Category Archives: Album Reviews

Sebastien Texier Trio ‘Don’t Forget You’re An Animal’ (Cristal) 4/5

Multi-reedist Sebastien Texier comes from an impeccable French jazz family background, being the son of bassist Henri and this excellent trio outing will do a great deal to enhance the standing of the former as a leader in his own right. In fact the ambience is very much that of the now defunct Label Bleu label out of France and there is sparse intimacy to proceedings that is not dissimilar to Steve Lacy, or even the classic Sonny Rollins mid-50s recordings while other influences would probably include Eric Dolphy and Jan Garbarek. The all-original compositions are at once melodic and challenging and Texier alternates between clarinet on lyrical pieces such as ‘Lilian tears’, bass clarinet on freer improvisations such as on the bizarrely titled ‘Pain de singe’ (literally ‘monkey’s bread’) and more conventional soprano saxophone on some of the other pieces. A quasi-oriental feel permeates ‘Hyena’s night’ that picks up in tempo part way through and with plenty of gusto in the reed solo. Father Henri guests on three tracks, though regular trio bassist Claude Tchamitchian impresses, particularly on the co-written composition ‘Tango’. Evocative clarinet playing on ‘Yellow cab experience’ wonderfully conveys the urgency of a taxi ride in the Big Apple. A beautiful clarity of sound on the recording simply adds to the pleasurable listening experience. Now approaching his fortieth year, Sebastien Texier is definitely a musician to watch out for in the future.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Next stop Soweto. Township sounds from the golden age of Abaqanga’ (Strut) 4/5

Coinciding with the forthcoming hosting of the football World Cup in South Africa this summer, Strut have wisely decided to take an in-depth look at the wealth of musical sounds on offer in the country and as part of a three volume series (with volumes two and three to follow during spring and summer devoted to soul, funk and hammond grooves, and jazz respectively) comes the first instalment which focuses fairly and squarely on the township music of Soweto, known locally as Mbaqanga. A variety of styles fused to create this sound and of the twenty songs on offer one hears gospel, rumba, folk and even jazz inflections condensed into the tasty singles that were released back in the 1970s. From listening to the uplifting sounds one would hardly realise that this music, predominantly from the seventies era, came at a time of major political unrest during the apartheid regime, yet it was precisely because of the extreme harshness of the then conditions (not that present daily economic conditions at least have improved a great deal from that era) that people from the townships needed music to heal the soul. Gorgeous female harmonies dominate from groups of the calibre of the Mahotella Queens and Mahlathini Queens. For the former the horn-led ‘Zwe Kumusha’ stands out while for the latter veterans ‘Umkovu’ impresses. Among the lesser known acts, the Mgababa Queens 45, ‘Maphtuthi’, contains a killer chorus and sensitive use of guitars and is unquestionably a highlight on the compilation. Jazzier hues are heard on the instrumental ‘Kuya hanjwa’ by S. Piliso his Super Seven with piano vamps and a super bassist, seemingly taking a leaf out of the innovations of Abdullah Ibrahim outside of his native country at the time. Rhythm guitars are to the fore as well as honey-toned harmonies on the opener by the Melotone Sisters and the Amaqola Band, entitled ‘I sivenoe’. With the compilation weighing in at just over fifty minutes even for twenty songs, one would ideally have liked to hear a few more examples of this joyous sounding music, but what the compilation lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in the actual quality of the sounds. Without requiring any use of synthesizers, Soweto township music nonethless succeeded in creating a deep layered sound based around terrific musicianship and this is one of the most impressive aspects of the music heard here. No details of the individual artists or songs contained therein with the promo copy reviewed. Strut are to be congratulated for unearthing these hard to find 45s in the first place and the re-mastering is crisp and clear while not taking away the earthier production skills that were an integral part of music at this time.

