Category Archives: Album Reviews

Stan Tracey Octet ‘The Early Works’ 2CD (Resteamed) 4/5

As part of the ongoing series of re-issues comes the latest instalment of classic Stan Tracey sides. This focuses on live recordings from the mid to late 1970s, with the leader’s compositional skills to the fore, and captures Tracey and the larger ensembles in top form. By this period Stan Tracey had completed his long stint as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s and was beginning to explore freer jazz forms in both duet and larger ensemble formats. Comprising three separate recordings, the one on CD2 features a set from the Salisbury Arts festival. The octet formation was born out of three commissioned pieces for the festival and showcases a mouthwatering line up of British jazz from the era including trumpeter Harry Beckett and reed players Trevor Watts, Alan Skidmore and Don Weller respectively. Of the extended numbers, ‘Peg-leg Bates’ impresses with its heavy emphasis on swing while ‘Ballad for St. Ed’ reveals the influence once more of Ellington in Tracey’s playing. The line up would be modified slightly on other dates with bassist Dave Green and saxophonist Peter King featuring among others.

The first CD from an earlier concert at Bracknell is more blues-inflected while being in the post-bop style and is characterised by a winning combination of stabbing horns and melodic compositions. Excellent saxophone solos and highly improvised piano intros make for highly enjoyable listening with a bonus being the unreleased encore of ‘Chiffik’. 2009 will see Tracey revisit some of the octet suites and if this is a taster of what is to come it should prove be both essential viewing and listening in the new year. A previous BBC Omnibus documentary featured the octet formation during the original period.

Tim Stenhouse

Gotan Project ‘Live’ 2CD (Ya Basta) 4/5

Gotan Project’s live recordings are something of a cause celebre (for essential viewing see their previous live DVD which is an ideal accompaniment)and the combination of acoustic instrumentation and electronic beats have resulted in a cult fan base and a welcome re-invigoration of the classic tango sound that is already enjoying a renaissance in its native Argentina. This new offering captures two separate live performances from distinct tours, one resulting the first album during a concert in London in 2003, and the second from a more recent live gig in Switzerland, 2007, focusing on the ‘Lunatico’ album. In luxurious digipak format with gatefold sleeve, the recordings are every bit at stylish as the ever inventive packaging. With only one noteable change in the line up for the latest tour, this being a new pianist Lalo Zanelli, the sound is remarkably good for a live session and consistently strong throughout. There are no less than three separate versions of their signature tune ‘Santa Maria(Del Buen Ayre) and two versions of the latest dancefloor hit ‘Diferente’ with a faithful rendition of ‘Triptico’. As an introduction to the group’s distinctive sound, this is exemplary music.

Tim Stenhouse

Dozan ‘Introducing Dozan’ (Intro)

Formed by Jordanian vocalist Shireen Abu-Khader to celebrate Arabic folklore. Their description on the sleeve notes as a ‘ modern folkloric chamber group’ sums them up well, the music is traditional with new arrangements but keeping the vocals very much to the fore on these Sufi influenced songs. Beautiful.

Graham Radley

Buena Vista Social Club @ Carnegie Hall (World Circuit)

Oh just listen to ‘Chan Chan’ kick in on CD one and they’ve got you in the palm of their hands, pure magic. Produced by Ry Cooder, from a concert in 1998 as the group made their American debut, even though they were in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. This is very much a moment in time as they never all played together again and sadly members like Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Company Segundo were soon to pass on. Double CD, 16 tracks, music just doesn’t get any better than this.

Graham Radley

Ten years on from the world-wide explosion of interest in the Buena Vista Social Club, it is fascinating to revisit the the first concert that the collective played in the United States and at the prestigous Carnegie Hall in New York to boot. Fortunately World Circuit recorded it for posterity and it does not disappoint. Long-time Buena Vistas in this country will remember the atmosphere at the Jazz cafe gig in London, and the week long fesitval of Cuban music at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. A decade earlier it would have been unthinkable that a bunch of Cuban musicians from the 1950s and beyond could have become a world-wide phenomenon, let alone be allowed to play in the States given political differences pervasive at the time. The concert swept away any such considerations and the music contained within catches the Buena Vistas at their absolute peak with the extended collective in all their glory.

The double CD provides plenty of space for the expanded repertoire of the band to be showcased, and in uptempo numbers such as the classic ‘Mandinga’ and the instrumental ‘Siboney’ with refined piano playing from Ruben Gonzalez we hear them at their absolute zenith. Shifts in tempo abound on ‘Almendra’ while the campesino country style of ‘Orgullecida’ allows the duet between Compay Segundo and Omara Portuondo to shine through. This is a trip through the classic Cuban songbook with songs such as ‘Cuarto de Tula’ that Celina Gonzalez made famous, but here transformed into an eight minute Latin big band number with vocals shared by Ferrer, Pio Leyva and Puntillita. Mid-tempo burners such as ‘De camino a la vereda’ swing like crazy and cha cha cha’s of the calibre of ‘La enganadora’ oscillate between instrumental and vocal passages. Of course the hit numbers are featured and ‘Chan Chan’ is a particularly fine rendition while ‘Quizas Quizas’ conjurs up the magic that Nat King Cole once injected into the song. With a deluxe thirty page booklet, the whole phenomenon is beautifully chronicled with musicians and writers alike providing commentaries. An indispensable slice of timeless nostalgia.

Tim Stenhouse

The Lani Singers ‘Ninalik Ndawi’ (Dancing Turtle)

Another tasty Dancing Turtle release with this husband and wife duo from the remote central highland region of New Guinea now exiled in the UK. The journey here was brought about by the dreadful difficulties they faced from the occupying regime of Indonesia including imprisonment for peacefully raising the banned national flag of West Papua. Rooted in the sacred rituals of the Lani Tribe the songs are emotive tales of their journey, of life, of traditions and ensure a legacy for a tribe whose future is of great concern. Folk music from the heart.

