Clarice & Sérgio Assad ‘Relíquia’ CD/DIG (Adventure Music) 5/5

clarice-segio-assadThis album got me thinking about the significance of family relationships in music. Am I the only one who thinks there must be something in the fact that there are quite so many familial connections in popular Brazilian music? The offspring of hugely successful artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Luiz Gonzaga have followed in their illustrious parent’s footsteps. There are also sibling links, take for example Caetano Veloso/Maria Bethânia, Quarteto Em Cy, Chico Buarque/Miúcha (who was also married to João Gilberto with whom she had Bebel Gilberto). Whatever the reasons for this, and I’m sure there are different stories to tell, I’m sure that nurture is an important factor. This sense seems to be validated by “Relíquia”, a magical album written and performed by Clarice and her father Sérgio as a “homage” to the musical legacy of their family. This idea is established before a single note has been played, by the evocative portrait on the front cover of a young Clarice staring off into the distance, either unaware of the attention of the camera or doing her defiant best to feign disinterest whilst her father tries to capture the perfect moment with his daughter.
Sérgio is one of the most eminent classical guitarists around today, regularly performing with his younger brother Odair, with whom he has won two Latin Grammys. His repertoire spans music from Brazil and elsewhere in South America as well as Jazz and Classical genres. Clarice’s musical path has taken a similar direction, with a string of jazz/brazilian albums behind her, as well as writing, performing and arranging classical music, working most recently as the resident arranger for the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

The music crafted for this album is at times spellbinding, an exquisite blend of Jazz, Choro, Bossa Nova and Classical. It’s uncomplicated, by which I mean it’s elemental rather than lacking twists and turns. Essentially it’s father and daughter and a couple of instruments. Making good music can be that simple at times. Okay, maybe I make this sound a little too simple; there are supporting musicians on some of the tracks but the sound and inspirations come from Clarice and her father.

Clarice sings and/or scats on five of the compositions. Her style is intimate, emotional, her phrasing and emphasis perfect. If you are looking for a point of reference then Joyce would be a good start, although Clarice’s timbres have stronger inflections of Jazz. Her use of scat and other vocalisation techniques, influenced by her aunt, singer/songwriter Badi Assad, adds different and interesting textures. Sérgio’s guitar playing is enchanting, creating wonderfully colourful and detailed melodies, conveyed with nuance, virtuosic subtlety and grace. Together there is an easy, unforced chemistry, not so much father – daughter, but a meeting of equals.

There are a couple of up-tempo numbers, the opener “Cidade”, and the lively “Capoeira”, which builds with the same speed, power and intensity as a jogo de Capoeira. Mainly though this is an album of sensitivity, sentimental without being cloying, of gentle songs that are most rewarding when you can give them your full attention, not on a packed train on the way to work or whilst mowing the lawn. The highlight for me is “Ventos”. It’s a stirring, wonderfully evocative piece featuring Clarice on piano and wordless, inventive vocals. It’s at once uplifting and flighty, before switching, as wind does, into something more ominous, and then just as quickly switching back again. I’ve listened to this album a lot over the past couple of weeks and this tune still has the power to stop me in my tracks.

The concepts of family and legacy are specifically addressed in two solo compositions written in the choro style, the self-explanatory “Song For My Father” featuring Clarice on the piano, and “Jorginho do Bandolim”, written by Sergio for his father, but in truth the whole album reverberates with sentiments of familial affection.

Too late I found out that Clarice was playing at The Pheasantry in Chelsea. Until she comes to the UK again I’ll have to content myself with as well-rounded and consistently strong album as I’ve heard this year.

Andy Hazell

Aparat ‘Aparat’ CD (Exit) 5/5

aparatAn improvisation-based album, in my view, tends to hang on the palette rather than the performance. Obviously, to a large degree, a wide ornamental, phrasal and dynamic vocabulary are beneficial elements, but the choice of instruments can be the strong foundation that is vital.
Aparat is a duo comprised of Marc Springer and Arthur Jeffes. Indeed, without any information, I had already felt a strong Penguin Cafe vibe to this record. And not in the new incarnation of Arthur Jeffes, but the one of his father’s. A throbbing harmonium and the occasional celeste give a pleasant parochial charm, evoking some rural chamber music. But there is more to this record than that.
Springer’s piano is the spine from which hangs a varied carcass. In “Annona” I heard strains of lounge, “Leger” pulled the toes of Brubeck, “Liga” has a pleasing child’s march or even a minuet, and on the closing “Matter”, the final note is suitably obtuse. An unsettling low note offering an awkward, unresolved feeling.
Peppering these vignettes are moments of vocal yelps (perhaps an owl on “Into The Moment”?), tricksy plucking of strings and woody bashing of surfaces. One of my favourite elements is the blending of the harmonium with the piano which can move from serene to funereal. It is a joy to hear the bellows driving in the background, an élan vital to the dry bones.

