Category Archives: Album Reviews

Houston Person ‘Naturally’ (High Note) 3/5

Tenorist Houston Person is one of jazz’s elder statesmen and can back this up with no less than seventy-five recorded albums and is a regular on the label.
A top line up of Cedar Walton on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Lewis Nash on drums makes for entertaining listening and, while not groundbreaking, this is quality bop with a soulful and, in places, gospel-tinged touch. This is exemplified on Ellington’s ‘It shouldn’t happen to a dream’ and equally on the gospel sounding ‘Red sails in the sunset’. Person excels on the slower material and has something of Coleman Hawkins in his tone on ‘Don’ cha go way mad’ with deft drum work from Nash. A tribute to the late Bill Evans on ‘My foolish heart’ breathes newl ife into the piece wth lovely piano accompaniment from Walton while thre is fine all round playing on the emotive ballad ‘That’s all’. In a more uptempo groove, Milt Jackson’s ‘Bag’s groove’ receives a soulful treatment and the album ends on a bright ands breezy note with the mid-tempo ‘Sunday’.

Tim Stenhouse

Baptiste Trotignon ‘Song, Song, Song’ (Naïve) 4/5

French pianist is one of the most highly regarded musicians on the French jazz scene and has backed up his potential by winning the Grand Piano de Jazz prize at the prestigious SECAM awards in 2011. He debuted in 200 and has been a regular part of the Moutin Reunion quartet before becoming a leader in his own right. A 2009 album for Naïve, Share’ included top American musicians and featured trumpeter Tom Harrell and saxophonist Mark Turner. More recently, Trotignon performed in Septermber in Paris at the autumn festival Jazz à La Villette and collaborated with Bojan Z. His interested however, are not confined to jazz and the pianist has even written a piano concerto for Nicholas Angelich and the Orchestre National de Bordeaux. With such impressive credentials to hand, it will come as little surprise, then, that this latest recording is wide ranging in influence and revisits some classics of the French chanson repertoire alongside some finely crafted original compositions. Among guest musicians, vocalist Melody Gardot impresses with a French language take on Mon fantôme’ with Hot Club de France style accompaniment which could open up a whole new career for her. Brazilian flavours emerge with the aid of Brazilian vocalist Monica Passos with the wordless vocals of ‘Mr. Gone’ reminding one of the great Flora Purim while samba rhythms predominate on ‘Choro de cigarra’. However, the majority of the album is instrumental and this is truly where Trotignon excels. He dissects a duo of French chanson classics with a masterly medley of ‘Ne me quitte pas/La Javanaise’ that is a beautifully paced interpretation, while Claude Nougaro’s ‘Une petite fille’ is played as a duet between piano and Spanish cajon percussion instrument. Trotignon’s approach is essentially romantic in tradition, but neverly overly sentimental. Another fine original is ‘Palavas-les-Flots’, a seaside resort most famously depicted in a Houellebecq novel, but here featuring male vocalist Christophe Miossec whose tone is reminiscent of left-field French singer Arthur H. Classical elements are incoporated on the plaintive and mournful ‘Awake’ by the use of strings while the album ends with a take on Schubert’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’. If there is one CD of jazz music with a French twist that you should explore this year, then this is surely it. Expect to hear more of this talented pianist in the future. Tim Stenhouse

