Category Archives: Album Reviews

Gene Harris and the Three Sounds ‘Elegant Soul’ (Blue Note Rare Groove) 4/5

The Three Sounds underwent a major stylistic change after mid-1967 with an accompanying minor change in personnel. Until then they had performed as classic jazz trio with a bluesy feel and had recently recorded the superb live album ‘Live at the Lighthouse’ in June 1967. Thereafter strings were added, flute and vibes introduced, and the drum pattern was more akin to that of the emerging funk sound pioneered by James Brown. Chicago-based producer Monk Higgins was clearly influenced by the soul orchestrations of the windy city and ‘Elegant Soul’ is a superior example of soul and jazz styles merging. Aided by the writing of fellow producer See Ervin and separate songwriter Virginia Bland, compositions range from extended workouts to tight blues-inflected grooves. The longest of these, ‘Sittin’ Duck’ weighs in at over nine minutes. For jazz fans the strings are far from intrusive as illustrated on ‘Do it right now’ with occasional background chants. A left-field winner is to be found in ‘African Sweets’. All in all arguably the best of the late period studio recordings Gene Harris and the band made for Blue Note. Tim Stenhouse

Jeremy Steig ‘Howlin’ for Judy (Blue Note Groove) 3/5

Jeremy Steig was a relatively little known flautist whose main claim to fame came much later in the 1990s when the track ‘Howlin’ for Judy’ was a hit on the jazz dancefloor scene. This compilation brings together the two albums he recorded for Blue Note and Solid State while under the control of Liberty. The title track is a wonderful piece of left-field inspired jazz and in truth nothing quite matches this. However, ‘Mint Tea’ evokes the influence of Roland Kirk and is an extended excursion for Steig. Throughout proceedings Steig is accompanied by a pared down accompaniment of Eddie Gomez on bass and Don Alias on drums and percussion. The recordings might have benefited from the occasional variation of piano or guitar. There is no questioning the skill of Steig, or the intensity of his playing as witnessed on ‘Alias’. However, as whole this compilation is little too one-dimensional and one is left wanting a temporary rest from the relentless flute improvisations. Tim Stenhouse

Reuben Wilson ‘Set us free’ (Blue Note Rare Groove) 3/5

In recent time there has been an extensive re-evaluation of soul-jazz organist Reuben Wilson and of his incursions into jazz-funk for Cadet. While the high point of his career remains ‘Love Bug’ cut for Blue Note in 1969, Wilson went on to record a series of albums for the label including this offering in 1971. In contrast to previous albums, ‘Set us free’ was more expansive in its use of instrumenation with added percussion courtesy of congocero Ray Armando, jazz harp, reeds, vocals from female trio Essence and the arrangements of Wade Marcus. The title track is an Eddie Harris composition wh ich is an excellent vehicle for Wilson to stretch out. By this time soul music was in full flight and it should come as little surprise that Wislon should cover two popular songs of the era, ‘Mr Big Stuff’, a hit for Jean Knight and Marivn Gaye’s ‘Mercy mercy me (The Ecology)’, which had only recently been released at the time. Soul fans will find much to appreciate in these covers with vocal chants from Essence embellishing the sound. There is some easy listening material as on ‘We’re in love’ and blues-inflected pieces such as ‘Sho-nuff mellow’ with guitar solo which is, perhaps, the most faithful to the overall Wilson sound. Tim Stenhouse

Maytals ‘The Sensational Maytals’ (VP) 5/5

Toots Hibbert is one of the institutions and founding blocks of Jamaican popular music, singing for over forty years, and this welcome re-issue provides us with an opportunity to take in his early ska offerings reocrded at Federal studios. This was in fact the Maytals’ second album following on from ‘Never grow old’ for Coxsone at Studio One and is a delight from start to finish. Soulful is a word that aptly describes the music on this album and ‘Love is a special feeling’ gets proceedings off to a storming start with its catchy groove. Minor key ska is to the fore on ‘It’s you’ which unsurprisingly was issued as a 45 and features the distinctive group harmonies. Uplifting melodies abound on ‘You make me feel the way you do’ with lovely trumpet while the influence of deep southern US soul is felt on ‘It’s no use’. There is no lessening of quality on the generous six bonus tracks and of these ‘When I laugh’ impresses. Percussive drumming on ‘Bam Bam’ rounds off a milestone album in the evolution of reggae. Detailed sleeve notes courtesy of Steve Barrow and original cover photos make for an indispensable re-release. Tim Stenhouse

