06th Apr2017

Valerie Carr ‘Song Stylist Extraordinaire’ / ‘Ev’ry Hour, Ev’ry Day of My Life’ (Jasmine) 3/5

by ukvibe

A new name to many, and even to those alive at the time of her popularity, singer Valerie Carr remains something of an enigma. She fits into the one-hit wonder category when she scored a late 1950s pop hit on the Billboard top twenty chart with, ‘When the boys talk about the girls’, a song which the Shirelles revisited in 1966. This song intriguingly is not included here, but the two albums, originally on the Roulette label (a label that included both Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington) both date from 1959 and were co-produced by Hugo Creatore and Hugo Peretti. They come across as an attempt to attract a wider audience, much like Julie London, but minus the jazzy accompaniment that London often had to support her.
Carr’s easy listening sound, which is not dissimilar to a young Dionne Warwick, tackles an essentially standard repertoire that includes bizarrely, ‘Try a little tenderness’. That interpretation makes for a comparison with the altogether grittier Stax soul of Otis Redding. Her voice is best sampled on the ballad repertoire such as, ‘Over the rainbow’. What is lacking here is any genuine element of swing and that is best exemplified on her reading of Duke Ellington’s, ‘I got it bad and that ain’t good’, with syrupy strings dominating proceedings.

While there is no doubting the vocal credentials of Valerie Carr, the Hollywood-esque orchestrations are a little hard to take in long doses, and one only wishes Carr had chosen different producers and ones who could have set her in a more pared down environment with jazz musicians. Historical overview notes are written by Soul Basement writer David Cole.

Tim Stenhouse

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06th Apr2017

Keith Oxman ‘East of the Village’ (Capri) 5/5

by ukvibe

The history of the Hammond organ trio in jazz is a long and illustrious one.  Here the Hammond B3 is given pride of place. This is fitting as it was the most popular model being in production between 1954 and 1974. This neatly coincided with its popularity with jazz musicians as exemplified by Jimmy Smith on his recording ‘The Champ’ from 1956. Since falling out of favour in the 1970’s it has gradually regained popularity to the point where some now consider it to be the second most popular keyboard instrument after the piano.
From gaining a foothold in jazz, the instrument became popular in rhythm and blues, and later rock and progressive rock music, not to mention ska and reggae. Jazz organists of the calibre of Barbara Dennerlein and Joey DeFrancesco have continued to fly the flag for the instrument well into the 21st century.
Although under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, there is inevitably an equal focus upon organist Jeff Jenkins. The duo are ably supported by Todd Reid at the drums.
Oxman is a native of Denver and first picked up a tenor saxophone at the age of 12. His C.V includes work with Art Blakey, Max Roach, Sonny Stitt and the Buddy Rich Big Band.

For his ninth release on Capri records, Oxman brings us a mix of original compositions and some lesser-known ‘standards’. The material is complemented by the undoubted ability of the musicians. Oxman possesses a well-rounded sound, agile technique and a thorough knowledge of the hard-bop jazz tradition. Plus he can swing. Oxman prefers to think of the trio as a co-operative endeavour and they have shared histories which stretch back for more than fifteen years.

There are ten tracks on the album and the opener is the comparatively rarely played composition of Jule Styne, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ which is a brisk swinger and some readers may remember that it was sung by Marilyn Monroe in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’.

The album’s title track, a composition from Hank Mobley is next. The following track ‘Deep in a Dream’ is another lesser-known standard and shows the tender side of Oxman’s musical persona and we get great brush-work from Todd Reid too.

Next is a real obscurity, ‘Breeze (Blow my Baby Back to Me)’. A Vaudeville-era song which was recorded by Jim Reeves.

The original compositions fit into the programme well. ‘A Vaunt Guard’ allows drummer Reid to shine and there is a tribute to fellow saxophonist Wayne Shorter in the form of ‘The Shorter Route’.

A favourite track for me is Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Lucky to be Me’. Very tender playing all round.

