Category Archives: Album Reviews

David ‘Fathead’ Newman ‘The Blessing’ (High Note) 4/5

david-fathead-newmanThe sadly departed multi-reed player David ‘Fathead’ Newman recently succumbed to a long-term illness. Fathead, as he was affectionately known, was an especially sought after sideman who was best known for his lengthy tenure as part of the Ray Charles orchestra during the late nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties, but equally cut a number of diverse albums for the Atlantic label. However, far from being a mere epitaph to a glittering career, this last recording catches the saxophonist/flautist at his most soulful with an excellent line up of the cream of New York musicians and recorded at the prestigious Rudy Van Gelder studio. It was always a difficult task to place Fathead into a convenient category for he was a highly versatile musician who could play blues, bop, Latin and even freer forms when required. This diversity in approach is reflected in the compositions on offer. A mid-pace version of the bossa classic ‘Manha de Carnaval’ features Yoron Israel providing a Latin-tinged feel on drums and vibist Steve Nelson reinforcing the percussive ambiance. in fact the piece merits comparison with the similar line up from tenorist Dexter Gordon on his seminal 1965 Blue Note album ‘Gettin’ Around’. Echoes of both Lester Young and Stanley Turrentine are conjured up on the Milt Jackson composition, ‘SKJ’ while the standard ‘Smile’ (co-composed by Charlie Chaplin!)is a showcase for the lovely guitar playing of Pete Bernstein. Newman is in fine form on the Gershwin tune, ‘Someone to watch over me’ and on the bluesy ‘Chelsea Bridge’. Perhaps the best, though, is saved for last. Jazz and the flute have sometimes been uneasy bedfellows, but Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk firmly placed the instrumentation in the jazz tradition, and both Newman and Herbie Mann did a great deal to popularise the flute in a jazz setting. On the delicious ‘The Blessing’ Fathead delivers a terrific performance, as good as any from his sixties period. A fine way to bow out, then, and an album that will make for extremely enjoyable listening during the summer months and beyond.

Tim Stenhouse

Paul Motion Trio 2000 + Two ‘On Broadway Vol. 5’ (Winter and Winter) 3/5

paul-motion-trio-2000Paul Motion’s place is etched in jazz history and will be forever inextricably linked to his tenure in the great piano jazz trio of Bill Evans. In the noughties Motion has led a series of acclaimed line-ups and has focused on reworking the standard repertoire with an ongoing Broadway project. This latest fifth volume sees him front a relatively new quintet with only long-time collaborator and pianist Masabumi Kikochi as an ever-present. The music is post-bop in feel hinting in parts at Mingus circa 1959-63. By far the most accessible number is ‘I see your face before me’ which features a piano solo intro from Kikuchi, taking a leaf out of the Evans school of refined playing, with Motion in turn providing sensitive accompaniment. In contrast ‘Just a gigolo’ is a much freer number. Throughout tenorists, Michael Attias and Loren Stillman, alternate between baritone and tenor with the former instrument, surprisingly perhaps, recalling the warmth of Ben Webster. Most accomplished of all is a gorgeous rendition of ‘Something I dreamed last night’ with a soulful baritone solo and Kikuchi and Motion both creating a mellow mood. While not yet up to the standard of the acclaimed ‘Time and Time’ album with Bil Frisell and Joe Lovano, if this band sticks together, even more accomplished recordings will surely follow.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Legends of Benin’ (Analog Africa) CD/2 LP 5/5

