Category Archives: Album Reviews

Will Butterworth Quartet ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ (Jellymould Jazz) 3/5

Autumn brings forth a whole slew of new musicians with new narratives, but in the case of pianist Will Butterworth this is now his fifth release since debuting almost a decade ago. His latest quartet has been touring since late August and will perform various dates during mid-late September, including one of the hottest new venues, Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside (well relatively speaking and one that welcomes major jazz musicians such as Dave Holland and associates recently).

As with many of the current generation of jazz musicians, they combine elements of classical and jazz phrasing by virtue of their musical education and this latest recording by Butterworth strives to find the right balance between the two. It is important to stress that they are not mutually exclusive genres, but having said that, the music on this album actually works best when the drums are dispensed with altogether. The combination of piano and cello offers a gentle, refined and refreshing reading on the opener, ‘No Red Rose In All My Garden’. Equally enticing is the conversation between piano on repeated riff and alto saxophonist Seb Pipe on the title track, where there is a sudden shift to solo piano and bass from Nick Pins.

Full marks for the inventive use of titles and for the wonderfully evocative black and white photos that captures the band members in both the studio and in more relaxed mode. Just a tinkering with the musical balance should ensure this quartet are one to watch, especially in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

Remaining tour dates:

Sun 17 September
Llandudno, 3rd Space The Great Orme Brewery, Builder Street LL30 1DR

Weds 20 September
Sheffield, Jazz at the Lescar, Sharrowvale Road S11 8ZF

Fri 22 September
Brighton, Jazz at the Verdict 159 Edward Street BN2 0JB

Sat 23 September
Ambleside, Zeffirellis, Compston Road LA22 9DJ,

Sun 24 September
Ashburton St Lawrence Chapel, St Lawrence Ln, TQ13 7DD

Mon 25 September
Appledore, North Devon Jazz Club, The Beaver Inn, Irsha Street EX39 1RY

Tues 26 September
St Ives Jazz Club,The Western Hotel, Gabriel Street TR26 2LU,

Weds 27 September
Cardiff, Dempseys @ The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place

Thurs 28 September
Poole, Sound Cellar, The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close BH15 1NE

Sun 12 November
London Jazz Festival, Zedels 20 Sherwood Street W1F 7ED

Yasuaki Shimizu ‘Music for Commercials – Made to Measure Vol. 12’ (Crammed Discs) 3/5

A much-anticipated re-issue and sought after original from the early days of Belgian label Crammed Discs, this is an example of how music can be composed and utilised for more commercial aims and it is by no means the first time this has happened. In the 1960s when the advertising industry was still in its embryonic stages, Blue Note jazz instrumental recordings by Herbie Hancock, ‘Maiden Voyage’, Lee Morgan, ‘The sidewinder’, and Horace Silver, ‘Song for my father’, all became pop chart hits after being linked to advertised products, and this is very much the raison d’être of this offering from Japanese composer and saxophonist, Yasuaki Shimizu. Sadly, jazz fans will not find much here since it is a representation of where 1980s synthesizer music was at, with a strong Parisian influence, since that is where the musician was resident. However, for a younger generation that harks for a more experimental side to 1980s synth-dominated music, this may just prove to be their nirvana and there is no doubting Shimizu’s skill at producing interesting pieces in a concise format. In general, the pieces are extremely short between one and two minutes on average.

The more esoteric listener/reader will probably be looking forward to other re-issues in the series, especially if albums by the likes of Fred Frith and Arto Lindsay are re-issued. Minimalist gatefold sleeve packaging in keeping with the 1980s ethos. Among others in the series are recordings by Hector Zazou and various film soundtracks.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Black Songs Matter’ (Ariwa) 4/5

Reggae has always had a strong socio-political ethos and represented those in society whose voices have not been heard, or been ignored. In the case of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, young black males in particular have tended to be pigeon-holed and stereotyped. In their dealings with the police and criminal justice system, this has resulted in a disproportionately large number of incarcerations, perpetuating and worsening their condition, and ultimately resigning them needlessly to a life of criminality in order to survive. This when other alternatives are available, if only time and care is taken to deal with the specific needs of the youths and a recent parliamentary report has explicitly pointed out where the current system is going wrong. Neil Fraser, as a creative black man, is clearly sensitive and receptive to such issues and with this excellent compilation, that spans some twenty years of musical activity, has sought to attract attention to their plight, and how their struggles are mirrored elsewhere on the planet, from Kingston to Paris (where males of North African origin are the most discriminated group), to just about any town or city in the United States with a significant African-American presence.