Vinicius Cantuaria ‘Indio de Apartamento’ (Naïve) 4/5

Brazilian singer-songwriter Vinicius Cantuaria has quietly established a body of work that ranks among the very finest of contemporary Brazilian artists. Furthermore he has expanded his repertoire and collaborators with the superlative ‘Lagrimas mexicanas’ project in tandem with Bill Frisell a career highlight thus far. He returns with a typically melodic and, in places, melancholic album with a host of guest musicians and all but one song are originals. Frisell once again features on three pieces, there is the surprise inclusion of Ryuichi Sakamoto who performs on two and even Norah Jones gets a foots in the door, this time as pianist on one composition. A gently lilting samba ‘Moça feia’ with dissonant piano chords from Sakamoto features Cantuaria at his most seductive and this is definitely a contender for the album’s strongest cut. Similarly uplfiting is ‘Um dia’ which is the ideal antidote to the winter blues. The inclusion of an English duet with Jesse Harris on ‘This time’ is an unexpected bonus which works well and the guitar playing is very Methenyesque. With such a catchy tune, this could be the ideal way to capture a wider audience if ever issued as a single. Frisell re-surfaces on guitar on the gentlest of songs, ‘Chove la fora’ while there is a folksy feel to the duet between Cantuaria and Frisell on ‘Pena estrada’. On ‘Humanas’ the keyboards are used more as a string instrument, yet there is still a pared down sound that is in keeping with the rest of the album. This may be an album that is relatively short in length, yet just like a sensitive Miles Davis classic, it is high on content and that is recommendation enough.

Tim Stenhouse

Barry Brown ‘Right now’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

Singer Barry Brown is one of the most respected singers on the circuit and his career has straddled that of the roots and dancehall era, and has even taken in some lovers tunes on occasion. This re-issue from 1984 captures the singer in truly fine form and has the added bonus of no less than eight versions plus a Tristan Palma 45, ‘No shot nuh fire’. Greensleeves are to be commended for offering such good value for money and the CD as a whole weighs in at just under seventy-five minutes. Barry Brown recorded for a variety of producers including Sugar Minott on his Black Roots label and a tasty 10″ for Coxsone at Studio One a year before this album was recorded. However, he will always be best known for his work at Channel One and ‘Right now’ features those trademark piano licks for which the studio is rightly famous and Brown here is accompanied by two crack sessions groups, the Roots Radics and the We are the People band. Overall, this is a nicely balanced set that includes some of then in-vogue slower dancehall-flavoured compositions such as ‘Sister Magling’ and the pared down and deeply melodic ‘Lovely girl’. What is a pleasant surprise, though, is that Barry Brown has not forsaken his roots fans for he delivers a trio of winners on ‘Guide and protect us’, the lovely guitar and organ breakdown of ‘Jukes and watch’, and, perhaps, finest of all, the social message-laden piece ‘Mister Minister’. Elsewhere there are definite echoes of Sugar Minott on ‘I give my love’ which is a strong lovers tune. Production duties are expertly handled by Jah Screw who was obviously in top form since he would during the same period produce Barrington Levy’s seminal ‘Under mi sensi’. While there are on major hits on this album that replicates the early success of ‘Step it up youthman’ or ‘Cool pon’ your corner’, the release is a fine example of the era and Brown’s vocals have a timeless quality that will appeal to all.

Tim Stenhouse

Aruan Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet ‘Banned in London’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

This live recording from the Pizza Express as part of the 2011 London Jazz Festival features music by one of the up and coming formations in New York jazz. The brainchild of bassist Michael Janisch, Boston(?) born, but now resident in London, and Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz, presently a member also of the Wallace Roney quintet. A truly cosmopolitan line-up is completed by French born, but Barcelona based trumpeter Raynald Colom, Texan Rudy Royston on drums and last but by no means least, the considerable guest skills of one Greg Osby on alto saxophone who has now formed his own label since his tenure at Blue Note ended. Five lengthy compositions, all over then ten minute mark and rising, are divided between three originals (two penned by Ortiz) and two jazz standards. Most lyrical of the originals is Ortiz’s driving ‘Orbiting’ which has a real sense of urgency to it. In parts this live performance is overlong and could do with being truncated by a good few minutes for each piece to ensure greater cohesion. This is a case of self-evident virtuosity by the musicians taking precedence over melodicism and it would aid matters greatly if pianist Ortiz took a more active leading role aside from writing duties. He certainly has all the talent to pull it off. That being said, there is much to commend of the actual playing and trumpeter Raynald Colom is a revelation on a much slower than usual take on Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug waltz’ with a tone that recalls early Lee Morgan while Osby is positively Dolphyesque. A nice change of tempo on Monk’s ballad ‘Ask me know’ is the perfect showcase for Ortiz to shine and this piece is a lovely duet between the pianist and Osby. All that is now required is for the band to reduce the amount of time devoted to pieces in order to create a tighter feel and they will excel. Excellent sound quality throughout. Tim Stenhouse