legends-of-beninFollowing up on the critically acclaimed compilations ‘Raw and Psychadelic Afro Sounds’ and the sensational Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Contonou, comes this latest offering of unbelievably rare sides from the little known country of Benin. Aside from Angelique Kidjo, Benin has seldom been mentioned by even the specialist world roots press, and so a compilation of four seminal artists from the period 1969-81 is an especially welcome addition to the African music discography. This one comes from the top drawer and will be essential listening for roots and rare funk fans alike. Evenly divided between four key musicians, ‘Legends of Benin’ features some truly sublime grooves. El Rego et ses commandos are a legendary band who recorded during the early 1970s and in ‘Vimado Wignan’ and ‘The feeling you got’, two of the most sought after sounds on the planet are finally accessible to all. Gnonnas Pedro championed the modernisation of music in Benin and updated the Agbadja rhythm, earning the title of ‘King of Agbadja’. In this vein comes the 1973 song ‘La musica en vente’ as well as the funk-flavoured ‘Okpo videa bassouo’.
Antoine Dougbe created a style known as Afro Cavacha which basically fused Congolese rumba, Latin and traditional Voudoun rhythms. His own records are highly prized owing to their being released in very limited quantity on his own independent label. From this the enticingly entitled, ‘Le premier ministre du diable’ (’the prime minister’s devil’)impresses in particular. Honore Avolonto was some forty years ago a respected percussionist and arguably the most prolific and successful composer in the country. Among the selections on offer from Honore, the Afro-Beat number ‘Dou dagbe we’ takes pride of place and is a dancefloor gem. Superb cover graphics round off this indispensable slice of African groove that will surely prove to be one of the summer’s most listened to albums.

Tim Stenhouse

Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls ‘Seize The Time’ (Naim) 3/5

ted-sirotas-rebel-soulsChicago-born and based leader and drummer Ted Sirota has quietly established a reputation over three albums as a jazz musician with an open-minded approach. Stylistically this fourth album is situated in the post-bop genre with elements of free and a sensitivity to world roots music. Not surprisingly when one’s influences range from Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Monk to Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, the results are likely to be eclectic. So it proves on this entertaining outing that is a tad more restrained than on previous attempts. An immediate winner is the Caetano Veloso composition, ‘13 de Mayo’, the title referring to the date on which slavery ended in Brazil, and one that is regularly celebrated. Here the Latin rim drummming of Sirota perfectly compliments the rhythm guitar, which gives this number a distinctly South African township jazz feel. In contrast Sirota reverts to the wilder side of the band’s repertoire with a cover of the Clash’s ‘Clampdown’, the guitarist here obviously influenced by John Scofield, and Mingus’ seldom covered ‘Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA’. Throughout proceedings the melodic alto saxophone playing of Greg Ward impresses. A lesser known Miriam Makeba song,’Polo Mze parts one and two’ is divided into the percussion heavy first part and the funk laden second, characterised by dissonant guitar and fatback drum beat. In general Ted Sirota produces jazz with a social conscience which is a welcome throwback to the nineteen-sixties and adds an indie sensitivity of the punk era. Pursuing the world roots side may well catapult this band into the big-time, provided the self-composed pieces are leaner.

Tim Stenhouse

Tony Allen ‘Secret Agent’ (World Circuit) (4/5)

tony-allenAfro-Beat legend and former Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen has in recent years been a stalwart of the live circuit, but has returned with a stunner of an album and one that is probably his finest piece of work in at least twenty-five years. Allen has enlisted the support of both French-based musicians on the brass section and Nigerian ones for the rhythm section and chorus. What impresses on this recording is that Allen has not simply re-emphasized the Afro-Beat legacy, but has subtly updated the sound to fit twenty-first century requirements. Recorded in Lagos with overdubs in Paris, ‘Secret Agent’ is globalisation in practice in the best sense of the word. Dancefloor action will be guaranteed on the killer ‘Elewon Po’ that closes the album. With a deceptively laid-back highlife feel, the lovely fender rhodes playing weaves into the incessant guitar riffs to great effect. Unquestionably an album highlight. Almost as appealing is ‘Switha’ with female chorus vocals that sound as they have been inspired by Nu soul. The longest song of all, weighing in at almost eight minutes, is the infectious ‘Celebrate’ where the stabbing brass section kicks in hard. In general the album offers a variety of rhythms that always allow plenty of space for improvisation, but are never over long. Modern Afro-Beat is in a very healthy state if this recording is anything to go by. As ever superb graphics transport one immediately to 1970s Nigeria and detailed and incisive inner sleeve notes are provided by musicologist Chris May.

Tim Stenhouse

Legendary drummer Tony Allen oozes Afrobeat. He was a mainstay of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 and here he returns to his Afrobeat roots after his more recent involvement with The Good, The Bad & The Queen’. Produced by Tony Allen and using his tight funky band this is driving afrobeat with vocals from Nigerian singers Ayo, King Odudo, Switch, Kefee Obareki, Wura Samba and Allen himself on the title track and ‘Elewon Po’. Brilliant.