The set concludes with George Gershwin’s ‘(I’ve Got) Beginners Luck’. For those of you who enjoy musical trivia, this song was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film ‘Shall We Dance?’ but sadly overshadowed by some of the film’s better-known songs.

This is a completely enjoyable album throughout, made even better by the clever choice of unhackneyed standard tunes. Make a date to spend an hour in the presence of the Keith Oxman Trio and you won’t be disappointed.

Alan Musson

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05th Apr2017

Alan Barnes & Gilad Atzmon ‘The Lowest Common Denominator’ (Woodville) 4/5

by ukvibe

How does the pairing of two saxophonists in Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon from different generations and traditions suit you? A seemingly unusual coming together of minds actually results in one of the year’s early and most pleasant surprises with inventive modal, post-bop and warm and tender balladry that results in an extremely cohesive and well rounded album. Several members of Atzmon’s band are on hand, including the excellent piano chords of Frank Harrison, and contribute greatly to the sound which has something of a mid-1960s feel. Compositions are shared roughly equally with Atzmon contributing three and Barnes the remaining five. One number that immediately stands out is the brooding intensity of the title track which is no less than six minutes of spiritually inspired jazz with a strong modal bassline. This is performed by bassist Yaron Stavi at an achingly slow pace operating a minimalist piano routine and a wonderful horn solo that could either be Barnes on clarinet, or Atzmon on soprano. Shades of Jackie McLean circa 1965 on Blue Note surface on the stunning, ‘Phonus Bolonus’, which has a lovely Latin vamp on piano and in general a waltz-like groove with creative use of drums underneath by Chris Higginbottom. Qualities ballads are another feature of this album with, Sweet pea’, the pick of a strong selection and with an alto solo of distinction from Barnes. Meanwhile post-bop meets blues hues on, ‘Blip blop’ and there is an expansive workout between drums and soprano saxophone on the uptempo, ‘Giladiator’. In fact the only down side is the silly cover photo which, perhaps, takes a leaf out of a Tribe Called Quest album from the 1990s, but could have been dispensed with. No indication yet of any UK tour dates. but this surely a band that needs to be recorded in live performance. One of the year’s surprise formations and an early candidate for best British (plus other nationalities) album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse

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05th Apr2017

Collocutor ‘The Search’ LP/DIG (On The Corner) 5/5

by ukvibe

“The Search” is the second album from Collocutor, the London based ensemble led by Tamar Osborn. There is a vintage, authentic feel to the seven original tunes, with themes of spirituality, searching, belonging, and a sense of emotional grounding running through and connecting the pieces together. Modal jazz blends beautifully, beatifically, with an innate soulful expression to give the listener an intimate and engaging experience.
Collocutor are: Tamar Osborn, baritone and soprano sax and alto flute, Simon Finch, trumpet and flugelhorn, Mike Lesirge, tenor and soprano sax, Suman Joshi, bass, Marco Piccioni, guitar, Magnus Mehta, percussion, and Maurizio Ravalico, percussion. The first thing to mention is that collectively, the band work incredibly well together, So much so that one can feel the expressive nature of their music. It is perhaps as it should be; the instruments being purely a vessel from which the artists breathe life through the music they make.
Collocutor is the brainchild of saxophonist Tamar Osborn and the project grew from her wish to simply write the music that wanted to be written, rather than focus on a particular audience or context. As such, the compositions draw inspiration from the many genres encountered over a course of a varied career, ranging from jazz, afrobeat, Indian classical and Ethiopian roots to polyphonic choral music and minimalism – the link being primarily modal music with a transportive effect. There is an authentic ethnic feel that flows throughout this recording, and indeed, one that seems to underpin everything else. The music is at times minimalistic, at times coursing with unadulterated adventure, and at times burning brightly as Osborn’s vision sparks into life, transporting the listener to either a previously unexperienced dimension, or to deep within his/her own soul; tempting and teasing out emotive responses to what is being heard.
‘The Search’ is such a bold album in so many ways, not least given the fact that Osborn appears to have an inner strength and confidence to go with her heart and make music in the way that she feels is right for her. The expressive nature of the music is thoughtful, intriguing and engrossing. It beguiles and it soothes and it transforms and it awakens. It opens up the mind, body and soul in an almost meditatively healing way, if you let it in. Embrace the source, let it live with you for a while, contemplate, swim with it, travel with it, and your journey will be one of rewarding fulfilment. Pick at it, throw it on and turn it off, half-listen, or try too hard to analyse it, and it might leave you for cold, wondering what it’s all about.

