22nd Apr2017

Mark Lewandowski ‘Waller’ (Whirlwind) 5/5

by ukvibe

Any album that includes Paul Clarvis in the line-up simply has to be fun. This album certainly is that. Here we have a trio under the leadership of bassist Mark Lewandowski and also featuring Liam Noble at the piano.  Mark is a new name to me so here’s a little about him. He hails from Nottingham and has arrived on the London jazz scene comparatively recently having studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, whilst also gigging around the capital. Amongst his tutors have been Steve Watts and Michael Janisch. So it’s really no surprise that Mark’s debut album is released on his mentor’s label.

Now established as an in-demand sideman, he has been able to work in a variety of settings, from straight ahead to contemporary, original and improvised music. 

It looks like 2017 is set to be Mark’s year as he is currently touring the music from this album during April and May.  

Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller was certainly a colourful, larger- than- life character. The one thing that seemed to pervade all of his music was a humour and light-heartedness. He wrote many songs during his career, a lot of which have become staples of the jazz and popular song repertoire. However, above all he was an entertainer.

Waller was most active during the 1920’s and 1930’s and died in 1943 at the age of 39. This collection of Waller’s tunes seeks to re-dress the songs in 21st Century clothing. Not for this trio the Harlem stride style, but something more contemporary. Sometimes it seems that we are seeing the work of Fats Waller through the prism of Thelonious Monk.

Each song is dismantled and then carefully re-assembled, musical brick by musical brick but with due reverence to the original.

As in much of Waller’s work, the musicians here sound happy and relaxed. It’s a particular delight to hear Clarvis using brushes throughout the album. This is an intimate meeting of minds and one feels at times that one is almost eaves dropping on a personal three way conversation. But then, such is the creativity of the musicians that they draw the listener into their dialogue.

Listening to Noble, I realise that he has a wry sense of humour similar to Clarvis and they therefore make the ideal partnership for this project.

Authentic samples of Waller’s own voiced introductions seems to add a certain authenticity to the performances.

Eleven Waller tracks and a final piece written by Jelly Roll Morton make up the album contents.

An almost free-form introduction ushers in the opening track ‘Lulu’s Back in Town’ and then Noble’s impish piano enters ushering in the familiar theme aided and abetted by Clarvis’ skittering brushwork. The musical icing is provided by the leader’s propulsive bass underpinning the whole.

Every track is a musical gem, but I particularly enjoyed ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. Noble’s solo delicately deconstructing the well-worn melody, and the leader’s bass solo which follows is the epitome of good taste.

The trio build up a fantastic head of steam on ‘Blue Because Of You’ and we get a nice arco bass solo too.

‘Fair and Square…in Love’ is another proposition entirely beginning with the sound of Waller himself and concluding with very considered and stately playing, not at all how Waller would have played the tune. The sound here is reminiscent of one of the many Scandinavian jazz trios which seem to abound at the moment.

The musicians cleverly intertwine two of Waller’s best known tunes on ‘It’s a Sin to…Write a Letter’ to great effect. Clarvis’ solo on this track is nothing less than outstanding.

Lewandowski’s tour de force is a solo bass rendition of ‘Have A Little Dream on Me’. A miniature delight.

‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ is another track where the musicians lead the listener up a rather mysterious byway before stating the melody.

Waller himself introduces ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ before the protagonists stamp their own musical identities on the piece.

The concluding track is ‘Why’ by Jelly Roll Morton and features a vocal, I imagine, by the leader.

I have said before that jazz does not necessarily have to be thrusting and original to have merit and I stand by that comment. These are totally fresh interpretations of Fats Waller classics but still manage to stay faithful to the original compositions. For me the best jazz displays humour and musical empathy in equal measure and this album has this in abundance. Who would have thought it possible to have a smile on one’s face continuously for almost 50 minutes?

If ever you are feeling down listen to this album and your mood will lift instantly.

