this, they should seek out ‘Brubeck plays Brubeck’. One could quibble about the lack of any interpretations from the quartet’s recording of ‘West Side Story’ or the omission of ‘Castilian Blues’, or even Brubeck’s take on the bossa nova, or his live recordings including a glorious tour of Mexico. There are numerous candidates for inclusion here and it would require an entire box set to do full justice and that is just for the decade or so that the quartet were together. A lengthy inner sleeve article from Mojo writer Chris Ingham places Brubeck in a wider historical context. Every house should have at least one or two Dave Brubeck albums and if you are searching to find where to start off, this is as good a place as any and at a bargain price too. Tim Stenhouse

Pat Metheny ‘Orchestrion Project’ 2CD (Nonesuch) 5/5

If the studio version of Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion project whetted the appetite for more, then the live version from the 2010 tour is even better and includes not only all five compositions off the original album, but equally some tasty reworkings of his vast back catalogue and a couple of improvisations that are a sheer delight. The lovely bright feel to ‘Spirit of the air’ typifies the album as a whole and this is a beautifully constructed piece with trademark Metheny licks that hark back to the Wes Montgomery era. With all the ambience of a full Pat Metheny Group recording, ‘Expansion’ features some gorgeous layered textures that features piano, vibes and percussion and this is an exquisite flowing piece with Metheny pushing himself to the limit on this driving number. Both improvisatory pieces impress with number two a simple rhythm over which the guitarist embellishes the sound with increasingly complex layers. Of the classic compositions, ‘Sueño con Mexico’ which originally featured on the 1970s ECM album ‘New Chutauqua’, maintains the repetitive riff of the orginal while adding some Methenyesque improvisations on top. Quite simply one of his most beautiful of all pieces and that acoustic feel that so distinguished the orginal is rightly retained to stunning effect. The evocative and melodic number ‘Antonia’ displays the full range of instrumentation that Metheny has programmed and these include marimba, piano and what sounds like a melodica. Metheny’s storytelling quality is exploited to the full on ‘Tell her you saw me’ which like other numbers from his repertoire has a film soundtrack atmosphere to it. The proof of the pudding here is that at no point does one ever have the feeling that the music is being generated than anything other than a supremely creative human being and this is precisely what Pat Metheny and still managing to remain on the very top of his game.

Tim Stenhouse

Azymuth ‘Light As A Feather’ LP/CD/Digital (Far Out) 5/5

azymuthRewind in time to the late nineteen-seventies and an unlikely left-field group from Brazil stormed both the dance and pop charts with the anthemic instrumental winner in ‘Jazz Carnival’. The album from which that classic piece emanated has now been re-issued in its full glory augmented by some tasty remixes and a full original mix of the aforementioned track. Revisited some thirty years later, ‘Light as a feather’ now sounds way ahead of its time since it contained other pieces that were tailor made for lovers of quality Brazilian grooves. Repetitive, heavy basslines, an array of keyboard wizardry and a plethora of percussive sounds characterised the Azmuth which was orchestral in nature and yet only three players made up the group. Another composition that was tailor made for dancefloor action is ‘Avenida das Mangueiras’ which not only pre-dates house music by several years, but also sounds like a tune that Gotan Project could have been influenced by. This sprawling track develops and morphs into new entities as it goes along for some nine minutes. The title track with uptempo groove bassline, vocoder and handclaps was an ideal vehicle for leader, the late José Roberto Bertrami, to shine on electric keyboards and is an album highlight. One could arguably describe the track as a halfway house between Chick Corea and Light as Feather (surely an early influence upon Azymuth) and the Headhunters. For some subtle playing, look no furrther than the atmospheric, ‘Fly over the horizon’ which has been one of this writer’s favourite b-sides to the 12″ version of ‘Jazz Carnival’, and uses the sparsest of accompaniments and simplest of keyboard riffs over layers of synths from Bertrami. In a more experimental vein, ‘Amazonia’ was possibly Azymuth’s attempt at cracking the Kraftwerk danceable sound, but still in a thoroughly Brazilian fashion. Overall the group sound is unmistakably Azymuth even if they took on board diverse influences including Weather Report and others, and while immediately Brazilian to the ear, it was not quite like anything else before. This is no less than a Brazilian fusion masterpiece, right up there with George Duke’s ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ and Tania Maria’s ‘Come with me’. Essential listening. Tim Stenhouse