Tim Stenhouse

Tamikrest ‘Adagh’ (Glitterhouse) 4/5

Following on from the revelatory sounds of Tiniwaren, another Tuareg group whose native Tamashek language cuts across the political boundaries of Algeria, Libya, Mali and Nigeria, are being introduced for the first time to an international audience with their debut global album, ‘Adagh’. As with Tinariwen, Tamikrest are as much a visual as they are a sonic treat and it was via the Festival of the desert concerts during 2008 that a musical collaboration was founded between the band members and U.S./Australian rock veterans Dirtmusic who have brought their technical savoir-faire of studio procedures to help Tamikrest complete the project. There is an overall trance-like quality to several of the songs and this reflects in part the nomadic existence which the group members have experienced with especially adverse political and social conditions for their people in recent times, and certainly the band see themselves as being spokespersons who are able to use their music as a vehicle to highlight the plight of their people. The guitar riff on the atmospheric ‘Aîcha’ hints at a distinctly Arabic feel, though both funk and rock guitar influences are instantly discernable on this song and this makes for an intriguing mix. Hypnotic and encapsulating are two adjectives that immediately spring to mind when hearing ‘Tidie tille’ while the opener ‘Outamachek’ possesses a relentless driving blues-rock beat with ‘oulala’ chanting and even the hint of a reggae influence on rhythm guitars. A more reflective side to the band’s sound is displayed on ‘Aratane n’adagh’ which gradually builds in intensity and on the melodic ‘Alhorya’. Recorded at the Bogolan studios in Mali, this is a truly beautifully produced album that nonetheless enables the rougher edge to the music to come to the surface. Both Tamikrest and Dirtmusic (whose album will be reviewed shortly) are expected to tour the UK during 2010 and this promises to be a major event for fans of African and world roots music more generally. The evocative gatefold sleeve and beautifully illustrated inner sleeve provides a glimpse of both the beauty and also the harshness of the desert and bi-lingual lyrics in English and French enable the listener to better appreciate the political struggles that Tamikrest and their fellow Tamishek speakers face in the twenty-first century.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Nigeria Special. Vol. 2 Modern Highlife and Nigerian Blues 1970-76’ 3LP/CD (Soundway) 4/5

Soundway are making a virtue out of their ongoing series devoted to Nigerian music and this latest volume rightly places emphasis on the less known aspects of the 1970s music scene, namely highlife and blues alongside the ever popularjuju. This makes a very pleasant departure from the sometimes fiery tempo of Afro-Beat and Soundway are to be congratulated for their wide-ranging selection of extremely obscure 45s from the artists contained within. One of the revelations of this compilation is the influence of the blues upon Nigerian music and how this manifests itself in its localised interpretation. A fine example is to be found in the lovely blues-inflected hues on guitar of ‘Psychadelic baby’ by Fubura Sekibo with incessant percussion. More laid back in approach is the irresistible dancefloor groove of Etubom Rex Williams and his Nigerian Artists who deliver a cool collective chant with warm saxophone solo on ‘ISIP 2’. In general there are some wonderfully inventive names of groups throughout with perhaps pride of place going to the Professional Seagulls Dance Band of Port Harcourt and the delicate intro to ‘Ibi awo iyi’ before horns enter and the tempo shifts decisively upwards. Classic juju sounds arrive in the shape of James Etamobe and his All Weather Band with a relentless percussive beat on ‘Agboyabakpa’ while highlife from the masterful Bola Johnson and his Easy Life Top Beats impresses on ‘Jeka Dubu’, with a more uptempo take on the genre being offered by Commander in Chief Stephen Osita and his Nigerian Sound Makers on ‘Onyeb chi’. Afro-Beat is not altogether forgotten with one number, the intriguingly titled ‘Lords prayer’ (though bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the original) by the Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination, displaying the influence of Fela in the group sound. Overall a truly excellent overview of much neglected side to Nigerian music internationally, certainly outside West Africa, and re-mastered 45s that retain all the clarity and power of when they were first released. As always with a Soundway release, much care and attention to detail in the evocative visual cover and informative inner sleeve notes.

Tim Stenhouse

Raul Midón ‘Synthesis’ (Emarcy/Universal) 3/5

American-born singer Raul Midón comes from an Anglo-Latino background with Argentine father and American mother and this is very much reflected in the way in which he defies categorisation, sometimes entering soul, pop rock and even folk territories at different moments, though a contemporary acoustic take on R ‘n’ B seems to be his preferred genre. There is in fact something of a 1970s feel to the singer and his influences would seem to include among others the jazzy pop singer Michael Franks, various folk-rock singer-songwriters and even Sting. He may well be being groomed for crossover pop chart territory and if so the jazzy influenced bossa groove of ‘Everyone deserves a second chance’ would be an ideal candidate and by some distance the album’s outstanding track. Another potential song for release as a single is ‘Don’t be a silly man’, where his voice is almost Sting-like while a more sensitive side to the singer is displayed on the mid-tempo ‘When you call my name’. Not everything works such as the pop-rock of ‘Next generation’ or the cod-reggae of ‘Invisible chains’, where Midón may be aiming to reproduce interest that Eric Clapton kindled on ‘I shot the sheriff’. The backing band is impressive to say the least with the cream of session musicians including Larry Goldings on organ, Dean Parks on guitar and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion with overall producer Larry Klein doubling up on drums on some songs. This album may well find a bigger audience in the States, but there is no doubting the talent of the singer who positively revels in diverse musical genres.