It is hard to know how much of this truly is on-the-fly and how much of it is a product of collaborative searching. It feels fluid and organic, however, so maybe this is a moot point. Parts wind in and out, dynamics rise and flow, suggesting a wider intention and effective collaborative atmosphere. The net result is that it makes sense. The constituent parts generate a tone of wandering a dale, to field-based chase scenes, misery in an inglenook, uncanny foreign factors in an otherwise familiar space, captured tension, wealth and loneliness…

If I had any criticism of this record, it’d be the length being just slightly too long for the casual listener. It has a hypnotic sensibility that may cause some minds to wander in the more extended sections. I think, however, the mainstay of the pieces are interesting, varied and original enough to carry most people. This is one that I will be returning to again and again, as I know there is detail I have missed and other stuff to stare at in the swelling noise.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Cannonball Adderley Quintet ‘You Got To Pay The Price To Be Free’ (Real Gone Music) 4/5

cannonball-adderley-quintetIf the title is familiar, the recording has been one of the harder to find albums that the band recorded on Capitol, produced by David Axelrod, capturing the quintet at a crossroads in their career, and thus the re-issue comes as a welcome relief, and follows on from previous albums from that same era when both Cannonball Adderley’s band and jazz more generally were in a state of flux. The band were soaking up new influences by the time this recording was being made and Brazilian music was uppermost among them. In fact, Cannonball’s love of Brazilian grooves goes back a decade or so to the early 1960s and a Riverside album recorded with the Sergio Mendes band (minus the later trademark vocalists, but scintillating nonetheless). This time round the sound is decidely funkier in hue and with a discernible social commentary element creeping through. A young Nat Adderley Jr (late to be guitarist in Luther Vandross’ 1980s band) delivers a social rap of sorts on the avowedly anti-Nixon title track, but it is his riff-laden acoustic guitar playing on ‘Down in the bottom’, that impresses most of all. Of interest to fans of modal jazz is the Joe Zawinul composition, ‘Painted desert’, that is impressionistic in tone, while Cannonball diversifies on soprano saxophone on, ‘Some time ago’, which does not sound as though it is the same number as the same titled piece on Return to Forever’s epic ECM debut recording just a couple of years later. The album was recorded live in the studio which gives it a slightly rougher edge and both Miles’ electric period (‘Bitches Brew’) and early Weather Report influences can be heard on repeated listens and indeed this was the very last Adderley band album that Zawinul recorded on before co-founding the groundbreaking jazz-fusion pioneers. Of note to those new to jazz is the soulful and funky treatment of ‘Bridges’, a Brazilian classic penned by Milton Nascimento that has subsequently been sampled by hip-hop artists.

Tim Stenhouse

BADBADNOTGOOD ‘IV’ LP/CD/DIG (Innovative Leisure) 4/5

badbadnotgoodBADBADNOTGOOD or BBNG in the shortened form, are a Toronto based quartet of musicians that amalgamate their jazz, hip hop, funk and electronica influences to create a fresh, young and vibrant sound that has led to a certain amount of success for the group so very early on in their career.
Established in 2010 as a trio, they originally met as students and much of their early work and performances centred on the group remaking hip hop classics and other contemporary pieces but within a live perspective. These included covers of ‘Fall in Love’ (Slum Village), ‘Mass Appeal’ (Gang Starr) and modern day electronic classic ‘CMYK’, an early James Blake 12” on R&S. They have also displayed their respectable jazz chops on all their previous recordings, of which there are now four studio LPs, two live LPs and a collaborative album project with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah in 2015 with ‘Sour Soul’ on the UK’s Lex Records.
BBNG currently consist of Matthew A. Tavares on keyboards, Alexander Sowinski on drums and samples, Chester Hansen on upright and electric bass and previous regular contributor, Leland Whitty, has now become a full-time member of the band providing saxophone, guitar, violin and viola.

The very appropriately titled new album ‘IV’ on the LA-based Innovative Leisure Records reinforces BBNG’s contemporaneous notion of jazz, by incorporating numerous elements but maintaining strong musical performances, and here, the group have written all the songs but have also for the first time utilised guest vocalist on 3 out of the 11 tracks. These include Future Island vocalist Sam Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, a sombre bluesy soul number that has a slight Bobby Womack feel, Charlotte Day Wilson, who’s an interesting folk-come-soul vocalist also from Toronto on ‘In Your Eyes’ for another soul stirrer and finally rapper Mick Jenkins performs on ‘Hyssop of Love’. Personally I would have preferred an instrumental here, although lyrically, the Chicago MC is competent enough.