 

 Alan Musson

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21st Apr2017

Charlie Watts ‘Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band’ (Impulse!) 4/5

by ukvibe

Rolling Stones’ drummer, Charlie Watts, has graced the veteran rock group from the outset and been a key member who is often under-valued, but his primary love of jazz, especially from the be-bop era, is well known to jazz devotees and he has regularly set aside time to focus on his own jazz-based projects. This latest offering finds him in the convivial setting of a larger big band format and it proves to be a revelatory experience, and equally a chance to hear both what a fine composer Watts is, and a sensitive accompanist and leader to boot. Major contributors to the overall sound are conductor and flugelhorn soloist, Gerard Presencer, who excels in this environment and Dave Green on acoustic bass. The live setting of the National Concert hall in Copenhagen proves to be the ideal location in which to hear this formation at its very best
Maestro Elvin Jones has long been a hero of Charlie Watts and, as an integral part of the classic John Coltrane quintet of the 1960s, one understands why. A two-part suite devoted to the drummer forms the first part of the album and, while ‘Elvin Suite Pt. 1′ is gentle and sensitive number, with Kenny Burrell-esque guitar accompaniment, it is really part two that captured this writer’s attention, with a sudden surge of tempo and an explosion of percussive action from Watts, with a lovely wailing saxophone. No information is available from the preview copy as to whom that saxophonist may be, nor the pianist who contributes the vamp, but an engaging piece of big band jazz it is nonetheless and, one moreover, that is not without recalling the Coltrane plus larger ensemble work of the early 1960s on the original Impulse label.  
What really captures the listener’s attention, however, are the two re-readings of classic Stones’ material revisited in a big band jazz idiom. A candidate with ‘Elvin Suite Part. 2’ for strongest album track is, ‘Faction’ aka ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’, and here Watts maintains a heavy beat while electric piano and guitar operate in tandem, while there is a gorgeous flugelhorn solo from Gerard Presencer. What appeals especially here is the gently propelling Latin-jazz rhythm with arrangements that Chico O’Farrill might have attempted with and Freddie Hubbard from his 1970s era could have placed on one of his Columbia recordings. An outstanding performance all round. The second Stones re-interpretation is that of, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, which features a lengthy solo from Presencer. Watts’ love of the jazz tradition is emphasized on the standard ballad, ‘I should care’, with collective reeds here including flutes as well as a trombone solo, and with fine work from the rhythm section. Watts and Presencer seem to have been soaking up the pioneering big band sounds of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis big band and these come to the surface on the excellent driving groove of, ‘Molasses’, which could easily have been composed by Lalo Schifrin for a film soundtrack. 
This new and live big band recording captures Charlie Watts in his prime as a jazz performer and can be heartily recommended to jazz fans young and old. Full marks to Gerard Presencer for his creative arrangements.
Tum Stenhouse

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20th Apr2017

The Brothers Nylon ‘Bitches Cold Brew’ (Resistant Mindz) 4/5

by ukvibe

From title alone one can discern this record isn’t lacking in some sort of charm; tongue firmly in cheek, frat boy frippery or playful lack of reverence for dead jazzers, perhaps? The Brothers Nylon have spread themselves across several types of toast (melba, French and spelt loaf, perhaps) and flung it all at the listener. 

First thing that grabbed me is the Les Claypool (of Primus and other egotistical splinter projects), Residents and Zappa (Frank, not Dweezel thankfully) feel of it all. All the tracks are crammed with ideas from funk, jazz and fusion, but there’s a strong punkfulness running throughout. I don’t mean a four-chord oi-along, more of a strident and unabashed confidence. Further, this attitude isn’t restricted to the frankly ridiculous musicality on show, or even the verging-on-infantile humour, but the production values as well. Presentation is thick and lavish, with hearty bass up front in the mix, lashings of reverb on the vocals and sometimes painful horn honks.

A brief look over the track names will either amuse or cause a roll of the eyes (criminally unknown bizarro metal-funk band Nuclear Rabbit cause the same response in my friends). Titles on this record such as “CousCous”, “Hot Sauce” and “Local Fruit And Veg Emporium” provide the food fetish, while “Shove It In My Mouth”, “Girls Just Like To Party” and “All Man Milk” provide the brazen maleness (reminiscent in concept to some of Parliament’s sleazier tracks), but the strong opener “Khaleesi” will be the acid test for most listeners, I feel. Having little interest in Game of Thrones after Sean Bean was de-headified at the close of season one, I wondered whether I would care about the record. The Brother’s revelling in destroying the po-facedness of the eponymous Queen of Dragons provoked a sigh of relief, as I’m sure any rabid protective reverence to a TV program would’ve been the deathnail for me. That’s enough conceptual stuff.