Tim Stenhouse

Stan Tracey Quartet – Senior Moment (Resteamed Records) 4/5

stan_traceyStan Tracey returns with one of his freshest sounding recordings in years and at least one of the reasons for this seems to be the new musical collaboration with young and upcoming talent in saxophonist Simon Allen alongside long-term band members Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Clark Tracey. The elder Tracey has enjoyed special musical relationships with some of the all-time greats of the saxophone, most notably Sonny Rollins and Roland Kirk during their residency at Ronnie Scott’s, and this new recording recalls in part both the intimacy of the small group albums of Johnny Hodges and Ben Wesbster with Duke Ellington, and even the Duke with John Coltrane on their sole collaboration.
For this latest album Tracey has revisited some of his vast back catalogue of his compositions and, in addition, offering an excellent new suite, ‘The Grandad Suite’, devoted unsurprisingly to his own grandchildren. Coltrane and Ellington are indeed conjured up with the reflective ‘Dream of my colours’ featuring beautiful soprano saxophone from Allen while in contrast ‘Duffy’s Circus’ is an uptempo bop number in which Stan Tracey stretches out and Allen delivers a fiery solo on alto. There is an obvious nod to Thelonius Monk on the be-bop number ‘Afro-Charlie meets the white rabbit’. However, of the non-suite pieces, the tour de force is unquestionably the calypso driven ‘Triple celebration’ where the tenor of Simon Allen hints at late-fifties Sonny Rollins and the overall feel is one that Dollar Brand would be at home with. The lengthy four piece suite impresses greatly with the lyrical first piece, ‘Benology’ the stand out track once again featuring the soprano saxophone of Allen and one of the album’s most melodic pieces wheareas the fourth part, ‘Zach’s dream’ is a blues-inflected number that is the ideal vehicle for Stan Tracey to solo at length. As ever immaculate accompanying from Andrew Cleyndert and Clark Tracey respectively. This is one of Stan Tracey’s most enjoyable albums in several years and a very fitting tribute to his sadly deceased wife Jackie. Tim Stenhouse

The Revolutionaries ‘Evolution of Dub. Volume 3. The descent of version’ 4CD (Greensleeves) 5/5

the-revolutionariesThe third instalment of the ongoing history of dub, this box set contains facsimile sleeves of four of the classic albums recorded by the Revolutionaries during the late 1970s at Channel One with mixing duties divided between King Tubby and the then Prince Jammy. As with the previous two volumes, each set has notes that continue on from the preceding one as well as specific notes on the albums within.
The art of dub and its evolution has undergone a major revision in recent years with books on the subject and numerous DVDs of varying quality. However, this set is by far the most comprehensive ever issued of the crack session group that are the Revolutionaries. Not only does it group together key albums from the classic roots era, but the whole package is beautifully illustrated and backed up by extensive and highly enlightening sleeve notes. Reggae music finally has the respect it so richly deserves.
A key figure in the albums herein is Linval Thompson who produces three of the four (Jah Lloyd being the producer on ‘Goldmine Dub’). These albums served as a transition from the roots era into early dancehall and were issued on the Thompson Sound label which Linval set up in 1976. All impress in equal measure such is the mastercraft of the musicians on offer including of course Sly and Robbie, but also Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Tommy McCook and percussionists ‘Scully’ Sims and ‘Sticky’ Thompson among a whole host of reggae greats. The overall sounds here is a highly melodic one wth uplifting bouncy riddims and the occasional special effect thrown in for good measure. Dub versions include songs by the major vocalists of the day such as Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and even the rock steady sounds of the Paragons reworked for the roots period. At various times some of the albums have been issued on vinyl in the UK, notably ‘Goldmine Dub’(via Greensleeves) and ‘Outlaw Dub’ (via Trojan). However, ‘Love Dub’ and ‘Green Bay Dub’ have at best only been out briefly on very limited vinyl editions and as a whole this constitutes a treasure trove of sublime dub recordings. This makes essential listening for long-time dub heads and general music fans alike, the latter finding an ideal companion with which to enter into the field of dub music.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Playing For Change: Songs Around The World’ CD/DVD (Concord) 3/5