Wonderful brass arrangements combine with etherial soloing, making everything sound so real, so grounded, yet at the same time, of another time and place. Graceful interludes, incisive passages, and experimental sounds work harmoniously to enrich and elevate the music being performed. Juxtaposed, fractured and tempestuous outcrops grow fleetingly alongside peaceful, sublime, judicious landscapes. The music breathes. It rises, it subsides, and like life itself, it rests, it races, it questions and it answers. And most of all, it doesn’t dictate, it simply allows the listener to see a doorway. Whether the listener chooses to go through that doorway and encounter whatever experience unfolds, is entirely up to them.

Mike Gates

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04th Apr2017

Vince Mendoza WDR Big Band Cologne ‘Homecoming’ (Jazzline/Delta Music) 4/5

by ukvibe

Arranger, composer and conductor, Vince Mendoza is clearly a very driven man and consequently his big band works have impressed with their varied musical tapestries that are anything but clichéd, dripping in sophisticated melodicism and yet still allowing plenty of space for instrumentalists. This live concert recorded at the Philharmonie in Cologne dates from 2014 and is a fine illustration of what the WDR Big Band are capable of when under the very able hands of Mendoza.
On the funk-tinged big band opener, ‘Keep it up’, there are faintest hints of mid-1980s Miles in terms of the muted harmon solo and even the jazz-rock influenced guitar soloing of Paul Shigihara. A minor tempo number, ‘Little voice’, is a fine showcase for the talents of pianist Frank Chastenier with the horns offering subtle support in the background on this smaller ensemble piece.
Vince Mendoza made his reputation on a wonderful 1992 ACT CD, ‘Jazzpaña’ with ace producer Arif Mardin, and this was awarded a German Jazz prize and was indeed nominated for two Grammies. Latin flavours emerge on two pieces. The first has a rootsy Brazilian flavour, ‘Choros #3’, and evokes the roots of Brazilian samba with Marcio Doctor on percussion clarinettist Johan Hörlen. This writer especially likes the solo use of fender rhodes from Chastenier and the shuffling drum pattern on this particularly attractive theme. A second Latin-themed tune, ‘Amazonas’, is, in some ways, even more impressive with gorgeous horn unison arrangements and the fine solo trombone work of Ludwig Nuss.

Vince Mendoza is the kind of arranger and composer who always writes with the musicians and orchestra in mind, and the end result is not simply excellent ensemble performances, but also highly innovative and, in some places, unusual use of instrumentation, and collectively this constantly keeps the listener challenged and wondering what is going to happen next. A fine offering from a leader at the height of his creative powers.

Tim Stenhouse

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04th Apr2017

Alexi Tuomarila ‘Kingdom’ (Edition) 5/5

by ukvibe

Alexi Tuomarila is, perhaps, better known more further afield in Europe than he is in Britain. However, his profile has been steadily rising in the UK since signing to the British label Edition Records. Tuomarila is a Finnish-born pianist and composer. He studied jazz and classical piano at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. He has toured extensively both as band leader and as a member of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko group. He has recorded seven albums as leader.
This album, as its predecessor, features the pianist’s now regular trio with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori at the drums. Together they have the makings of a world-class trio. Indeed, the pianist and drummer have worked together with Stanko and feature on the trumpeter’s album ‘Dark Eyes’ (ECM, 2010).
As I have said previously, the European jazz scene seems almost over-populated with outstanding piano trios. It is therefore very difficult to standout in the crowd. The recording includes eight compositions by band-members together with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-changin’.
Throughout their time working together this musical triad have formed an almost telepathic relationship such that they almost breathe as one. Emotionally charged at times, at others a pensive sadness pervades proceedings, but balanced with a cadenced drive. The pianist’s music can be intensely lyrical and occasionally has an almost folk-song like quality to it in a manner that we have come to expect from the current crop of Scandinavian jazz trios. The trio can play softly and with a delicate touch, and are masterful when they mix the solemn with the exuberant in more up-tempo pieces.