L’Orchestre National de Jazz’ ‘Piazzolla’ (Jazz Village) 3/5

Over some twenty-five years and more the ever fluctuating line up of the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) has been the starting point for many a talented young French jazz musician to launch a career and flourish as a soloist and leader. Laurent Cugny and Claude Barthélemy were just two such musicians who have gone on to bigger things. The latest cohort of young turcs are among us and on this occasion boasting the expert arrangements of one Gil Goldstein who has, among others, worked with the likes of Miles Davis and Don Grolnick and under artsitic director Daniel Yvinec. For this latest album, the project has been devoted entirely to the work of Argentine innovator and nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Some of the obvious pieces are included, sometimes in medley format to enable the largest number of compositions to be aired, but there are a few surprise choices into the bargain. Piazzolla recorded collaborative albums with vocalists and that with Amelita Baltar was one of his most memorable containing two bona fide tango canciones, namely ”Chiquilin de Bachin’/’Balada para un loco’. Particularly thrilling here is the use of bass clarinet. Surf guitar greets the opening of ‘Libertango’ which makes for a lovely change and the subtle use of bass and flute completes a fine interpretation. Revisiting the composer in a big band jazz setting is a hasardous enterprise and the ‘ONJ’ hierarchy are to be commended for such a courageous effort. If not everything comes off quite as well, it is only to be expected. Thus the famous ballad tango ‘Adios Noniño’ is a little tame and even more disappointing is that the uptempo ‘El dia que me quieras’ is treated here at a leisurely pace which does not suit the piece at all and is in cmoplete contrast to the magnificent salsa-tango that Eddie Palmieri cooked up on his legendary ‘White album’. Sadly, no details of the specific musicians and their instruments on the promo copy, though a listing of names does exist.

Tim Stenhouse

Soname ‘Natural Mind’ (Enja) 3/5

sonameTibetan singer Soname Yangchen belongs to that indefinanble category of singers/musicians that are now commonly referred to as world fusion. In her case the instrumentation shifts between US country roots, West African with classical instrumentation thrown in for good measure. In the inner sleeve notes the chanteuse declares, ‘We all share the dream of world peace’ and while this is a laudable objective most would subscribe to, it does also reveal that in strictly musical terms she lacks any clear focus as to where her music is heading and her voice, while undoubtedly a pleasant one, is fairly unexceptional. However, it is not all bad news for she does come to life on the excellent ‘Running (like children)’ and more compositions in this vein are required. Slide guitar accompanies Soname on the lyrical ‘Bird sad song’. One major gripe is that the production here really lets her down. It would significantly have enhanced the listener’s understanding and ultimate experience if a more detailed insight into the singer’s background and career was provided, particularly since she has had a most fascinating and probably harrowing to reach the west. She is actually the authoer of ‘Child of Tibet’ and escaped the Himalyas to settle permanently in Germany. Lyrics are provided in English and German, though she sings in her vernacular language throughout.

Tim Stenhouse

Tania Maria ‘Canto’ (Naïve) 4/5

Brazilian pianist and singer-songwriter Tania Maria comes back with a real return to form on this latest album which harks back to her early days on Concord Picante and albums such as ‘Taurus’. In fact she reprises a few of her 1990s and beyond repertoire while the newer material is as strong as ever and the fruitful collaborative writing with Carlos Werneck that resulted in anthemic albums such as ‘Come with me’ is resumed. The trombone-led ‘Intimidade’ finds Tania Maria at her terrific best with piano vampo, funky bass and those unmistakable vocals to the fore. It was also the title track of a 2000+ Blue Note album. Likewise ‘Ça c’est bon’ is a fast-paced recent oldie that features some of those trademark vocals scats and one of the catchiest hooks on the planet.