playing-for-changeAn interesting musical concept that is as much a visual as an audio experience and one where the message behind probably far outweighs the musical content itself. This is a concept album in the truest sense of the word and the brainchild of music engineer Mark Johnson who has spent ten years putting this project together. Was it worth all the effort? The answer is a qualified yes, but with some reservations. From a technical perspective the result is a feat of no little skill and the ethos behind the project is certainly a laudable one. The power of music to enact change and reach people directly is a key message and one that few would disagree with in these times of major political and technological change. 
However, covering well-known songs with a variety of largely unknown acts (with notable exceptions such as Bono and Keb Mo)was always likely to be a risky enterprise and one wonders how far this project will reach beyond Europe and the United States, preaching to a largely already committed public. The album works best on the DVD where a multitude of world roots instruments are deployed to accompany vocals songs such as Bob Marley’s ‘War’ and ‘One Love’. Community youth choirs from a far afield as Omagh in Northern Ireland and the Group Afro Fiesta from South Africa are seamlessly woven together along with individual instrumentalists from the Indian sub-continent and even a band from New Orleans. The problem lies in that the overall musical accomplishment is a fairly mundane version of songs that have been covered on numerous occasions previously and far more convincingly by individual artists. Consequently this writer scores two points for the musical content and four for the visual impact and logic behind the project. Perhaps for the future a more challenging selection of songs would enhance matters. Nonetheless this album may inspire other artists and is at least to be commended for introducing a wider public to relatively unrecognised musicians.

Tim Stenhouse

Diana Krall ‘Quiet Nights’ (Verve) 3/5

diana-krallPart recorded in Rio de Janeiro and part in California, this Tommy Lipuma produced album is Diana Krall’s take on the bossa nova. It has to be stated that this is more a revisiting of the American songbook with a few Brazilian touches than a bona fide attempt at capturing the feel of bossa nova. The collaboration of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra was most successful in conveying the cool, swinging new sound at the time and more recently pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias has covered a wider range of styles. Where Krall falls down is in the predominance of rather uninspiring somber and understated numbers when some uplifting sambas might have given the album a more balanced feel. Only one song is in Portuguese, the Jobim song, Este seu olhar’, one of three Jobim compositions. The symphonic arrangements courtesy of Claus Ogerman can overpower Krall’s breathy vocals as on ‘Quiet nights’. In fact Krall shines best of all on the blues-inflected ‘How can you mend a broken heart?’ and an entire album of songs in this vein might be a better option for the future. It is only on ‘The boy from Ipanema’ that Krall begins to stretch out on the piano. Back to the drawing board for any future take on Brazilian music and a far greater input is required from Brazilian musicians.

Tim Stenhouse

Pedro Luis e A Parede ‘Ponto Enredo’ (World Village) 4/5

pedro-luis-e-a-paredeThis Rio-based group can be best described as the left-field side of samba, but one that is highly melodic nonetheless. Pedro Luis et A Parade successfully fuse traditional samba with other influences, notably funk and rock rhythms, and in this respect have taken a leaf out of the pioneering sounds of Chico Science and Nacao Zumbi from Recife in north-east Brazil. From the opener ‘Santo samba’ the alternative take on samba becomes apparent with dissonant guitar in the background. The title track is a haunting song with echoey dub guitar and drums whereas ‘Repudio’ is a laid-back samba with an indie-rock sensibility. Large-scale escola de samba percussion combine with synths on the lengthily titled ‘Ela tem a beleza que eu nunca sonhei’ while the pared-down percussive breakdown of ‘Mandingo’ reveals a funkier side to the group’s repertoire. It is the slide guitar that surfaces on the old school samba of ‘4 horizontes’ which features the indispensable sound of the cavaquinho (a small ukelele-sounding string instrument) and the cuica drum. Excellent art graphics from the interestingly named Billy Bacon (another intriguing Brazilian fusion, perhaps?)round off a highly entertaining and different updated take on a music form that is now inextricably linked to the Brazilian national character.

Tim Stenhouse