Graham Radley

Chick Corea/John McLaughlin ‘Five Peace Band Live’ (Concord) 4/5

chick-corea-john-mclaughlinThis all-star album recorded at a variety of live venues in Europe is a veritable feast of jazz fusion and in many respects a reunion of former Miles Davis alumni. Alongside the two headliners, saxophonist Kenny Garrett is a group member as well as a guest appearance from Herbie Hancock. Completing the band are bassist Christian McBride and drummer Vinnie Colanta. Compositions are roughly even divided between Corea and McLoughlin, but it is actually the other tracks that catch one’s eyes and ears. The piece de resistance of proceedings is a delicious lengthy reworking of part two of ‘In a Silent Way’, with Hancock exchanging keyboard licks with Corea. Even more surprising is a the Jackie McLean hard bop classic, ‘Dr. Jackle’, which finds the group in acoustic mode and McBride undertaking a sensitive solo. Perhaps some of the tracks are a little over long, especially the twenty-seven minute plus ‘Hymn to Andromeda’. However, this would be to underestimate the virtuosity of the musicianship on offer. Nonetheless, it would be nice to hear Corea and McLoughlin in a more intimate and acoustic setting together.

Tim Stenhouse

Joe Lovano ‘Folk Art’ (Blue Note) 4/5

joe-lovanoOver a fifteen year period Joe Lovano has established himself as the premier Blue Note saxophonist of the new era since the label was relaunched in 1985. Indeed this new album is his twenty-second and he has recorded in ever conceivable format over this period. For this latest offering Lovano has surrounded himself by a new, dynamic band, but one that has cemented its relationship via a week In general this album has a markedly freer feel than on previous albums (such as the pairing with Hank Jones or the quartet with Michel Petrucciani from the mid-1990s). However, it is always freedom within a coherent and clear structure and it is Joe’s omnipresent lyricism displayed on a variety of reed instruments that shines through. Perhaps the most striking composition (all pieces were self-penned by Lovano)is ‘Page Four’ on which Lovano plays alto clarinet and upcoming and immensely talented bassist Esperenza Spaulding excels on intimate bass solos. The catchy title track brings into focus the young pianist James Weidman and his piano licks here are reminiscent of the early McCoy Tyner sides. Two ballads are featured including a tribute to Joe’s wife on ‘Song for Judi’, but it is the improvisational character of pieces like ‘Us Five’ and ‘Drum Song’ where the band are able individually and collectively to stretch out. For a little variety, Lovano devotes one tune ‘Dibango’ to the legendary Cameroonian saxophonist and this is played in a funk groove. Overall a well-rounded album and one the proves beyond doubt that Joe Lovano is one of the premier saxophonists of his generation, and one of the few remaining with a firm grounding in the experiences of the fifties and sixties masters.

Tim Stenhouse

Rail Band ‘Bella Epoque –Vol 3 Dioba’ (Sterns Africa)

This is just the best, a classic band with 19 tracks spread over two CDs , this as the title suggests is the third part of a story covering 1970 to 1983. All I really need to say is this is the band that first brought us the talents that are Salif Keita, Mory kante, Sekou Kouyate, Lanfia Diabate and Makan Ganessy, listen to them here and revel in divine, pure music.

Graham Radley

Blick Bassy ‘Leman’ (World Connection)

First solo CD from cameroon’s rising star who is part of the Bassa ethnic group (originally nomads from Egypt). He grew up surrounded by music, not only Bassa musical traditions but his familys collection of music from Western soul greats like Marvin Gaye. He then moved to Paris in 2005 where he worked with many top African musicians like Manu Dibango. Those influences now unite on ‘Leman’ with the soulfulness of Gaye enriching his African traditional heritage. Great debut.

Graham Radley

Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics ‘Inspiration Information’ (Strut)

Third in Strut’s ‘Inspiration Information’ series, this one teams Ethiopian veteran jazzer Mulatu Astatke (star of Ethiopiques series) with UK funky jazzers Heliocentrics. Got a nice feel this one with the Ethiopian jazz groove being embellished by Heliocentrics as it flows along sometimes going off at heavier tangents then others hitting the chilled feel of ‘Blue Nile’ . My pick is the funky percussion driven ‘Live From Tigre Lounge’ . Excellent.

Graham Radley