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba ‘Jama Ko’ (Out Here) 4/5

Amidst the social unrest of recent months in Mali comes a wonderful acoustic performance from one of the instrumental masters of West African music. Virtuoso musician Bassekou Kouyaté performs on the ngoni, a type of four-stringed lute from a tradition that dates back several generations. On his latest offering Kouyaté retains the warm, immediate sound of old, but this time round expands it with some other subtle stylistic innovations, best of which is the glorious ‘Ne me fatigue pas (Don’t tire me out)’ that has an intoxicating Afro-beat rhythm, complete with talking drum and shuffling beat. Female lead vocals are once again handled by Basskou’s wife Amy Sacko and she combines beautifully with background singers on the title track, but this is actually far more a family affair than you might think for now sons Madou and Moustafa are part of the band as well as host of guest singers who turn up throughout this recording. Fellow maestro Kasse Mady Diabaté takes control of lead vocals on ‘Sinaly’ which is the catchiest of melodies and at an especially rapid rhythm from the outest. A new voice to some will be Zoumana Tereta, who featured on the previous album, and here performs on three songs including ‘Dangou’. Blues giant Taj Mahal even makes an appearance on ‘Poye Z’. This is a fine album that will remain long on the ear and in the soul. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba will be performing at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow during late January and then at selected venue during a brief European tour. Thereafter they hope to be performing mid-February in the Malian desert as part of an evening for peace and national unity. With the healing quality of the music contained within, their own cultural contribution to reuniting the Malian people will be greatly appreciated. Tim Stenhouse

José James ‘No Beginning No End’ (Blue Note) 4/5

To some José James will be best known for his cool, laid back jazzy vocal delivery on the duet album with Jef Neve ‘For all we know’ a few years back. Subsequently he has performed live with no less than the McCoy Tyner trio. However, this new recording for Blue Note finds him changing direction for a more contemporary sound that straddles nu-soul grooves and jazz-infused climbs and this is in fact the third solo album following on from ‘The dreamer’ in 2008 and ‘Black magic’ in 2010. Aiding him in his quest is fellow label mate keyboardist Robert Glasper who co-produces (overall production duties going to band bassist Pino Palladino who does a fine job) as well as performing. Indeed it is the former who supplies the classic Minnie Ripperton keyboard riff of ‘Feel my love’ on a tribute to New York’s most prestigious jazz club in Greenwich Village, ‘Vanguard’ and James excels when accompanied by an intimate setting. The opener, ‘It’s all over (your body)’ is Erykah Badu territory and the pared down instrumentation plus trumpet works well as does ‘Make it right’ which repeats the formula complete with Stevie Wonderesque keyboards. On the gentle ballad ‘Come to my door’ (originally written for his debut album, but surprisingly left off), José James has the opportunity to show off his deeply melodic voice with the guitar riff providing an ideal counterfoil. Stretching out into jazz and even gospel terrain, the simple duet with acoustic piano on ‘Do you feel’ is a side of James’ repertoire this writer would like to hear more of. The thirty-three year old singer-songwriter is just hitting the creative peak in his career and with such a sympathetic setting, is heard to his best advantage. A much anticipated UK tour will follow in March/April.

Tim Stenhouse

Gilad Atzmon and Orient House Ensemble ‘Songs of the Metropolis’ (World Village) 4/5

For this latest album, the seventh recorded with the Orient House Ensemble, saxophonist Gilad Atzmon has chosen to devote the album to a virtual all original set of compositions depicting in musical form some of the key cities in the world, with a more general fresco of Italy and a refreshing and, at over ten minutes, a towering reworking of the English folk tune ‘Scarborough Fair’. The result is a beautifully balanced recording that covers the myriad flavours of global metropolises and, after working together for some thirteen years, the cohesive nature of the ensemble sound is beyond dispute. Thus there is a plaintive perfomance from Gilad on alto devoted to ‘Buenos Aires’ which has all the feel of a late night session on the Avenida Corrientes after browsing the second hand bookstores while in stark contrast all the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple is conveyed in ‘New York’ with Gilad here on soprano and the piece is full of energy and life. Paris, needless to say, is the capital of romance, and the old-time approach of the band here fits the mood to absolute perfection with a delicate piano solo from Frank Harrison and Gilad operating on clarinet. For all the wonderful attempt to successfully capture the essence of the numerous cities, the album’s crowning glory remains ‘Scarborough Fair’; which is an unusual vehicle for a jazz musician (though no less than Paul Desmond devoted an entire album towards revisiting the Simon and Garfunkel classic in a jazz idiom). Gilad Atzmon and the band will be embarking on an extensive UK tour that takes in no less than forty dates so there will be ample opportunity to hear them live. Tim Stenhouse

