Category Archives: Album Reviews

Céu ‘Caravana sereia bloom’ (Six Degrees) 3/5

A native of Sao Paulo, singer Céu is very much in the lineage of fellow Brazilians Gal Costa and more especially Marisa Monte. Latterly Céu has wisely broken away from the shackles of neo-bossa territory fused with electronica to search for her own distinctive identity. This latest album finds her searching and there are both positive and negative features of this ongoing quest. On ‘Contravento’, arguably the album’s most compelling song, there is an early 1970s feel that Gal Costa would be at home with and the subtle programming is ideally suited to her delicate voice. Equally the vocal and guitar duet on ‘Palhaço’ is a very promising sign of an emerging singer-songwriter talent and the song is creative and keeps the listener on the edge of their seat. Reggae beats have been incorporated into previous albums and here ‘As falto e sal’ has the slightest of reggae influences on the keyboards which is unsual enough to attract the listener and there is some cod-reggae with a ska input on ‘You won’t regret it’, reggae remaining perennially popular in Brazil with Gilberto Gil and many other top stars recording in the idiom. The nearest Céu comes to the more traditional bossa groove of her debut album is on ‘Retrovision’ with guitar and keyboards adding an indie rock feel. Céu faces a dilemma that Bebel Gilberto has recently encountered. There are very different expectations of a Brazilian singer inside and outside the country. In Gilberto’s case she became stuck in a rut with an updated dancefloor take on the classic bossa nova beat. Within Brazil this simply sounds passé and Céu has opted for developing new avenues that includes singing in English (new to a native English audience, perhaps less so to her native Paulistas). However, if she shifts the balance too much in favour of an English language repertoire, she risks alienating her international audience that appreciates the exotic sound of the Portugese language mixed with recognisable contemporary instrumentation. Céu has not yet found the ideal balance, but is at least on the way to getting there. She performs live on a brief mid-late April UK tour.

Tim Stenhouse

Esperanza Spalding ‘Radio music society’ (Heads Up/Montuno) 4/5

The unexpected recipient of a Grammy at the expense of pop idol Justin Bieber, bassist and singer Esperenza Sapalding is anything but your regular jazz artist and in reality her music does not fit neatly into any category which gives her an immediate accessability and a distinctive voice. Her previous album ‘Chamber music society’ was extremely well received and this new recording is an equally cohesive set of songs which will be at least as attractive to fans of contemporary black music as it will to jazz fans. An all-star guest list of musicians features singers Gretchen Parlato and Lalah Hathaway while instrumentalists of the calibre of Terri Lynne Carrington, Billy Hart, Jack de Johnette, Joe Lovano and Lionel Lueke provide the necessary supportive role. On this album there is a distinct 1970s retro feel with ‘Radio groove’, the de facto title track, reminiscent of both Minnie Ripperton in the vocal phrasing, Manhattan Transfer in the use of harmonies, and some wonderful Latin piano vamp into the bargain. The boundaries between jazz and soul are constantly crossed with ease on this new set as illustrated on a interesting reworking of a slow burner song from Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the wall’, ‘I can’t help it’, with creative use of vocals and lovely tenor saxohpone from Lovano. A heavyweight funk influence is present on ‘Cinammon tree’ with gorgeous cello intro that leads into the heavy bassline. This is a possible radio hit. Spalding’s iconoclastic tastes are exemplified further by a cover of a lesser known 1980s Wayne Shorter piece ‘Endangered species’ with guest vocals from Lalah Hathaway. The finest vocal piece for Spalding comes on ‘Black gold’ and the staccato mid-tempo groove sounds like a classy 1970s album track from Chaka Khan who may well be one of several influences on the young musician-singer. As an in-demand musician Esperanza Spalding’s recent CV is impressive to say the least and takes in pianists Gerri Allen and Herbie Hancock, vocalist Corinne Bailey Rae and tenorist Joe Lovano. Even Prince is reputed to be a fan of her music. The extremely eclectic nature of Esperanza Spalding’s musical ambitions is revealed here and this album promises to win her wider recognition beyond the confines of jazz even though the music is still firmly rooted within that tradition.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes’ 4 CD Box Set (Harmless) 5/5