If you are looking for musical reference points, the closest that I can come is the music of pianists Joona Toivanen, also from Finland and the Italian, Claudio Filippini.

The opening track, ‘The Sun Hillock’ starts with a rock-inspired back-beat from the drums and piano and bass quickly come to the fore in unison. It’s only a short time before the pianist enters into his mesmerising flight of fancy, creating a musical kaleidoscope of sound, only to subside and return to the catchy and simply piano and bass melody. ‘Rytter’ which follows is in marked contrast with the drummer drawing this stick across the cymbals giving a sonic effect almost like a flute playing. A simple piano motif gradually builds and arco bass is added together with more insistent cymbal-work the trio reaching a peak and then gradually subsiding into delicate filigrees of sound. The ‘Girl in a Stetson Hat’ is a song which it seems to me should have lyrics added. It’s a melody which is sure to linger in the listener’s mind. Here I’m reminded of the music of another piano giant; Tord Gustavsen. ‘Vagabond’ opens with an insistent bass figure, before the piano and later the drums enter, gradually picking up the pace of the piece. This is an episodic piece with changes of mood and texture along the way. A rippling piano introduction to ‘The Times’ is a master-stroke and for me this is the best track on the album. It includes a wonderful bass feature too! Delicate intensity. An extended wonderful bass solo opens ‘Shadows’ before piano and drums join in a free-form but controlled dialogue. Again the piece changes character later becoming an almost intensely swinging affair. We get a couple more gear changes before the conclusion. Exciting stuff.

The concluding track ‘White Waters’ is eight minutes of controlled intensity and creativity. A languid folk-like melody emerges at one point and again I’m thinking that lyrics are required. This piece has the feel of something that may have been produced by EST at the height of their powers.

This is an album that demands your attention and will repay repeated listening. It almost goes without saying that the recorded sound is second to none. The album is sure to raise the profile of this master pianist still further. Highly recommended.

The trio have four dates in the UK in June, visiting London, Cardiff, Southampton and Manchester.

Alan Musson

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03rd Apr2017

Nicolas Meier ‘Infinity’ (Meier Group) 3/5

by ukvibe

Guitarist Nicolas Meier is nothing if not a hard worker and this leader project comes after the excellent duet recordings with Pete Oxley that have been chronicled recently in these columns. For this new project, Meier focuses on revisiting the jazz-fusion era of the 1970s, and this may have been inspired partly by his work outside of his regular formations, and hints at other influences such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and of course the underlying influence of Pat Metheny which is pervasive in his work.
The inclusion of violinist Richard Jones adds some authentic jazz-rock à la Jean-Luc Ponty, with fine work by bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Of the various tempi performed in this album, it is the more reposing side of numbers such as, ‘Tales’, that best suits Meier, and this piece develops into an attractive Jaco Pastorius flavoured number, complete with a strong collective bass and guitar vamp.
Eastern influences are omnipresent in Nicolas Meier’s work in general and on this occasion the listener is transported away to warmer climbs on the evocative, ‘Yemin’. It is this world roots side to Meier’s repertoire that is surely the leader’s forte and the one where he should most concentrate his efforts, though that certainly does not preclude other projects such as this one. The influence of the East is further recognisable in a track such as the opener, ‘The eye of horus’, which, though rock-tinged in part, features a wonderful instrumental breakdown with what sounds like an oud-like percussion instrument. In sum, ‘Infinity’ is an attractive slice of retro jazz-fusion and one that long-term fans of the sub genre will immediately warm to.