A reprise of a 1970s roots classic by Wayne Wade, ‘Black Is Our Colour’, is a positive affirmation of blackness and this version has a lovely retro feel with sublime harmonies and this message is reinforced by Earl 16 on ‘Black Man’. Of course, Bunny Wailer cut arguably the finest example of with his mid-1970s album, ‘Blackheart Man’, though there are other worthy contenders. The commonality of conditions for youths is alluded to by U-Roy on ‘Ghetto Youths’, and their vulnerable status, while Big Youth expands the subject matter to debate the oppression of an entire continent with ‘Free Africa’.

Sometimes, it is the gentler sounding songs that carry the strongest message with a powerful punch and on this compilation, a cover of Deniece Williams’ opus, ‘Black Butterfly’, by Aisha, proves to be an uplifting lover’s rock inspired number with a metaphor that is most apt to convey the underlying message behind this anthology’s title. Carroll T is even more to the point with ‘SOS’, and the lyrics speak volumes, “Calling all mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. I’m sending out an SOS. Save our sons”.

An appropriately simple black cover with a clenched fist in solidarity sends out a powerful message of the music within and this does not disappoint. This will be of interest both to roots reggae fans and those passionate about seeking justice for the human condition more generally.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘A Ruff Guide to Ariwa Sounds’ (Ariwa) 3/5

A showcase of what the London-based Ariwa label are capable of, this handy sampler is an extension of the Mad Professor’s (aka Neil Fraser) Croydon living room to create his own label devoted to a subtle and personalised update on the classic roots idiom, with plenty of dub-soaked rhythms to accompany. Founded in 1979, Ariwa has gained a reputation for quality productions and has attracted some of Jamaica’s best, as well as championing the very best in black British talent. Mad Professor himself has been a major influence on musicians outside the realms of reggae in the more left-field arena of dance music and these include Gotan Project and Massive Attack, to name but two. A wonderful collaboration between U-Roy and Yabby You is a highlight with ‘I’m A Rastaman’, combining the righteous harmonies of the Yabby You production stable and the smoothest of DJ deliveries from Daddy U-Roy. The Congos lead singer, Cedric Congo, offers up an engaging roots number in, ‘Lightning And Thunder’, and elsewhere Big Youth, Luciano and Max Romeo prove that neo-roots music is still very much alive. Mad Professor’s own interest in black diasporan culture is illustrated on the instrumental, ‘Kunte Kinte’, with plenty of percussion, while his reaching out to other cultural music traditions and creating new and exciting fusions is evident on ‘Bengali Skank’. Women artists are invariably neglected in the world of reggae, but not on Ariwa where a rootsy ‘Works To Do’, by Queen Omega and Aish’s ‘Creator’, not forgetting Redhead, are fine examples of a distinctive female interpretation.

Ideally, one would have liked a 2-CD sampler to better reflect the whole gamut of artists that have recorded on the label and there are some significant names missing here from Jah Shaka (deserving of his own 2-CD anthology) through to the Twinkle Brothers and not forgetting Johnny Clarke. Otherwise, a useful introduction to the label.

Tim Stenhouse

Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra ‘On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971’ (Dusk Fire) 4/5

Arguably the finest British jazz composer of his generation, Neil Ardley has been re-discovered by a whole new generation of listeners thanks to the pioneering efforts of the indie label Dusk Fire and this is the third instalment, following on from his finest work, ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ from 1968, and the lesser known ‘Camden ’70’.

This recently unearthed recording originates from the BBC archives which are proving to be a mini treasure trove of cornucopias (does the BBC, for example, have the complete recordings of the late 1960s ‘Jazz Scene’ programme at their disposal? This might include live footage of Miles Davis from his November 1969 concert(s) at Ronnie Scott’s as well as the Mary Williams Trio at the same venue) and, while not on a par with the 1968 album, it is superior big band music all the same. Who other than Ardley would be ambitious enough to attempt interpreting a George Russell composition, ‘Stratusphunk’, which is the only group non-original. A personal favourite is the Mike Gibbs original, ‘Time Flowers’, augmented by strings, with the stunning use of flutes and larger brass ensemble, a fine trumpet solo, and yet still sounds contemporary with the use of electric guitar. Arguably, the strongest orchestral ensemble performance comes on the more sedate ‘Tanglewood ’67’, where the repetitive melody is re-emphasized and is closest to a more classical jazz big band sound, possibly inspired by the Gil Evans sound, though with a thoroughly modern twist that is an Ardley trademark. Here a subdued trumpet solo from, perhaps, Ian Carr, precedes a gorgeous soprano saxophone.