Where the new material really impresses is on the added lyrics to instrumental pieces such as Sideny Bechet’s ‘Florzinha’ which is arguably the most compelling song on the entire album. In contrast the reflective title track demonstrates what a sophisticated ballad singer and pianist Tania Maria is capable of being. Recorded partly in Paris and partly in Sao Paulo, Tania Maria has returned to her roots with long-time bassist Marc Berteaux back with her, and in the process she has delivered an album that will stand the test of time, enthrall her existing fans and win her a few more devotees. Full marks for the evocative pre-Raphaelite-style front cover. Lyrics contained in the inner sleeve are in Portugese only. Tim Stenhouse

Rabih Abou-Khalil ‘Hungry people’ (World Village) 4/5

Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil has built up a body of work over the last twenty or so years that stands comparison with the best and his collaborations with jazz musicians have been especially sought after. The memorable 1992 CD ‘Blue Camel’ featuring Charlie Mariano and Kenny Wheeler was one such example. Trained at the Beirut Conservatory and equally adept on flute and oud initially, Abou-Khalil on this new album must surely be a prime contender for the year’s quirkiest album titles! Stylistically, the album oscillates between Balkanesque uplifting brass numbers and more reflective oud plus rhythm section pieces which are this writer’s preferred terrain for the oud. Sporano saxophone and oud combine beautifully on ‘When Frankie shot Lara’ and this is repeated on the hypnotic piece ‘Dreams of a dying city’ which inlcudes pared down instrumentation and is all the better for it. A staccato rhythm on ‘Hats and cravats’ has oud and accordion combining to good effect while on the joyous ‘Banker’s banquet’ a tuba solo is prominent, intensifying the Balkan folk feel, and the uplifting piece is augmented by some throat vocal scatting which needs to be heard to be believed. Above all, with any Abou-Khalil recording one is aware of a musical East meets West interweaving of cultures and one where there is both a mutual respect and a profound knowledge of the respective idioms. This merely reflects the leader’s own wide-ranging appreciation of the entire history of jazz that takes in Monk and Ella, as well as jazz-fusion material by Frank Zappa. Jazz purists would do well to follow in Rabih Abou-Khalil’s footsteps.

Tim Stenhouse

Philippe Petrucciani ‘Este Mundo’ (Jazz Village) 3/5

Sometimes wrongly overlooked as the lesser known of the Petrucciani brothers, guitarist Philippe has carved out a career in France and returns with a well balanced album that invokes Pat Metheny and a contemporary updated take on the Hot Club de France in equal measure. He is ably abetted by singer and co-writer Nathalie Blanc who might best be described as a French equivalent of Stacey Kent, bassist Dominique de Piazza and drummer Manhu Roche. Eight of the originals were co-penned by Blanc and Petrucciani and of these the Brazilian-flavoured ‘Bahia’ impresses as a shuffling mid-tempo breezer complete with French language vocals that evokes the north-eastern Brazilian state. There are some inventive re-interpretations of French classics such as a reggaefied accompaniment to a song immortalised by Yves Montand, ‘Sous le ciel de Paris’, a francophone version of ‘Round midnight’ re-titled ‘Autour de minuit’ as written by the great chanteur Claude Nougaro which is a duet between Blanc and Petrucciani, and a funkified bass take on Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. Pan-Mediterranean grooves return on the light Latin-tinged opener ‘Este mundo’. Philippe Petrucciani veers between guitar and synth guitar on various pieces and yet succeeds in freeing himself from the shackles of the Metheny shadow, providing an imprint that could only be French.

Tim Stenhouse