Musically, expect strong riffs on the strings, sometimes slick, sometimes grinding. Uncompromising use of guitar effects makes this a constantly shifting creature. The bass is the real star for me, efficient when it needs to be, percussive at other times, but always the core driving force. The drums and percussion inject a massive shot of excitement throughout, breaking moments of calm and pushing the intricate nature of the other parts. And finally, the vocals are joyfully bold, with crooning, Barry White sleaze, spoken skits and screeching. There’s lots going on here, and The Brothers are certainly a talented bunch. I’d hope that even if you had your sense of humour pummelled to bits by your own musical snobbishness (remember when music was fun, Simon?) I hope you can still recognise talented gits when you hear them.

Even if you don’t like it, they probably don’t care, and that is the rogueish charm of this record.

Thomas G.J. Sharpe

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20th Apr2017

Bridges with Seamus Blake ‘Bridges’ (AMP) 4/5

by ukvibe

This is a de facto ECM release in all but name. Recorded at the famous Rainbow studio in Oslo, engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, and comprising a Nordic rhythm section of pianist Espen Berg, drummer and producer Anders Thorén, with Ole Morten Vågan on acoustic bass. The omnipresent Scandinavian influence is supplemented by two American musicians in Hayden Powell on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone. All the original ten pieces are relatively concise at just under forty-five minutes, with only three numbers exceeding the five minute mark, and, as with ECM albums proper, there is a long silence before the music commences. 
There is certainly something about that distinctive Oslo studio sound that creates a feeling of space and on the expansive title track, horns operate beautifully in tandem with piano underneath cementing the cohesion of the band. Blake in particular is in smouldering form here on this number. Middle Eastern flavours open up on the introductory piece to the album, ‘Heart in mind’, with Berg taking the first solo. The most delicate of melodies is generated on the reposing piece, ‘Song for Karla’, with horn ensemble work adding to the sensitivity, and the sweetest of flugelhorn solos, as well as a lovely piano solo that recalls Bobo Stenson in his prime with Jan Garbarek.
In general, the music has been carefully thought through with pretty melodies a key feature and yet there is still enough going on underneath it all retain the listener’s attention over repeated listens. Of note in the creative inner sleeve, are the black and white photos of the band members that is like a trip back in time to the ECM releases of the mid-1970s. ECM fans should ignore this release at their peril and one wonders whether even Manfred Eicher blindfolded could tell the difference. One suspects that with his finely tuned ears, he might well do so. A real slow burner of an album.
Tim Stenhouse 