Neil Ardley ‘A symphony of Amaranths’ (Dusk Fire) 5/5

Symphony of Armaranths
British compose and arranger Neil Ardley was one of the UK’s most creative jazz musicians with a panoramic vision of music more generally and the re-issue of this classic recording is a fitting tribute to the musician who passed away almost exactly nine years ago 2004 aged sixty-seven. As part of the Universal Impressed series Ardley’s ‘Greek variations’ gave a younger audience the opportunity to hear Ardley’s vision and it is to be hoped that at some stage a substantial anthology of Ardley’s work (‘Kaleidoscope of Rainbows’ from 1976 was recently re-issued on Vocalion) will be made available since his contribution to the British jazz scene has been underrated. What is striking about ‘A symphony of Amaranaths’ is that in 1971 when it was originally released, it was the first album ever to be funded by an Arts Council grant. Among Neil Ardley’s influences, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans were primordial and go someway to explaining his orchestral approach to music. Impressionistic Western classical composer such as Debussy and Ravel almost certainly played their part also in crafting Ardley’s . While this is an album that needs to be heard in its entirety, perhaps as a series of suites like Holst’s ‘The planets’, the most popular piece, ‘Will you walk a little faster’ with vocals supplied by Norma Winstone no less, featured on the second volume of the ‘Impressed’ compilation devoted to modern British jazz. A steallr ilne up of musicians included Stabt Tracey and Ardley himself on piano, trumpeter Harry Beckett and saxophonists Dick Heckstall-Smith and Barbra Thompson among others with the left-field cult figure of Ivor Cutler (a John Peel session fave). contributing his only highly distinctive narration.
Extensive notes from jazz writer and actual album musician Dave Gelly enhance the reader’s and listener’s appreciation of the music and original photos and press cuttings of the era bring the forty something year old recording back to life, not that the music itself had lost any of its vitality. Neil Ardley not only made music his sole creative focus. He also wrote a series of successful books in science and technology aimed at children and was prolific, producing over a hundred titles. However, as far as the music is concerned, after an eight year gap since ‘Greek Variations’ first became available on CD, the release of ‘A symphony of Amaranths’ album complete with digipak gatefold sleeve is one of the most welcome re-issues of recent years. Also available on vinyl. Tim Stenhouse

Walter Norris and Leszek Mozdzer ‘The last set -LIve at the A-Trane’ (ACT) 4/5

This is a live performance with historical significance for it not only represents the sole recorded statement between American pianist Walter Norris and fellow Polish keyboardist Leszek Mozdzer, but is probably the very last recording that Norris performed on before passing away in 2011 and he did so virtually unnoticed. This is surprising when one considers that Walter Norris at the age of twenty-seven played on the early key album by Ornette Coleman, ‘Something else’, and, in addition, performed with musicians of the stature of Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. However, similar to another pianist Denny Zeitlin who pursued a parallel career in psychiatry, Norris chose to opt out of the recording circuit to instead focus on being musical director of the Playboy club in New York. He did so between 1963 and 1970 when he then moved permanently during the early 1970s to Berlin, performing with the SFB Radio Orchestra and then landing the post of professor of jazz piano at the Berlin Music University while at the same time working as a composer and musicologist. On this live outing from November 2008 at the Berlin jazz venue ‘A-Trane, Norris’s musical influences are wide ranging and include both Bud Powell and Art Tatum among jazz musicians and Bartok and Debussy among western classical ones. This classical influence has an oriental flavour on one of Norris’s own compositions, ‘Spider’s web’ which is a lovely flowing piece, while the more expansive ‘From another star’ has shades of McCoy Tyner. The duet pieces with Mozdzer recall the memorable duets between Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock and all but one of the compositions are originals, evenly divided between Mozder (three) and Norris (four), the one standard being a take on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Nefertiti’. The duo excel on the free-flowing ‘Postscript blues’ and on the more introverted piece ‘Reflective’. Walter Norris was anything but a prolific recorder of albums and his debut as a leader dates from 1978 along with two duet albums for Enja with George Mraz again during the 1970s. Walter Norris, who was resident in Berlin at the time, died on 29 October 2011 aged seventy-nine. Tim Stenhouse

Johnny Alf ‘Johnny Alf’ (Mr Bongo) 4/5

Singer-pianist Johnny Alf is one of the unrecognised greats of Brazilian music and he was a seminal influence on the music of Tania Maria. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1929, Alf grew up in an era when the Great American songbook was all the rage in Brazil and his own influences spanned the music of George Gershwin and Cole Porter, and vocally Frank Sinatra. Alf developed a unique voice that could take on board the jazziest of swing as well as ballads, and for the former incorporated his own brand of scatting. He scored early successses in 1961 with the samba-cançao ‘Ilu-sao à toa’ and in 1964 with ‘Seu Chopin’. Johnny Alf performed regularly at Bottle’s Bar in Rio, a key venue during the 1960s, where the likes of the Tamba Trio, Sergio Mendes and Luis Carlos Vinhas all played.