Philadelphia International Records (PIR) celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year and what better way to commemorate the label that is synonymous with the rise of black American dance music during the 1970s than with a sumptuous package from the incomparable king of disco remixers, Tom Moulton. Of course as a label PIR is so much more and, among other achievements, has contributed fabulous jazz-fusion from Dexter Wansel, gorgeous ballads from the likes of Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul and Patti Labelle, socially conscious grooves from the Philadelphia All Stars and even early rap in the form of DJ Jocko, but these can form part of other compilations. Here the focus is strictly on the hottest dancefloor sounds and boy does Tom Moulton deliver the goods. A generous selection of the all-time dance classics have been expertly dissected, deconstructed and then built up again as only Tom Moulton knows how, which means seamlessly weaving in new instrumental parts, beefing up the percussion and incorporating weird and wonderful sound effects. The results are songs that you thought you knew off by heart given a unique and wonderfully creative and inventive new twist. Thus ‘Let’s groove’ by Archie Bell and the Drells has now mushroomed into an elongated ten minutes and twenty second version with an extended pared down keyboard, drum and guitar intro with a thrilling outerspace feel on additional layered instrumentation before the familiar vocals are subtly incorporated into the mix. The masterful reworking is repeated elsewhere with new guitar licks from the instrumental take on ‘Backstabbers’ by the O’Jays while arguably the same group’s greatest dancefloor smash ‘I love music’ is relatively untouched at the beginning, but then mid-way through starts to repeat a segment several times before the Grant Greenesque guitar solo takes over. At times it feels as though Tom Moulton is toying with the listener, teasing them into a false sense of security before unleashing the subtlest of sonic surprises. Teddy Pendergrass features heavily on the compilation as a whole with four selections, three of which are as part of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Of the unexpected remixes, the rather sedately paced ‘When will I see you again’ by the Three Degrees, a long time Prince Charles favourite, receives a gentle makeover that transforms the second part of the song into a mid-tempo groover while Lou Rawls’ sophisticated ‘You’ll never find a love like mine’ is judiciously not tinkered with too much. The soulboy classic ‘Nights over Egypt’ by the Jones Girls is extended to double its original 12” time and old favourites by Jean Carn, the Intruders and the Trammps are lovingly re-created. In sum, no filler and all thriller. This is a truly fitting way to celebrate one of the greatest labels in music history and Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the labels co-founders, would be mightily pleased at the efforts made here to pay rightful homage. Excellent and incisive inner sleeve notes from Lloyd Bradley shed useful light both on an overview of the label and of the individual songs, and classy packaging make for an unbeatable whole. A prime candidate for re-issue of the year. Tim Stenhouse

Batida ‘Batida’ (Soundway) 3/5

Electronica and world roots music are sometimes unlikely and uncomfortable bedfellows, but definitely not mutually exclusive concepts and this fascinating project from Portugese-Angolan DJ Mpula (Aka Pedro C) of music that would normally circulate on the streets of Angolan capital Luanda in pirated form is merely a foretaste of what is likely to become an increasingly dominant trend, fusing acoustic and electronic sounds. The question as ever is how successful is the musical métissage and here the answer is a success with a few qualifications to hand. Where the underpinning rhythm is traditional as on the melodic rhythm guitar led piece ‘Tirei o chapéu’, the shuffling beat works beautifully and the harder edged vocals of Ikonoklasta do not seem out of place. Even rootsier is another contribution from the aforementioned singer on ‘Cuka’ and the use of electronica serves to enhance the traditional flavours. Less successful is on the cold intro to ‘Puxa’ which may alienate fans of acoustic roots before a sudden shift in pace while there are uneven attempts at combining genres on ‘Yumbale’ which, to these ears, sounds like an in-between of Trinidadian soca and rap. New fans to roots music who are more at home with contemporary dancefloor grooves will find much to appreciate in the repetitive drum patterns of ‘Bazuka’ and in the ambient and dub effects that are present on ‘Alegria’ with nifty guitar licks. The fusion of acoustic and electronic music within the sphere of world roots is still only in its infancy globally and therefore it should not be a surprise that the balance struck is not always the right one. Other musicians as disparate as Congotronics and Céu have found winning combinations and Angolan music will ultimately take on board these developments in due course. This a departure from roots unearthing specialists Soundway and they are to be applauded for taking the risk of focusing on new artists who are more street-wise in orientation. Long-time African music fans would do well to listen to these new sounds for they are only going to encourage a new generation of music listeners to check out the golden oldies while tapping in to new artists, and that can only be a positive outcome for all concerned. Tim Stenhouse