Moussu T ‘Home sweet home’ (Manivette/Le Chant du Monde) 4/5

Qu’es aquo l’occitan? What is Occitan? If this language looks unfamiliar, then it is because Occitan is part of the Romance family of languages, similar to Catalan and Spanish, but was spoken throughout the south of France until the 1789 revolution after which time it was largely relegated to the countryside and instead what we know call French took over as the national language. Marseille-based group Moussu T are part of a cultural and linguistic revival that champions the use of the language and on releasing their latest album, ‘Home sweet home’ have used this as the backdrop to their folksy-retro sound which is given a cosmopolitan twist with a mixture of acoustic instrumentation (banjo, washboard) and more exotic sounds (Brazilian berimbau and the Medieval-sounding cougourdon).
Social and cultural themese comprise the majority of the songs and catchy they are too. Tipifying proceedings is ‘Mar e montanha’ which praises the people and places that make up the linguistic boundary that is Occitania while ‘Camarada’ evokes the literary heritage of the troubadours (an early example of we might crudely refer to now as crooners)and ‘Labour song’ adds in references to the Spanish civil war. Marseille is an extremely cosmopolitan city in the twenty-first century with its inhabitants are made up of multiple identities from North Africa to Italy, Greece and further afield. The Cuban-inspired song ‘A la Ciotat Pt.2’ features guitar and vocal ensemble whereas on ‘Lo Chaple’ the legendary Marseille group Massilia Sound System are sampled on a track that questions what has been done to this city. On the country-folk of ‘Il fait beau’ and the ballad of the title track, one wonders whther the band has been influenced by the dust-bowl era of folk singers from Woody Guthrie onwards. In sum this is one of the year’s most pleasurable listens from a truly original band with a highly distinctive repertoire. Qu’es aquo l’occitan? It’s the language of Occitania! Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Sambistas’ (Sap) 4/5

Veteran sambistas Jair Rodrigues and Elza Soares are joined by two of the new wave – City Of God star Seu Jorge and Luciana Mello plus 40 (yes 40) of Brazil’s best musicians to reinterpret 11 classic samba songs plus a couple of new ones. My pick is Seu Jorge who does a geat version of Dorival Caymmi’s ‘Samba Da Minha Terra ‘ . Refreshing. Graham Radley