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18th Apr2017

Nick Finzer ‘Hear & Now’ (Outside In Music) 4/5

by ukvibe

‘Hear & Now’ is trombonist/composer Nick Finzer’s third album and features eight originals plus a Duke Ellington classic. Finzer’s compositions are brought to life with a brooding, intelligent intensity with the help of saxophonist/clarinetist Lucas Pino, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Dave Baron, and drummer Jimmy McBride. This might be a small ensemble but together they make a beautiful, and at times big luscious sound. They achieve the power and wide ranging palette of a big band but the subtlety of a smaller band. The music itself is expertly written and performed, successfully capturing light and dark moods with moments of defiant optimism through to deeper, darker moments of expressive desperation. 
This album arrives at a time of deep uncertainty and divisiveness in America and around the world. Finzer’s music reflects this mood very well, depicting a range of viable reactions, from the intense energy of protest, to a more meditative, reflective tone. “I wanted to capture feelings I was having about our country’s social framework,” Finzer says. “I started out trying to write about the emotional feeling of living in New York in 2016, but as the presidential election went on I realised that the stances I was taking were more politically oriented. Throughout the process of making the record I saw that this project was becoming more and more relevant to our reality.”
The composer doesn’t name names or point fingers, it is instead a plea for a more united populace a sonic argument for equality, tolerance and empathy. From a listener’s point of view the meaning behind any music can often be rendered irrelevant by the music itself. But on this occasion, as I listen intently to the thoughtful, questioning, reflective nature of the music, I find myself totally drawn in and engulfed by the emotive power and integrity of it all. The mood fits the meaning perfectly, proving beyond doubt that the composer’s thoughts and intentions have been wonderfully crafted into a musical vision that is both rewarding and highly enjoyable to this listener’s ears. 
The album begins with “We The People”, acting as a reminder that togetherness is embodied in the country’s founding documents. The brooding, introspective “The Silent One” follows. This piece was inspired by Finzer’s frustrations over a tendency to resort to heated emotions rather than logic and subtlety in reacting to issues and problems. The more frenetic, harried pace of “Race To The Bottom” is followed by the more uplifting, hopeful mood of “New Beginnings”, with its uplifting and optimistic tones. “Lullaby for an old friend” is stunningly beautiful, wrapped up in its gorgeous melancholia. It is happy and sad all at the same time, bringing to mind how we all feel when thinking of a friend we have lost. The up-tempo “Dance of Persistence” is a swinging call to action, relieving the tension and letting things go. The album closes with “Love Wins”, an elegant and beautiful piece of music written with a strong belief that ultimately the forces of love will overcome ignorance, oppression and prejudice. 
The writing, arrangements and skill of the performers all come together as a unified statement of musical vision, belief and confidence throughout the whole recording. Worthy of note is the fact that that the album is co-produced by Ryan Truesdell, leader of the renowned Gil Evans Project and producer for Maria Schneider. “Asking Ryan to co-produce the album ended up probably being the best decision in the process of making my record,” Finzer says. “He was able to bring out extra nuances and had a great ear for making sure that we didn’t miss the chance to create a magical musical moment.” I couldn’t agree more.
On a final note, I’d like to share this: When I first listened to “Hear & Now”, before reading any notes or explanations of what the music was about, I was immediately reminded of Wayne Shorter’s classic album “Night Dreamer”. Released in 1964, for me it shares a very similar mood and intention. Not so much for the style or sound, but for the character, the feeling, and the climate of our times, it certainly resonates with me. Shorter commented about his writing for that album; “What I’m trying to express here is a sense of judgement approaching- judgement for everything alive from ant to man. I know that the accepted meaning of ‘Armageddon’ is the last battle between good and evil- whatever it is. But my definition of the judgement to come is a period of total enlightenment in which we will discover what we are and why we’re here.” Nick Finzer’s “Hear & Now” evokes similar thoughts. A mighty fine album in many ways.
Mike Gates