Leila Pinheiro and Nelson Faria ‘Céu e Mar’ (Far Out) 4/5

leila-pinheiro-nelson-fariaBrazilian singer Leila Pinheiro has been performing in her native land for some thirty years or more and this pairing with guitarist Nelson Faria is like a trip back in time to the 1970s and recalls that genial pairing of Elis Regina and Tom Jobim from 1974. Indeed Pinheiro most resembles in voice that of arguably Brazil’s greatest ever female voice in Elis Regina and that is no mean feat, though she is no mere vocal stooge. The repertoire spans the whole gamut of what one could justafiably call the great Brazilian songbook (in opposition to the great American songbook) and this takes in some of the most inventive writing duos in contemporary music. An immediate winner is the song that Joao Bosco and Aldir Blanc composed for the former ‘Bala com bala. Whereas the original version featured a gorgeous samba percussion in the background, here Pinheiro comes into her own with vocal gymnastics that Annie Ross could have laid down in her prime and in a Brazilian setting that Tania Maria and Joyce have at times attempted. This funky ditty is all the more memorable for the guitar licks laid down by Faria. In general the album is quite melancholic and indeed reflective in nature and this side to Brazilian music is often overlooked in the UK. Far Out are to be commended for showcasing this additional dimension to Brazilian music which makes it all the richer. The duo are best heard when the bare bones beauty of the songs is revealed as on ‘Doce presença’, or on the meditative Bach-sounding ‘Embaraçao’, a joint composition by Francis Hime and Chico Buarqué. Nelson Faria can best be described as a similarly intimate sounding Joe Pass and certainly one imagines that both singer and guitarist have been influenced by the albums Pass recorded with jazz singers of the calibre of Ella Fitzgerald and possibly also the Brazilian album ‘Tudo Bem!’ that Pass recorded with percussionist Paulinho da Costa among others. Further uplifting hues can be heard on the title track composition by pianist-singer Johnny Alf (a major influence on Tania Maria’s approach and well worth investigating the albums of) where voice and guitar combine to perfection. A classy set from a singer who has not received her full due outside Brazil. Hopefully this album will go some way to re-addressing the imbalance.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Meet me at the Mardi Gras’ (Rounder) 3/5

New Orleans music has never really been out of fashion and this handy overview of the scene old and new will help to to place neophytes in the right direction. Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers are among the stars of the show with the CDs most impressive outing being ‘Goin’ back to New Orleans’. If the superb vocals are old school with jazzy brass (featuring clarinet and baritone saxophone no less) that Ray Charles circa 1959 would have been proud of, this contemporary recording hits all the right spots and then some. Legendary pianist-singer Professor Longhhair, better known as the Fess cooks up some fine gumbo on the title track with his oh so distinctive piano licks and trademark whistling. Anyone who has not yet investigated his back catalogue should do so with immediate effect. Another Fess classic, ‘Tipitina’ is reworked by Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias with a version that is heavy on percussion and brass. Brass bands are an integral ferature of New Orleans music and in recent decades the Re Birth Brass Band have been at the forefront of promoting the city’s rich musical heritage internationally. Here they offer a decidely funky ‘Do watcha wanna Pt. 3’. Time-wise, at forty-five minutes this compilation is a tad stingy and a further twenty minutes would have been welcome. No disputing the quality of the music on offer, though. Tim Stenhouse

Dr. John ‘Locked down’ (Nonesuch) 5/5

In the last few albums Dr. John has unquestionably been reinvigorated and recorded some memorable sides, but on this latest set he has surpassed even those high standards by serving up a musical Cajun stew that promises to be one of the very best of his career. Indeed it is in many respects a return to the ‘Gris Gris’ era, though with contemporary influences adding to the cosmopolitan nature of the project that include both Afrobeat and Ethio-jazz flavours. For dancefloor delight, it is difficult to outdo the superb ‘Get away’ which has featured heavily on radio play while New Orleans style soul has rerely been better executed than on ‘God’s sure good’, another album highlight. What is surprising here are the new influences such as the Ethiopian jazz inflections on ‘Revolution, another winner of a song, or the Afrobeat brass that underpins ‘You lie’. For the more subtle side to Dr. John’s extensive repertoire, look no further than the subtle keyboard work displayed on ‘My children, my angels’. This pulsating series of songs is no less than a late period masterpiece. Tim Stenhouse

Krystle Warren and the Faculty ‘Love songs: a time you may embrace’ (Parbour door) 4/5