Challenging material, yet expertly delivered from a consummate composer and arranger, and performed by the very pinnacle of British jazz talent including Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, guitarist Dave Clempson, bassist Jeff Clyne, brass including Barbara Thompson and Mike Gibbs. On a few numbers, Humphrey Lyttleton introduces with his usual finesse and panache, which only enriches the listening experience. More of the BBC archives, please!

Tim Stenhouse

Christian Balvig, Frederick Bülow, Adrian Christensen ‘Associated With Water’ (AMP) 3/5

Scandinavian piano trios have become increasingly prominent in European jazz over the last twenty plus years, and this latest offering from Denmark, with Balvig in the central role of pianist, offers a good deal of promise. Denmark is a low-lying land surrounded by water and thus there is a natural preoccupation with water. This is the underlying inspiration for the album. The title track is actually quite bleak in tone, but reflective nonetheless and retains a dreamlike quality in spite of the faintest touch of the avant-garde and that is, perhaps, an aspect of their performance that they could develop further. The pieces as a whole are relatively short, with only two out of the eleven original trio compositions exceeding four minutes. Conciseness is a virtue, but in this case the compositions would benefit from a tad more depth, and this will probably come naturally as the trio become more confident in the studio and in live performance. By far the longest number is ‘Fictitious Conversations’, and this writer immediately warmed to the empathetic rapport between the trio members here and this is one example where lyrical simplicity and improvisational conversations come together in harmony. A staccato stop-start intro greets the listener on ‘Motor Neurons’, that thereafter slips into a more sedate tempo.

Folk-based or inspired pieces are a forte of Scandinavian piano trios going way back to the 1960s and this may just be a source that this new trio can draw upon in future album releases. While ‘Swedish’ displays some nifty brush work and a delicate piano solo intro, it is ‘Bulgaria’ that stands out with its Satie-esque beginning, lovely floating piano throughout and shuffling drum rhythms. Classical influences are apparent with both Debussy and Satie and twentieth century Romantic piano playing a leading role, while in terms of piano trios Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau spring to mind. Inventive bass and drums combine on the melodically repetitive ‘Disturbingly Pure’, with the most straightforward of piano motifs. A trio to chart the progress of in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Nubya Garcia ‎’Nubya’s 5ive’ LP/CD/DIG (Jazz Re:freshed) 4/5

We picked up the vinyl of this at the annual UK Vibe excursion to the excellent Jazz Re:freshed event in London in August 2017. Unfortunately, too good of a time was being had to write a cohesive review for this year, but it was a very enjoyable day! But at the event, Nubya and her band performed and it was this project that the group mainly performed live. For this short LP (so an EP then?), the musicians involved included Birmingham Conservatoire alumni Daniel Casimir on Bass, Joe Armon-Jones on keys (who also has another project with Maxwell Owin) and on two tracks Theon Cross (Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross Trio). Drummer and man of the moment Moses Boyd is featured on three cuts with Femi Koloeso playing on the others. And finally, Sheila Maurice-Grey has a trumpet solo on the first track ‘Lost Kingdoms’. But the star of the show is composer and tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Released on Jazz Re:freshed’s own label, Nubya’s 5ive showcases Nubya and her team, displaying both conventional jazz compositional work with more contemporary ideas and themes. ‘Lost Kingdom’ maintains a neo-soul quality, but just slightly looser in feel, with Nubya’s at times hypnotic playing style working well alongside the rest of group. ‘Fly Free’ which is a more ensemble affair, heads in a slightly more spiritual jazz direction featuring some excellent interaction between Boyd, Casimir and Joe Armon-Jones. The vaguely Dilla-influenced ‘Hold’ maintains a melodic centre until about the midpoint where the playing becomes more frantic and unattached, especially via Theon Cross and drummer Femi Koloeso. Track four, ‘Contemplation’, begins with some meandering upright bass before Nabiya’s sultry but not cheesy playing weaves between the trio of piano, bass and drums, and ‘Red Sun’ is more of a bop workout for the guys. Finally, an alternate version of ‘Hold’ is provided, with its slight increase in tempo to the original and with more pronounced Afro beat leanings within the rhythm section.