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17th Apr2017

Mother’s Finest ‘Love Changes: The Anthology 1972-1983’ 2CD (Soul Music) 3/5

by ukvibe

Jazz-funk, and even punk-funk (for the latter, think early 1980s Prince and Rick James who had something of a rivalry going on between them) are both well worn and respected terms, but what about the little known sub-genre funk-rock? Formed in 1970, Mother’s Finest personified that style and are really the brainchild of Chicago born singer Glenn Murdock (whose influences ranged from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin to Django Reinhardt) and Mississippian singer Joyce Washington, the latter of whom adds a soulful touch throughout, and fully deserved to be a successful singer in her own right. In fact, her influences included Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Tina Turner. Overall, the sound is not quite as extreme as this writer might have expected and the mid-tempo and ballad material is at once surprisingly accessible and indeed listener friendly.
Clearly, Sly and the Family Stone were a seminal influence on the band in terms of concept (though the sound is actually quite different) as were Ike and Tina Turner. A multi-racial band that were equally at ease with hard rock including heavy metal and soul and funk were always going to be a hard act to sell to a US audience who were brought up on a musically (and by extension racially) segregated airwaves. The band started off covering songs with, ‘Sing a simple song’, and, ‘River deep, mountain high’, paying direct homage to the aforementioned influences. A bonus for the listener is that the pre-Epic era of songs recorded by Mother’s Finest are included and this includes their debut recording from 1972.
The band began to find their own voice by the mid-1970s when now signed to major label Epic and this was just at a time when disco was starting to take off and when funk, even P-funk, was taking on board a more dance oriented groove. A 1976 self-titled offering yielded the first concrete evidence that the band’s brand of fusion funk-rock was truly sellable. Rock and gospel hues combine on, ‘Fire’, whereas the soulful vocals and funk-tinged keyboards and bass lines come together effectively on, ‘Give you all the love (inside of me)’.
Fast forward a year and their 1977 album, ‘Another mother further’, contained a sizeable rock hit in,’ Baby love’ (not the Supremes’ Motown classic), while UK glam rock influences surface on, ‘Piece of the rock’, with Marc Bolan and T-Rex. Of note here is that the uptempo funk numbers have something of a Santana feel in the instrumentation, especially tracks such as, ‘Monster people’, and equally on the fine percussion work of, ‘Bone song’, which even has a jazz jam session groove to it. James Brown guitar licks and an earthier hammond organ accompaniment are, moreover, features of the mid-tempo number, ‘Dear sir and brother Mann’, which has a melodic guitar solo and even a pop-soul feel with blues roots around the edges. Arguably, this should have been the kind of song to widen their appeal to a more general audience. Conversely, on ballads such as the excellent, You move me’, Washington seems to have been listening to Gladys Knight and there is a marked southern soul approach to the phrasing. By the late 1970s music was evolving with a stronger emphasis on synthesizers and layered sound, and somewhere along the way Mothers Finest simply got lost in the changes underway. Their last recordings on this anthology fizzle out into relatively inoffensive, if a tad bland, songs and these were the final recordings made by the band who were caught in a 1970s time warp. The first CD that focuses firmly on the 1970s era is by far the stronger of the two.
The lasting legacy of Mother’s Finest can, perhaps, best be gauged by the other musicians covering their songs, and one obvious example of a group that took on board their innovatory concept are Labelle, the reformed version of which covered, ‘Truth’ll set you free’ on a 2008 CD. A intriguing band, if one that has largely been neglected by funk fans over here, and even rock devotees may be unaware of the fusion of genres. All the more reason to investigate. 

Tim Stenhouse

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16th Apr2017

Benedikt Jahnel Trio ‘The Invariant’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

Piano trios have become one of the most prominent features of the emergence of new jazz musicians over the last fifteen years or so, and ECM have succeeded in discovering a few of the most creative. Thirty-six year old and Berlin-based pianist and composer Benedikt Jahnel comfortably fits into this category and this new recording comes on the back of his critically acclaimed debut for ECM in 2102, ‘Equilibrium’. The international line-up of Spaniard Antonio Miguel on double bass and Canadian Owen Howard on drums (who has performed with John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Joe Lovano among others) operate as a highly effective trio and the textured sounds and performances are made all the more interesting by the use on several numbers of unusual tempi. At just forty-five minutes long, there is no filler and the conciseness definitely works in the trio’s favour, with an overall understated collective voice. The all-original compositions are those of a mature musician leader, and one who has been influenced by swing jazz as well as more contemporary voices such as Michel Petrucciani, and who has a clear idea of where he is heading. This is illustrated on the classically-influence opener, ‘Further consequences’, that betrays a strong to Brad Mehldau, and flows effortlessly.
Bass lines are well defined, and a warm and often intimate sound is created by the trio on pieces such as, ‘The circuit’, with a fine bass solo. In general, it is the apparent simplicity of the playing that is communicated so well, and underneath the music is refined. Both American and continental European dates are planned, but nothing in the UK as yet.
Tim Stenhouse

