Category Archives: Album Reviews

Grant Green ‘Street of Dreams’ (Blue Note RVG) 5/5

Ostensibly what should have been a run of the mill quartet of American songbook standards was transformed into a magical session on this 1964 date and one in which organist Larry Young and drummer Elvin Jones excel as much as the leader. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is ‘I wish you love’, formerly a song immortalised by French crooner Charles Trenet, but here transformed into a classic jazz tune with Green in particular in superlative form. The hanuting ballad ‘Lazy afternoon’ is played in 5/4 tempo and vibist Bobby Hutcherson, fresh from avant-garde excursions on Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch’ turns in a stellar performance here. In fact the tempo gently builds in intensity and picks up two minutes in when Green takes up a solo with Jones demonstrating what a sensitive accompanyist he could be. The title track begins in conventional fashion before Jones and Young hijack proceedings with the former undertaking an extended solo and the latter 
supplying the polyrhythms that Coltrane loved to play behind in order that Green demonstrate his prowess on those familiar blues-inflected guitar licks. The final piece, ‘Somewhere in the night’, sounds like something that might have been composed for a Jacques Tati film and Hutcherson creates the cinematic ambience over which Green and Young comp beautifully. An awesome session, then, and little surprise that Alfred Lion wanted to record them again a year later in March 1965 on ‘I want to hold your hand’, this time with the additional tenor saxophone of Hank Mobley. The trio performed at a select number of live dates in New York and one can only wonder at what musical treasures these sessions yielded.

Tim Stenhouse

Rail Band ‘Belle Epoque vol. 3. Dioba’ 2CD (Sterns) 5/5

Once more Sterns come up trumps with a sumptuously packaged 2 CD set from the legendary Rail Band that covers three distinct periods of the group’s existence between 1970 and 1983. The rarity of the original vinyl releases on these previously unreleased recordings on CD in Europe makes this an essential item for afficionados of the classic era in modern West African music. The first period is notable for the inclusion of a relatively unknown lead vocalist who proves to be a revelation. It is the impassioned vocals of Magan Ganessy that are the icing on the cake of a superb song, ‘Kibaru’ from 1974 which, with its guitar riffs, incessant percussion and stabbing horns is in some ways a precursor to the epic ‘Mandjou’ sung by Salif Keita while fronting the band. Ganessy impresses also on the wonderful ‘Djamban’ which is a beautiful uplifting tune that again features heavyweight percussion. In contrast, the second period of the mid-late 1970s is 
characterised by a highly melodic accompaniment as illustrated on the lilting mid-tempo ‘Tidiane Kone’ from 1977 featuring the vocals of Djelimady Sissoko, and in a more uptempo vein by the tribute to both Afrobeat and Fela on ‘Sinsimba’ with Mory Kante taking on vocal duties. By the third period of the early 1980s, however, the Rail Band’s sound had become more polished, recording facilites had improved and yet there is still a distinctive feel even when synthesizers make their entrance and the brass is less prominent. This is exemplified by the song ‘Diabate’ from 1982. The songs as a whole constitute a vital part of the Rail Band’s repertoire and are an African equivalent by Sterns to the substantial and seemingly tireless documental work that the Smithsonian Institute has carried out and continues to do so for American folk music. As ever detailed bilingual notes accompany proceedings (with beautiful graphics of album covers and original photos), in this case from the expert pen of French musicologist Helene Lee who has written extensively on West African music.

Tim Stenhouse

Baby Face Willette ‘Stop and Listen’ (Blue Note RVG) 4/5

This long sought after album is finally re-issued on CD and was formerly one of the hardest to find vinyl items among the vast Blue Note catalogue with one of the earliest sessions of guitarist Grant Green from 1961. In fact the trio recorded together on Green’s debut, ‘Grant’s First Stand’ while Willette seldom recorded for the label with only two albums as a leader and sideman duties for Lou Donaldson on ‘Here ‘Tis’. Thereafter Willette recorded two more albums for Chicago label Argo both in 1964 before he died in 1971.

Influenced largely by church organists in Chicago and more restrained in approach than Jimmy Smith, Willette impresses here on the self composed track ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ which would have made ideal material for the jukeboxes and dancefloors of the early 1960s and the keyobardist takes the initiative from the beginning. The title track is a catchy r’n’b number not dissimilar in flavour to ‘Fever’ and there are nices Latin touches from Ben Dixon on drums. A swinging version of ‘Willow weep for me’ is a pretext for Green to stretch out with those bluesy guitar licks that were his trademark and Willette plays an extended solo. It is the fullness of the trio sound devoid of any horns and yet still occupying the space with aplomb that stands out on the popular ‘Work Song’ where Green excels. Among the burgeoning roster of hammond organ players, Baby Face Willette was one of the least well known. However, it was certianly not due to any lack of talent as this album amply testifies.