Singer-songwriter Krystle Warren’s 2009 CD ‘Circles’ was a breath of fresh air and covered a lot of stylistic ground. If anything, the new album is even more eclectic than before and delves to a greater extent into the sub-genres of Americana, though still manages to maintain a cohesive whole. This being said, much of what worked on the previous album has been retained. Thus jazzy flavours permeate the waltz-like ‘Tuesday morning’ with both brass and strings in evidence while the uplifting ‘You can take me with you’ is an example of the pared down side to the songwriter with catchy lyrics and female background vocals to the fore. Krystle Warren sits somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Phoebe Snow in approach (the latter especially in the range of influences) and the breathy vocals on ‘Little wonder’ lend a folksy feel to this particular song. Americana surfaces once more on ‘I worry less’ which is a potential single. Not averse to taking a risk or two, ragtime jazz meets pop to good effect on ‘Five minutes late’ while even more daring is an adaptation of a William Blake poem ‘The clod and the pebble’. This album is quirky enough to attract an audience in search of something different and Warren has an imediately recognisable voice. With a UK tour forthcoming in May, a wider public will finally have access to her work and live Krystle Warren’s diversity will surely come to life even more.

Tim Stenhouse

Chico Buarqué ‘Chico. The definitive collection 1970-1984’ (Wrasse) 4/5

Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Chico Buarqué de Hollanda to give him his full title is a key figure in the development of what is now termed Brazilian Popular Music or MPB and it is surprising that no-one has previously seen fit to compile an anthology of his works in the UK so this is a welcome addition indeed. While he has long been popular in both Italy and Portugal, it took a French fizzy drinks commercial on a Rio beach in the summer of 1989 to the accompaniment of an old Buarqué samba from 1970 ‘Essa moça te diferente’ to catapult him back into the public’s imagination in Europe and this precipitated both a tour and new recordings. In Brazil, however, Chico Buarqué had already become one of the rising young stars by the mid-1960s, at first aping the then still in vogue bossa nova, but he was soon at the forefront of new sounds for a younger generation that became politically active in the face of repression from the military state. Indeed many of Buarqué’s most enduring songs contained within managed to overcome censorship at the time with carefully crafted allegories and he is adored all the more for his wordsmith talents in this respect alone. 

While some knowledge of Portugese significantly enhances the listening experience since the lyrics are imbued with a poetic quality and full of meaning, everyone else need not despair because the music is highly rhythmic and works perfectly well on that level alone. Among his most loved songs, ‘O que será’ (A flor do terra)’ is known by just about every Brazilian on the planet and was even translated into French by Claude Nougaro and became a hit all over again. Other major hits included ‘Construçao’, ‘Vai passar; and ‘Vai trabalhar vagabundo’, but Buarqué’s importance to Brazilian music goes well beyond simply chart sucess. He is one of the most influential of singer-songwriters of all time. For those in search of a rootsier Afro-Brazilian groove, they need look no further than ‘Apesar de vocé’ while ‘Fado tropical’ has a quasi-Portugese folk flavour which one might expect from a homage to that nation’s predominant traditional style. Samba inflections flow on the excellent ‘Samba do grande amor’ and even more so on the 1974 duet with guitar legend Toquinho who together offer a ‘Samba pra Vinicius’, in homage to another musical poet, the great Vinicus de Moraes. In fact there is also an unusual tribute to a thief ‘Homenagem ao Mallandro’ which interestingly was the very same subject of an Astor Piazzolla composition and it would come as little surprise if Buarqué had been inspired by the tango maestro, such are Chico’s wide-ranging musical tastes. If this anthology has whetted your appetite, the earlier mid-1960s recordings are equally well worth investigating and exist in several volumes on CD in France and Brazil. Tim Stenhouse

Rachael Gladwin and the Red Socks ‘Melodies and time’ (Inaugural) 4/5

Harpist and vocalist Rachael Gladwin has pursued two separate careers. One working as strictly an accompanyist on harp to spiritual jazzers Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchall; the other as a leader on some folk meets world beats. It is in this latter capacity that we find her on this album which showcases her songwriting talents. The fusion of cello, harp with various African and Latin percussion from cajón and dejembe through to the kora works to perfection on songs such as ‘They pray’ which is a definite album highlight while as a vocalist Gladwin puts in a fine performance on ‘Fade to brown’ which is where the folk influences are most evident. Rachael Gladwin possesses a gentle, lyrical tone and one that is ideally suited to the folk idiom. On this particular song the use of a trombone solo is unexpected, yet convincing. Elsewhere the vocal duet on the brisk cello-led ‘Right now I know’ impresses as does the gentle, melodic opener that is ‘Song for Reuben’ with the sound of the harp underpinning the vocals. Already garnering radio play, expect this album to linger on the ear. Tim Stenhouse