Graham Radley

Jimmy Radway and Fe Me Time All Stars ‘Dub I’ LP/CD (Pressure Sounds) 5/5

Mixed at Joe Gibbs studios by one half of the Mighty Two, Errol Thompson (but devoid of the special effects typical of the Mighty Two dub albums), ‘Dub I’ originally came out on an extremely limited edition LP in Jamaica in 1975. It was briefly released in the UK, albeit in a highly disguised form in the early 1980s, but has remained a collectors must have among dub cognoscenti because of its uncompromising pared-down sound. Pressure Sounds have reproduced the orginal minimalist sleeve with a crystal clear re-mastering, adding five extra dub and instrumental tracks.
Ivan ‘Jimmy’ Radway is something of an elusive figure even in reggae circles and certainly has not been prolific on the production front. However, what he has lacked in sheer quantity, he has more than made up for in the superb quality of the recordings and attention to detail. Some of the finest roots 45s were cut by Radway including ‘Black Cinderella’ by Errol Dunkley and ‘Mother Liza’ by Leroy Smart as well as various DJ cuts to the aforementioned by the likes of Big Youth and I-Roy. The genius of ‘Dub I’ was to bring all these classic riddims together and reproduce them in beautifully crafted and relatively short dub versions. Impressive are dub cuts to ‘Dub is my desire’ (originally Leroy Smart’s ‘Happiness is my desire’) and ‘Big Youth version’ (a dub cut to ‘Cinderella’). Of the extras, the instrumental ‘Tina May’ stands out and offers some nice trombone soloing from Vin Gordon over a heavyweight rhythm as does ‘The great Tommy Mc Cook’ by the legendary Skatalite member. Another winner of a re-issue from the premier UK label championing quality roots recordings.

Tim Stenhouse

Aaron Parks ‘Invisible Cinema’ (Blue Note) 4/5

Seattle born pianist Aaron Parks has packed a lot into his relatively young (twenty-four)years. From jazz mentors of the calibre of Kenny Barron, Fred Hirsch and latterly a tenure in Terence Blanchard’s band, to university studies begun at the tender age of fifteen, Parks is one precocious talent. On his debut for Blue Note he takes in multiple influences that range from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on the jazz side to Bjork, Radiohead and Talk Talk in the world of rock. In this respect he is like many of his contemporaries and not dissimilar to Brad Mehldau. What is interesting about the quartet is the interplay between guitarist Mike Moreno and piano on the one hand, and the subtle use of electric keyboards and drums on the other to create a layered, sometimes rock-inflected groove. In this respect there is a nod to EST in attitude, but in the sound created this is far more in the vein of a pared-down version of Pat Metheny in a quartet setting.
Beautiful ensemble work permeates ‘Karma’ with musicians playing off each other to wonderful effect whereas ‘Nemesis’ is characterised by a catchy and effective simple piano riff after which the guitar takes off. The expansive ballad ‘Praise’ showcases the refinement and maturity in Park’s piano style. No standards and all originals makes for an accomplished debut that promises a great deal for the future. Last year Robert Glasper was rightly hailed as a major new talent. This year the mantle must surely be passed on to Aaron Parks and one looks forward to the trajectory in development of his next releases.

Tim Stenhouse

Shinichi Yuize ‘Koto Classics Japan’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

Originally recorded in 1966 by traditional music specialist Yuize, this CD showcases the rootsy stringed instrument that is the Koto. In fact the koto is an approximately six foot, thirteen-stringed instrument and one that has to be played with three ivory picks that are placed on various fingers of the right hand. There is debate over whether the instrument arrived in Japan from China during the fifth century. What is beyond dispute, however, is the sheer beauty and meditational sound of the koto. Shinachi Yuize is a world-renowned practitioner of the instrument and one who has recorded with other classical musicans from throughout the world, notably Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin. Among the five extended pieces, three are instrumental solo compositions while the remaining two are koto plus vocals and it is the former that impress most of all. The opener ‘Zangetsu’ typfies the haunting koto sound in all its glory while the lengthy ‘Midare’ incorporates several sections and explores a wider musical canvass. One minor gripe is the cover photography which is a little dull in black and white and lacking in clarity. Given the wonderful cover on the original vinyl, it seems strange this was not reproduced in full. Otherwise this is an excellent release that, because of the spiritual nature of the recording, will appeal to an audience beyond those interested exclusively in the Far East, and in particular jazz fans will find much to appreciate in the virtuosity of the playing contained within. Extended inner sleeve notes significantly enhance the listener’s understanding.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Geza Music from the Kabuki’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

Japanese art form invariably combines different aspects and one of the main forms of Japanese theatre, ‘kabuki’ incorporates elements of dance, drama, music and pantomine. Within this form, Geza music refers to the off-stage music of kabuki theatre, but can also be adapted from noa theatre. Musicians in kabuki tend to be positioned in two separate locations; on stage with the principal instruments such as the shamisen, flute and drums; a separate small room concealed by a bamboo curtain where percussion instruments are played and actors often provide the sound effects. The music itself is to this listener’s ears folkloric in sound and pared down to the bare minumum. Particularly impressive is the flute and koto solo on ‘Aikata’. Impressionistic in tone, the music is inextricably linked to the play unfolding on stage. The instructive and extensive inner sleeve notes provide much needed historical context for the newcomer to this form of music. It should be pointed out that the music here is best appreciated in conjunction with viewing a film tale of traditional kabuki theatre and the ‘47 Ronin’ is one of the all-time classics.

Tim Stenhouse