Many of the musicians featured have already previously worked together over recent years. And this cross-pollination of all these young UK players is the key to creating and maintaining a musical infrastructure and culture. A few dozen musicians all working simultaneously within a particular geographical location, working on each other’s projects as well as having their own groups is obviously not new in jazz, but I can’t remember a time when I could name so many young jazz musicians. And even here, Nubya’s 5ive moves slightly away from the more heavily contemporary work of some of her peers. But the future looks bright.

And concluding, this was released digitally a few months prior to the vinyl being issued but digital releases can sometimes get missed, so having vinyl pressings is to be commended and positively encouraged!

Damian Wilkes

Dave Askren / Jeff Benedict ‘Come Together’ (Tapestry) 5/5

Both new names to me. Askren, the son of a church organist/piano teacher. Saxophone and piano played a part in his early musical development but it was hearing George Benson and Pat Martino which inspired him to switch to the guitar. Study at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston followed, where he later became a tutor. Jeff Benedict is a saxophonist who lives by the maxim ‘less is more’. He truly tells a story with his horn. He turned professional at the age of 14 and his credentials include working with Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Gary Burton. Benedict is equally at home playing jazz or classical music. In addition, he is Professor of Music at California State, Los Angeles.

For this date, Askren and Benedict are joined by Paul Romaine at the drums and Joe Bagg on Hammond B3 organ. Contrary to what one might expect from the album title, this isn’t a Lennon and McCartney tribute album.

The opening track ‘Cheese Grits’ is firmly in the Blue Note Records mould. Think of the likes of Jimmy Smith and you will get the idea. Whilst the saxophonist plays alto on this piece, I’m put in mind of the tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. This is a powerful and yet gracefully swinging piece of music. ‘Come Together’ gets a suitably original makeover and works well. Played in 7/8. ‘Nardis’ follows and the familiar theme is transformed into a funky outing for the group. After disposing of the theme statement, the band alternates between swing and funk passages to great effect. ‘Moments Notice’ opens with a beguiling drum pattern before the tune appears. Recast imaginatively differently from what John Coltrane came up with all those years ago. ‘Hear This’ is more funky fun. In places I’m reminded of the work of fellow guitarist John Scofield. ‘Pineapple Head’ is a calypso-style piece and is great fun. ‘Willow Weep For Me’ allows the organist to break out with a powerful performance and somehow seems to inspire the saxophonist to even greater things. I imagine it is difficult to do anything other than pay respect to this familiar ballad and the group do it total justice.

Gospel rears it’s head on a tune from the repertoire of the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and ‘Groove Merchant’ is the ideal vehicle for this combo. Simply more funky blues from masters of the genre with Benedict on tenor saxophone. An up-tempo blues ‘Deed I Bu’ brings a thoroughly enjoyable set to a satisfying conclusion and the added bonus is to hear Benedict on soprano saxophone.

If you are looking for a contemporary reference point for this group check out the recent releases of Dave Stryker reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Alan Musson

Web Web ‘Oracle’ LP/CD/DIG (Compost) 5/5

Providing very little information prior to its release, Web Web’s ‘Oracle’ is a live 14-track album on Germany’s influential Compost Records, who are now unbelievably in their 23rd year of operation. The album was recorded in one day with only first takes being used. The line-up has been heralded as being a super group featuring a quartet of very experienced and prominent musicians from Europe. These include Roberto Di Gioia (piano, synth and percussion), Tony Lakatos (tenor and soprano saxophone), Christian von Kaphengst (upright bass) and Peter Gall (drums). Sonically, the album embraces the various late 1960s and ‘70s jazz aesthetics of modal, fusion and spiritual jazz soundscapes, but ‘Oracle’ isn’t a Strata East or Black Jazz tribute record. This is very much a contemporary affair with its richness emanating from the group’s varied musical tastes and sensibilities and it favours an entire listening experience.