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15th Apr2017

Theo Bleckmann ‘Elegy’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

ECM prides itself on promoting esoteric musical encounters, and often ones that border on the experimental side of the music tracks, and American vocalist Theo Bleckmann is a prime case in mind. There are elements of theatre, poetry, American songbook and classical piano all weaved into a single album. The accompaniment is sparse throughout and from the black and white imagery of the inner sleeve photos, one cannot but be taken back in time to the classic ECM promotion of the 1970s.
Relatively short in time, weighing in at just over the fifty minute mark, this album aims at cross-boundary fertilisation and is precisely the kind of undertaking that Manfred Eicher would approve, which is presumably why Bleckmann and co have been invited to record at the Avatar studios in New York, Eicher’s de facto North American studio of choice. This writer warmed to the choral influenced largely wordless vocals of the leader and these are best sampled on the angelic sounding piece, ‘To be shown to monks at a certain temple’, which is as Zen as the title suggests and taken from Zen poetry as a matter of fact. Several brief pieces are really an excuse for pianist Shai Maestro to showcase his lovely pianistic skills and vignettes such as, ‘Semblance’ and ‘Littlefield’ both impress. Elsewhere, the wordless vocals are supplemented by layered guitar as on the title track, or the atmospheric improvisation of, ‘The mission’, which has no obvious structure to it. A more reflective side to the ensemble playing is to be found on, ‘Fields’, where guitarist Ben Monder engages in some Pat Metheny inflected licks while there is delicate percussive work from drummer John Hollenbeck. All but one of the numbers are originals. However, the one exception is a piano plus voice-led interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s, ‘Comedy tonight’. Possibly, re-reading other American songbook numbers might prove to be fertile terrain for a future album project. 

Tim Stenhouse

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14th Apr2017

Teena Marie ‘Ooh La La: The Epic Anthology’ 2CD (Soul Music) 4/5

by ukvibe

Californian born singer Teena Marie Brockert is best known for her work at Motown and funk-tinged numbers such as ‘Square biz’ and ‘Behind the groove’. In addition, her collaborative work with Rick James and the unforgettable ballad, ‘Portugese love’, is a long-time soul boy favourite, and she repaid her dues with a second duet, ‘Fire and desire’, on James’ own seminal ‘Street Songs’ album from 1981. However, in reality the tenure at Motown was short-lived lasting but a four-five year period. Thereafter, Marie embarked upon a longer contract with Epic records and it this recording period spanning almost a decade that is the main focus of this excellent anthology. While the Motown era would have to be included for any package to be truly comprehensive, this 2CD set covers all the rest and offers bonus 12″ versions that are hard to find, with lesser known album tracks that are worth the investment alone.
Teena Marie made her Epic debut in 1983 with the album, ‘Robbers’, and although it did not result in a major hit, it featured some of the very top session musicians and was a clear indication of the high esteem in which her new label viewed her. Clearly Marie was listening to other up and coming singers. Prince for example springs to mind when one hears the pared down funk of, ‘Fix it’. Keyboardist-sing Patrice Rushen, Average White Band drummer Steve Ferrone participate throughout and the album included what would become a Quiet Storm radio classic in, ‘Dear lover’. It is important to stress that Marie was more than anything else an old-school R & B singer who was equally adept with uptempo or balladry material. In fact, during her teens, Marie’s family moved to Oakwood, California. a predominantly black neighbourhood and it was this exposure to African-American language, culture, and above all else music, that equipped the singer with the tools to handle R & B influenced songs. Her own ethnicity was initially concealed since the cover of her debut album, ‘Wild and peaceful’, from 1979, contained no picture of her. It therefore came as a something of a shock to the wider public to discover that the booming voice was that of a petite young white woman, albeit one who was as schooled in the black music tradition, as any of her contemporaries. 
For the second Epic album, ‘Starchild’, from 1984, and this writer’s personal favourite because of the tremendous depth of the quality of the songs contained within, Marie excelled on a variety of tempi, but mid-tempo grooves nonetheless were a marked feature of this particular album. Interestingly, the album as a whole fared better than the individual single releases. Outstanding songs here include the uptempo, ‘Jammin’, the quality ballad, ‘Out on a limb’, and the wonderful title track. A break of two years ensued, and then a return to recording in 1986 with the Caribbean-flavoured, ‘Batucada suite’. This revealed, like ‘Portugese love’ before it, that Marie had a a greater awareness of the world and was adept at depicting exotic far away places and this imaginative creativity was a hallmark of the songs that Teena Marie performed and thrilled her loyal fans. Of course, Marie’s greatest ever popular hit and one that propelled her to an altogether different audience, was the title track of the 1988 album, ‘Ooo la la’, a stereotypical utterance of what a French native speaker might express (they do not!), and this was the lead single. Almost a decade later in 1996, the Fugees revisited the song and scored their own hit with a barely disguised remake in, ‘Fu-gee-la’. 
Teena Marie has influenced countless younger singers of all hues. In the UK Lisa Stansfield cites her as a key influence in her decision to pursue a career in the music business. Groups such as the Fugees and others have paid Teena Marie the major compliment of sampling her songs. Perhaps beyond even strictly musical parameters, Teena Marie stands in what is still a deeply divided United States along racial grounds, as a beacon of hope as someone who, in her own profession at least, broke down pre-established barriers of what could and could not be achieved, and gives us all reason to be optimistic, even if in the opposite direction one has to immediately acknowledge the obstacles facing African-Americans in white dominated professions. She opined thus, ‘I’m a black artist with a white skin.(…) At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your soul’. Teena Marie. RIP.