There are also a number of downbeat instrumentals with ‘Chompy’s Paradise’, ‘And That, Too’ and the Axelrod-esque ‘Structure No. 3’. But their jazz background returns in ‘Cashmere’, with some fluid piano movements and the additional trumpet parts work well with the composition. And ‘Lavender’ which features another fellow Canadian and man of the moment Kaytranada, sounds like a funky John Carpenter movie cue from the early 1980s.

BBNG’s music does possess a slightly demo quality – but in a good way. There are imperfections, not musical ones, but more holistically. There are better jazz musicians out there, the mixes are little unbalanced, the studio recording not perfect, but for a young four-piece instrumental funk/jazz/hip hop group their success has been astounding. The album is young, fresh but also a bit grimy – which reflects their musical upbringing. You can hear a bit of Dilla in there, a bit of The Headhunters, moody film soundtracks, Southern soul licks, modern electronica, dusty 45s – it’s all very well acknowledged, presented and slightly twisted on the album.

I would argue that BADBADNOTGOOD are still growing and evolving and are very much a work in progress. This is a very strong set, but they are still very young and hopefully have a long career ahead of them.

Catch them live at Electric Brixton, London on 1st November.

Damian Wilkes

Masabumi Kikuchi ‘Black Orpheus’ CD/DIG (ECM) 4/5

masabumi-kikuchiSix or seven years ago my musical odyssey, that seemingly never-ending quest for new and exciting sounds, found me digging deeper into Japanese Jazz from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. This particular interest (some might say hawkish obsession, others waste of money, depending on whether you were interested in my mental health or my pecuniary status) was sparked by hearing Fumio Itabashi’s symphonic version of “Watarase” on Gilles Peterson’s show. Admittedly this version of “Watarase” was a later recording, but one that served as a gateway to the Japanese domestic market and great albums by the likes of Akira Miyazawa, Takehiro Honda, Sadao Watanabe and the artist behind this album, pianist and composer Masabumi Kikuchi. Affectionately known as “Poo Sun” or simply “Poo”, his early albums, modal jazz masterpieces like “End of the Beginning”, “East Wind” or “Hollow Out” with Elvin Jones, remain firm favourites. Like many jazz musicians of his generation electric era Miles was a significant influence and as the ‘70s progressed Kikuchi’s albums veered into jazz fusion/funk territory, although still retaining an idiosyncratic charm.
In later years Kikuchi resolved to find his own sound and his music became a personal journey, performing with kindred spirits like Paul Motian, moving away from traditional song forms towards self-realisation in music.

“Black Orpheus” is a solo piano recital recorded at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall on 26 October 2012, Kikuchi’s final album before he passed away last year at the age of 75. Without wishing to sound overly sentimental it’s fitting that his last album should be recorded in his hometown, as he’d moved to New York in the ‘70s.

The album comprises of 9 wholly improvised pieces, sparingly titled Tokyo, Parts I through IX, and two arrangements, the title track (actually “Manhã de Carnaval” the main theme from Black Orpheus), a version of the Brazilian classic penned by Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria, and “Little Abi”, written by Kikuchi.

This is not an easy listening experience, but under the right conditions it is utterly spellbinding. For me it requires a single-minded focus on the music, working best when you can block out other distractions. Stripped of additional instrumentation it’s music at it’s purest, an almost spontaneous expression of ideas, feelings and emotions. It’s intensely personal, an insight into Kikuchi’s inner monologue, a ‘conversation’ that occasionally spills out audibly as he grunts and murmurs whilst performing. I get the sense that Kikuchi found an inner peace during this performance; yes, there are passages of energy, some discordant (during “Tokyo III”, or “..V” for example), unsettling even, but overwhelmingly the sense is of tenderness, sensitivity and contemplation, expressed through unhurried passages of play, of long, lingering notes, moments of silence and gentle melodic phrases. Tracks like “Tokyo Part IX” and “Little Abi” are quite stunning in their beauty. Kikuchi first recorded the latter, written for his daughter, on saxophonist Kohsuke Mine’s 1970 debut; it’s a composition that he has returned to over his career.

On the face of it the choice of “Black Orpheus” seems a little incongruous. In Kikuchi’s hands however it is eminently sympathetic retaining a lot of the sadness inherent in Samba-Canção, but without being overly sentimental.

For me listening to this album has a transformative quality. I’d liken it to watching a film at a cinema in the middle of the day; without realising it your mind is taken elsewhere, an impact that only becomes apparent when you leave and re-enter the world going about it’s business. Masabumi Kikuchi, you will be missed, but fortunately your music lives on.

Andy Hazell