Tim Stenhouse

Jose Roberto Bertrami and his Modern Sound ‘Aventura’ (Far Out) 3/5

Long-time Azymuth keyboard wizzard Bertrami embarked upon a solo career as long ago as 1983 with the superb ‘Blue Wave’ and has returned to leader duties with a more upfront and varied album/project than one might expect. 
Brazilian grooves from the 1960s and 1970s are showcased here with a fender and acoustic bossa trip on ‘Joanna’ and especially on ‘No tempo da bossa’ where Bertrami clearly feels at home. The title track in contrast is pure jazz funk soundtrack with its use of horns while ‘Laranjeiras’ is a reprise of one of the keyboardists’ older compositions. What is surprising is Bertrami’s delight at playing old-style samba-jazz as on the acoustic tambourim-led ‘Choro’, or the cha cha cha feel of ‘Danca de salao’ which is given a modern updated twist. Of course the reflective side to Bertrami’s craft is not forgotten and he solos on electric piano on ‘Brillante’ and on acoustic piano and organ on ‘O Rescador’. Excellent recording quality throughout enhances the musical pleasure.

Tim Stenhouse

Bombay Dub Orchestra ‘3 Cities’ (Six Degrees) 4/5

World roots fusion music is a rapidly expanding sub-genre and keyboardist and programmer Garry Hughes and pianist Andrew Mackay have come up with a bold and fascinating East-West musical cross-pollination that successfully combines the orchestral side of Indian classical with the contemporary beats of electronica. Less jazzy than say Shakti, but using the layered strings as effectively as Alice Coltrane did in the early 1970s, this project is truly twenty-first century in its conception with Indian musicians in three cities, Mumbai, Chennai and London, adding their contributions and the sound as a whole being mixed in Wales. The modal bass line on ‘Strange constellations’ serves as the backbeat for the sensitive combination of keyboards and strings. On the repetitive jazz guitar riff of ‘Man at dusk’ inventive keyboards and Indian bansuri swing in unison. Perhaps, the musical experiments of Bill Laswell have proved inspirational for Hughes and Mackay and this is no more evident than on ‘Journey’ where dub and percusssion fuse with the haunting bansuri over a composition that has an epic cinematic quality to it. Indeed one wonders whether the pair would be usefully employed on a film score at some future recording. Vocals and strings come together effectively on ‘Junaan’. Only on a few tracks does the electronica side take over to the detriment of the traditional Indian one. Overall a supremely confident and well executed project that brings music from the Indian sub-continent into the new millenium while respecting its centuries old tradition.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith and Idrens vol. 2’ (Makasound/Inna de yard) 4/5

Way back in the 1970s it was the tradition for aspiring singers and groups in Jamaica to preview songs in front of a producer in the open air back yards of Kingston. Makasound hit upon the idea of reviving this practice, introducing a series of artists with minimalist instrumentation and showcasing some of roots reggae’s greatest practitioners. Volume two provides highlights of the aforementioned and includes Congo member Cedric Myton, Junior Murvin and Linval Thompson as well as groups of the calibre of the Mighty Diamonds and the Viceroys. Indeed it is some of the lesser known musicians that impress most with Kiddus I supplying a superb performance of his classic ‘Graduation in Zion’ with sparse instrumentation giving this cut a dubby feel that original producer Lee Perry would have appreciated. Of course the major names come up trumps with Chinna radically reworking Junior Byles’ ‘Fade away’ as a ballad and the Viceroys delivering an excellent ‘Yahoo’. Perhaps the most interesting finds are the new artists such as Matthew McAnuff (son of Winston?) with his delicious ‘Be careful’ and Barry Ford of long forgotten English roots group Merger and a lovely guitar/melodica take on ‘Rebel’. As ever the sound quality is excellent and the extra unreleased items make this one for the long, lazy summer days and evenings ahead.

Tim Stenhouse

Baaba Maal ‘On The Road’ (Palm)

A retrospective of his acoustic live shows taken from gigs over the past ten years. Listen to the beautiful kora playing of the late Kaouding Cissoko, or Koni featuring Ernest and then drift into Baaba’s divine vocals and find yourself in a very special place, he’s a genius and please can we have a new CD soon.