Tim Stenhouse

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13th Apr2017

Various ‘Twenty Five Magic Years: The Jubilee Album 1992-2017’ CD (ACT) 4/5

by ukvibe

Siggi Loch is the brains behind this most inventive and enterprising of labels and time seems to have flown by in the meantime, but it is indeed a good twenty-five years since the ACT label was first founded. This writer became aware of the Vince Mendoza production of Spanish jazz fusion music back in 1992, and then of course later in the decade the beginnings of a European superband in EST. To celebrate the anniversary, ACT have released not so much of a ‘greatest hits’ sampler, but in their own distinctive style, an overview of some of the key musicians with a quirky twist: ten of the thirteen selections are previously unissued. Eclecticism is the order of the day with covers of pop classics, interpretations of seminal original compositions that were featured first on the label and fascinating takes on standards. 
Opening up proceedings is a pared down reading of the Beatles late period, ‘Come together’, which is transformed into a bass, guitar and trombone number complete with vocals by Nils Landgren. The original is thus reduced to its very essence, with country-folk influences in the vocals and a lovely acoustic blues feel to the guitar playing. A real favourite of this writer is the flute-led take on Esbjörn Svensson’s classic, ‘Dodge the Dodo’, which acquires a whole new identity with melodic violin soloing courtesy of Adam Baldych.
Elsewhere, there is a quiet, but heartfelt tribute to Esbjörn Svensson on, ‘Tears for Esbjorn’, with the same line-up that featured previously on his composition. A moody flute dominates the air here with refined classical-infused piano from Rantala. Chamber jazz hues are regularly espoused by ACT and the piano duet between Michael Wollny and Iiro Rantala on, White moon’, is a fine illustration. Fusion guitar with a flamenco base is paid homage to on, ‘Paco’s delight’, by the guitar duo of Ulf and Eric Wakenius, and the intricate guitar work displayed here would surely have met with the great Paco de Lucia’s wholehearted approval.

Accordion and soprano saxophone are an unusual combination. However, reedist Emile Parisien and accordionist Vincent Peirani in tandem with pianist Michael Wollny cook up a head mix of acoustic jazz on the longest album track just short of ten minutes on, ‘B & H’. Vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy has enjoyed success on the label in various guises, with tributes to the great singers as well as her own compositions. Here, she joins forces with the omnipresent Svensson on, ‘Monologue’.     
The album ends fittingly with a solo piano piece composed and performed by the inimitable Esbjörn Svensson, ‘Prelude in D minor’, and this is at once a contemplative and mournful number which exemplifies what a consummate musician he truly was. Inside the trademark gatefold sleeve is both a back catalogue and a detailed graphical listing of brand new releases for 2017. 
With the emphasis both on the present, future and a gentle glance back at the past, some names have consequently not been able to be highlighted, and these include the likes of Yaron Herman, Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock and more recently the excellent new French talent that is Grégory Privat. Young pianists have been a regular feature of the label and Siggi Loch in this respect, is quite possibly, the Arsène Wenger of jazz label executives in discovering and unearthing new talent.  
To celebrate this momentous event in the history of ACT records, there will be a whole spate of new releases coming out from late April onwards and, if recent releases are anything to judge by (forthcoming in the review section), they are likely to have the ACT twenty-five years sticker on to mark the period in action. Major figures such as Richie Beirach and some familiar faces too. As ever with ACT, unusual fusions of musical styles is the norm, and this means in the near future Monteverdi interpreted in a jazz idiom! Of note to collectors is that some of the releases will be issued in vinyl format also. Long live vinyl!

Tim Stenhouse

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