The album re-issued here, the first ever in the UK to this writer’s knowledge, dates from 1965 and is a well balanced set of uptempo jazz-infused samba, mid-tempo bossa and some laid back songs with classy orchestrations. Alf perfected the art of marrying piano and jazzy inflections into his repertoire and they are heard on the all too brief ‘Samba sem balançao (‘Unbalanced samba’)’ and on the hard boss accompaniment to ‘Bossa so’. This said, Alf probably sounded best of all in the mid-tempo range as on the jazzy swinger that is ‘Eu so sei’, or on ‘Ceu alegre’ with fine brass and the orchestrated ‘Gismi’. Of the ballads, the gentle guitar-led ‘Tudo que é preciso’, with lovely use of reeds, impresses as does ‘Imenso de amor’ with those oh so distinctive Brazilian drum licks. As a bonus, one of Johnny Alf’s best loved songs, ‘Rapaz de bem’ from 1967 is included. At some point an anthology of his work is in order. For the time being this makes a lovely discovery as part of the bigger jigsaw that is Brazilian popular music. Tim Stenhouse

Salvador Trio ‘ Salvador Trio’ (Mr Bongo) 4/5 Salvador Trio ‘Tristeza’ (Mr Bongo) 3/5

Pianist Dom Salvador was born in 1938 in Rio Claro, Sao Paulo and started his professional career at the tender age of twelve, playing piano in a local orchestra. From 1961 onwards he became known as a pianist, especially at a club in his native city called Lancaster which turned out to be a meeting place for jazz musicians. Bossa nova was starting to happen in Rio, however, and Salvador moved on to that city and in particular to the merging club scene in the area of Copacabana such as the club Beco das Garrafas. Simultaneously, he accompanied some of the emerging stars of Brazilian music on television such as Jorge Ben, Quarteto em Cy and Elis Regina. By 1965 Dom Salvador had formed the Rio 65 Trio with Edison Machado on drums and Sergio Barroso on bass. The two re-issues from Mr Bongo cover this mid-1960s period when Dom Salvador had just formed his own trio, though each album has different personnel. The first of these, ‘Salvador Trio’ from 1965, is the stronger and features Edson Lobo (distinct from singer-songwriter and guitarist Edu Lobo) on bass and Victor Manga on drums. A whole host of uptempo numbers make this a treat from start to finish. Highly melodic and a fine example of the hard bossa style is ‘Santarem’ while the influence of Horace Silver is felt on ‘Tematrio’ and this should not be too much of a surprise since Silver himself was in turn influenced by listening to samba music, had Portugese language and Cape Verdean roots via his father (to whom the classic ‘Song for my father’ was devoted) and enjoyed a close relationship with none other than Sergio Mendes who invited Silver to stay in Rio. Brazilian musicians have long revered Silver’s music and covered his compositions. For ultra-rapid bossa, look no further than the breakneck speed of ‘Miscelânia’ and the drumming vehicle that is appropriately title ‘Pro bateria’. For some welcome variation, there is a slow-paced cover of Edu Lob’s ‘Arrastao’ and the waltz-like ‘Das rosas’ whereas the understated bossa ‘Promessa’ has a nursery rhyme feel in its theme.

Dom Salvador changed attack on the following album. ‘Tristeza’ and this is a slightly milder affair, though still not without its own merits. There is some jazzy improvising on ‘Fred’s ahead’ with again a Horace Silver influence discernable under the surface while a percussive interpretation of the title track, which has become a jazz standard for vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan, is taken at a quicker tempo than per usual. A Joao Donato piece ‘Indio perdido’ is transfomed into a fine bossa and Dom Salvador expands his instrumental range, performing on the organ-led smoocher ‘Eu compro essa mulher’. For some more introverted piano trio playing, ‘Um sonho azul’ (‘Blue sound’) fits the bill while the famous bossa vocal song ‘Sonho de carnaval’ here oscillates between slow and fast pace. During 1966 Dom Salvador toured Europe with Edu Lobo, Silvia Teles and Rosinha Da Valença, recording with the latter the unforgettable hard bossa ‘Meu fraco é café’ which found its way onto the MPS compilation of Brazilian music re-issued on CD as ‘Jazz meets Brazil’. By 1970 Salvador had changed labels to CBS for a single album plus reeds that has become a collectors item and has yet to be re-issued in the UK on CD, though was briefly available on limited edition vinyl.

Tim Stenhouse