Samba is sometimes characterised outside Brazil as an endless explosion of larger ensemble percussion as witnessed at the Rio carnival. However, this is only part of the story and one that ignores its more modest roots. Samba is a more complex mix of multiple tempi, sometimes slow and mournful and sometimes faster and uplifting. What is beyond doubt is that despite modest beginnings when it was largely rejected by the Brazilian middle classes, samba has become the national music of Brazil and so many sub-genres have evolved as a direct result of samba’s pervasive influence. This present compilation celebrates just a fraction of the numerous facets of samba at a time when there is a vigorous re-investigation of its origins and golden era from the 1930s through to the 1950s. Stars of the calibre of Marisa Monte and Joyce have recently devoted whole albums to reworking specific samba styles. Of the artists on ‘Sambistas’ the album is broadly divided between established veteran sambistas such as Jair Rodrigues, Elza Soares and Jair Oliveira and newer upcoming singers including ‘City of God’ actor/singer Seu Jorge and Luciano Mello.
For the former Jair Rodrigues made his name in the 1960s as part of a famous television/recording duet with arguably Brazil’s greatest ever female singer Elis Regina on the ‘O Fina da Bossa’ show and LPs. Here he offers a delicious old school samba on ‘Juizo final’ a song co-written by samba legend Nelson Cavaquinho while his impassioned vocals also featiure on ‘Batuque nacozinha’ with lovely flute and collective vocal accompaniment. Elza Soares is best known for her 1960s recordings and marriage to Brazilian footballing legend Garrincha. Her versatlitiy is displayed on the laid back ‘Minhas madrugadas’ and on the uptempo ‘Incompatibilidade de genios’, which is a contemporary samba from the 1980s that was a hit for the crack songwriting pairing of Joao Bosco (who sang the original) and Aldir Blanc. Old and new stars alike combine on the rootsy ‘Samba da doca’ with Seu Jorge and Jair Oliveira sharing vocal duties on this homage to the brassy samba gafieira style. Rising star Luciano Mello contributes three songs of which the evergreen ‘Falsa Biaana’ impresses and re-affirms the songwriting skills of Bahia’s most distinguishged wordsmith, Dorival Caymmi. This is an authentic slice of samba that champions its roots and one hopes that a second volume will follow, perhaps with two of its greatest veterans Martinho da Vila and Paulinho da Viola as active participants. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Brazilian Beats Brooklyn’ UK CD/LP (Mr Bongo)

The latest in Mr Bongo’s Brazilian Beats compilation series focuses on some of the favourite vintage grooves played at the weekly party sessions, Brazilian Beats Brooklyn hosted in Brooklyn by DJs Sean Marquand and Greg Gaz. With 22 tracks included there’s a lot to take in but Silvio Cesar’s soul groover ‘A Festa’ and Helio Matheus’ ‘Mais Kriola’ with it’s spacey keys shine through immediately. Well worth purchasing for these 2 tracks alone!

Andy Allen

Various ‘Ready Or Not 2’ Canadian CD/LP (Do Right)

John Kong, head honcho at Do Right further delves into the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s archives to bring us another fine selection of deep jazz grooves. Highlights include Nick Ayoub’s ‘Perception’ and Alvin Pall Sextet’s ‘Melancholy’, both exceptional modal pieces, The Montreal Black Community Youth Choir’s take on Roberta Flack’s ‘Tryin’ Times’ and the funky fusion outings ‘Hidden Strength’ and ‘Beloved Gift’ by Ted Moses Quintet and Bernie Senensky Trio respectively. Note there are 12 tracks on the CD but only 6 on the vinyl version. However the vinyl does feature 2 exclusives not found on the CD, Elizabeth Shepherd Trio’s ‘Soya’ and the firing dancer ‘Capricorn Dance’ again from Bernie Senensky Trio.

Andy Allen

Elizabeth Shepherd Trio ‘Start To Move’ Canadian CD (Do Right)

After teasing us with the Nostalgia 77 Remix of ‘Reversed’, Elizabeth Shepherd Trio now come with their impressive debut album. Contained within are some first rate vocal jazz performances from the opening title track, which pays tribute to some of the scene’s innovators, to the quirky ‘Price Is Right’ which concludes the set. In between there are moments of pure brilliance like the original version of ‘Reversed’, ‘Melon’, an up-tempo Latin jazz excursion and the immaculate ‘Circles’.

Andy Allen

Sugarbeats ‘Search For Peace’ UK CD (Calm Beast)

On ‘Search For Peace’ Birmingham ‘s Sugar Beats lay down a selection studio versions of choice cuts from their live repertoire. Their sound is firmly rooted in 70s jazz-fusion, whilst keeping an eye firmly on the present. The opening track and recent 12”, ‘Tickled Zinc’, is a perfect example, a dedication to fellow UKVibe family member Bruce Q and his weekly broken-beat sessions held at Zinc bar in Birmingham . The title track is a beautiful dreamy vocal outing and follows a similar path to their debut single ‘French Girl From Luton ‘, which is also included. My particular favourites though are ‘Thanks’, reminiscent of 60s Blue Note and the swinging dancer ‘Rosa’.

Andy Allen