Graham Radley

Dexter Gordon ‘Best of’ 3CD (Blue Note France) 4/5

In his early twenties Dexter Gordon was one of the most promising tenor saxophonists alongside Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards on the West coast jazz scene. However, his much heralded first albums gave way to a serious drug addiction during the early to mid 1950s and by the time he had sorted himself out he was hitting the big 40. This is where the collaboration with Blue Note begins and it was a new mature sounding Gordon that emerged to execute a series of immaculate albums for the label. These vary in format from the classic quartet to quintet including trumpet and even quintet with vibes. Six key albums released at the time are previewed alongside two later issues and all cover the period 1961-1965. Most of the favourites are here such as ‘Love for Sale’ and ‘Cheesecake’ from the seminal ‘Go’, the Latinesque hues of ‘Soy Califa’ from ‘Swingin’ Affair’ and even the summery sound of ‘Le Coiffeur’ from ‘Gettin’ Around’. Gordon recorded two albums in Europe for Blue Note and from ‘Our Man in Paris’, ‘Night in Tunisia’ features Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke in an all-star cast. None of the sessions from the film ‘Round Midnight’ in which Gordon starred and earned a grammy nomination are featured, nor are the live sessions from the mid-1960s that Blue Note Denmark issued. A 1965 date with Freddie Hubbard, ‘Clubhouse’ is showcased. The timing overall is generous with even an eighteen minute plus track included in the digipak format. Bizarrely the inner sleeve features Roland Kirk who plays no part in proceedings. Recording dates are indicated, but no notes. This compliation serves as an excellent introduction to the craft of one of jazz’s greatest exponent of the tenor saxophone.

Tim Stenhouse

Laurence Hobgood ‘When the Heart Dances’ (Naim) 4/5

Long-time arranger for Kurt Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood has released an album that highlights his own talents and in the intimate setting of bassist Charlie Haden and the occasional vocals of close collaborator Elling. Stylistically influenced by the romantic tradition of piano jazz playing perfected by Bill Evans, it is the apparent simplicity in style that immeidately impresses. However, in leaving space and playing the right notes lies the real skill and this is one of the album’s strengths. Of the three original compositions, ‘When the heart dances’ stands out and ‘Leatherwood’ reveals the refined side to Hobgood’s writing skills. Otherwise it is an immaculate selection of the American songbook with a reflective and even mournful take on ‘Que sera sera’. Meanwhile Haden supplies his own composition on ‘First song’ on which he takes a lovely bass solo and, as ever, Hobgood is very willing to share musical space. Elling excels on ‘Stairway to the stars’ which is an ideal ballad vehicle while Hobgood stretches out on an extended solo before Haden joins in on ‘New Orleans’. While not possessing a highly individual sound, Hobgood is a truly gifted arranger and accompanyist, and on this recording for hi-fi specialist label Naim has delivered a varied album in a minimalist setting and one which provides great pleasure with repeated listening.

Tim Stenhouse

Ojos de Brujo ‘Oacana’ (Warner Brothers Spain) 4/5

The follow up to the excellent ‘Techari’ from 2006 and a subsequent triumphant tour, Ojos de Brujo return with ‘Oacana’ (gipsy term for ‘now’)that is every bit as good as its predecessor and once again demonstrates the diverse take on traditional Catalan rumba and flamenco influences. Over a series of albums Ojos de Brujo have created a distinctive sound and identity, and now on a major label the rootsy indie feel to their music remains undiminished. Dancefloor action is guaranteed on ‘Rumba del adios’ that successfully fuses Catalan rumba with old school salsa horns. An even more interesting collaboration is that of inviting members of legendary Cuban band Los Van Van, including ace pianist Roberto Carcasses, on the riff laden ‘Busca la bueno’ with piano vamps and percussion added in for good measure. For a slice of authentic flamenco given a modern twist ‘Correveidible’ is simply irresistible and features a piano solo that shows the Cuban guests elsewhere have made their mark on the evolving Ojos sound. The maturity in Ojos’ repertoire is illustrated in the subtle groove that is ‘Baraka’ where rumba and bolero meet (an example in Spanish of ‘iba y vuelta’ or ‘coming and going’ flamenco where influences from outside the Iberian peninsular are incorporated before returning in a revitalised form of the genre) while Indian classical flavours are in evidence on ‘Tantas flores’. Fetching cartoon graphics on the cover and a lavish gatefold sleeve with bilingual lyrics complete an extremely well rounded set. Catch them if you can at a very limited number of concerts ending in Liverpool at the beginning of May.

Tim Stenhouse