The title track ‘The Oracle’ which is the longest piece of the set at over 7 minutes, contains an unyielding bassline underneath the evolving piano and saxophone parts, with light percussive elements before the more frantic drum section around the midpoint. ‘Journey To No End’ uses the almost essential 6/8 time signature that is so often associated with spiritual jazz, and provides saxophonist Tony Lakatos with space to create the musical backbone of the piece. ‘Kings of Forbidden Lands’ is very melodic and possibly the most accessible piece on the album with its strong tenor and soprano sax parts and absorbing piano section towards the end. Personal favourite ‘The Ring Of’, which is presented as a five-part suite with all parts being under 3 minutes in length, focuses on its more pronounced drum and synth elements. This is maybe the most loose, interesting and modern aspect of the album and something that I would like to see more of from the group (apparently their 2nd album has already been recorded).

‘Unreal Prediction’ progresses from its subtle Fender Rhodes chords in the intro, to meandering soprano sax and almost free ensemble playing during the final third. ‘New World Trinity’ has an obvious African influence with its stark but pulse-like percussion, with again, some effectual electric piano additions. The relatively sparse and downtempo ‘Alternate Truth’ drifts along harmoniously over its duration, but the arrangement is never predictable or lacking interest. Thus, the album is engaging and fascinating in equal measures.

Being overly negative, I would have preferred the album to be a touch more spiritual in nature than maybe has been presented in the (limited) marketing of the LP, but it does state that it is a ‘spiritual-jazz type’ release. And there has been a lot of focus on the fact that the album was recorded in one day using one takes in a ‘jam session’ like fashion, but isn’t that how most jazz albums pre-1970 were created? And trying to offer similarities with other artists is somewhat difficult, but Japan’s Sleep Walker are possibly a decent alignment – but they had a more straightforward and dense approach to their arrangements and recordings. And singular albums within the very fast moving cultural landscape of music can get lost or ignored if there are no other contemporaries, but with flourishing (jazz?) scenes in LA and in London via Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, Henry Wu and the like (but it’s a shame Yussef Kamaal have now split up), the album could be embraced by those outside of the established and traditional jazz communities.

The musicianship is exceptional throughout and with only a brief search online you will see their respective histories and accomplishments. And after nearly a quarter of a century and ‘Oracle’ being Compost’s first live jazz album, the label must have identified something special within this project.

Damian Wilkes

People’s Choice ‘Any Way You Wanna: The Anthology 1971-1981’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

Philadelphia was world renowned in the 1970s for its distinctive brand of smooth soulful harmonies coupled with jazz instrumental grooves to accompany. However, the funkier sides of the tracks could also be emphasised with panache and People’s Choice were one example of a self-contained group that lasted the distance and scored hits with soul, funk and disco idioms.

This well researched anthology celebrates a decade of the group’s output and reveals how the dancefloor sounds evolved as the 1970s decade progressed. The band had an early hit in 1971 when they signed to Phil-L.A. of Soul and released ‘I Like To Do It’. In contrast to The O’Jays and the smoother Philadelphia International (P.I) sound, People’s Choice aimed squarely at the dancers and they followed up in the same year with ‘Magic’. By 1974 the Philly sound was proving irresistible and the band signed to P.I. off-shoot label TSOP, or The Sound of Philadelphia. From this new collaboration, a rare 45 surfaced, now much prized by collectors, and this was the groovy ‘Love Shop’ with the accompanying ‘Party Is A Groovy Thing’. Disco was starting to take over and the People’s Choice were more than ready to deliver. That came in 1975 in the form of the title track to this anthology and ‘Do It Any Way You Wanna’, which proved to be a major R & B, disco as well as pop hit. It topped the R & B charts and was just outside the top ten of the Billboard pop charts. Furthermore, it was a hit both in the UK and throughout Europe. Finally, the band had established themselves internationally.

Their morphing into a fully fledged disco outfit was accomplished partly with the help of disco remixer par excellence, Tom Moulton, and as a wonderful bonus, the extended Moulton reworking of ‘Do It Any Way You Wanna’ is included here and features one of those trademark extended instrumental intros. An even rarer 12″ is added in ‘Turn Me Loose’ from 1978, and to this classic dancefloor pair can be added ‘Jam Jam (all night long)’, which was simply elongated musical pleasure personified. Tom Moulton produced a final dancefloor smash for the band when they moved to the Casablanca label in 1980 and released ‘You Ought To Be Dancin’. Sadly, the disco bubble had largely burst by then and a further single, ‘Hey Everybody (party hearty)’ on West End pretty much sank without trace. People’s Choice represent a golden era in the history of dance music and for that alone, we should be thankful for their contribution. Colourful illustrations and insightful notes are once again the order of the day.

Tim Stenhouse