Tim Stenhouse

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03rd Apr2017

Sue Barker ‘Sue Barker: Expanded’ (Playback) 4/5

by ukvibe

This Sue Barker refers to an Australian vocalist that recorded only one album in 1976, comprising of ten covers of soul, jazz and blues vocal classics. This re-release on Playback Records via Sydney’s DJ Kinetic includes a further three additional pieces recorded at different sessions to the original ’76 issue. The album has become very in demand over recent years and as the original master tapes are said to have been destroyed by mould some years ago, this repress will be welcomed by many collectors.
Sue wasn’t a trained jazz singer as such, but fell into the soul/jazz worlds with the increased popularity of black music in 1970s Australia, with Sue being a common fixture around Adelaide and Sydney for a decade before recording the album. Sue was further exposed to US soul and jazz via The Onions, her backing band for this album, who were a loose outfit of Australian musicians that were regular performers on the scene, including session and live work with touring US soul acts. And it was after a performance in Adelaide that Sue was approached by Crest International records with the idea of recording a full album of soul, jazz and blues covers.
The Onions in this instance consisted of Geoff Kluke on electric bass, Dean Birbeck on drums, piano and organ parts by Phil Cunneen, Sax by Bob Jeffries and Sylvan Elhay, trumpet by Fred Payne and guitar and arrangements by Grahame Conlon, with the musicians all being very competent with US and UK players being obvious influences, but it’s a shame there wasn’t any electric piano/Fender Rhodes touches to support the piano and Hammond elements.

On the jazz side of things, ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’, a common Nat King Cole piece, bustles along nicely with its rhythmic swing momentum, ‘Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me’, a song co-written by Duke Ellington and performed by Billy, Ella and Nina, is a standard that here has a big band quality, which is no mean feat considering the group only has three horn players. And ‘Lover Man’, another standard previously recorded by Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, has perhaps the purest jazz vocal performance on the album.

But it’s the rare groove of ‘Love To The People’, a remake of one of Curtis Mayfield’s lesser known gems that has attracted the most attention from vinyl collectors. Taken from his ‘There’s No Place Like America Today’ (1975) album, it would have been labeled 2-step if you found it at a record fair in the 1990s. If you know ‘Madelaine’s 1978 cover version of ‘Who Is She And What Is She To You?’ – then this has the same temperament. Other notable tracks include Marvin’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, with its horn heavy arrangement and ‘What’s Going On?’ which is quite a funky version with fluid sax workouts by Bob Jeffrey and Sylvan Elhay.

Vocally, Sue Barker fits somewhere between the pop/folk of Judy Collins and jazziness of Judy Roberts; not as jazzy as Judy R and not as folky or pop as Judy C, but very capable, with ‘Lover Man’ being the best vehicle to showcase Sue’s rich vocal ability. But bad luck was to impose itself upon Sue. At the time of the album’s release, Crest International was just about to fold and so with no funding available for the project, the album was rehearsed, recorded, mixed and mastered in only 3 days. This was the final release for the label, which was not an outright jazz based label, which also had classical and comedy releases. Sue was also at loggerheads with Crest with regards the musical direction of the album and was also pregnant when the album was due to be promoted. Disillusioned, Sue left the music industry in the 1980s.

But you can’t keep a good record down. And with eBay and Discogs being vibrant spaces for the discovery and trading of exotic and esoteric records, this rare slice of Australian soul/jazz is worthy of a reissue. And how many artists with only one release can say that their record fetches between £200-£400? So hopefully, this release will help remedy the obscurity of the record with many record collectors looking outside of the US and UK for their musical fixes. The demand for the record is obviously due to its release in a country not known for its jazz heritage, but it does slide nicely into the 1970s framework provided by female vocalists of the time, also having cultural significance with respect to Antipodean soul and jazz music, of which there aren’t many. Additionally, check the work of Australian singers Kerrie Biddell, who died in 2014 and Renée Geyer, especially Renée’s storming ‘Be There in The Morning’.

Damian Wilkes

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02nd Apr2017

Cameron Graves ‘Planetary Prince’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

by ukvibe

From the same band that Kamasi Washington fronted (and the saxophonist returns the compliment as sideman here), comes an interesting, if in parts problematic, debut from pianist Cameron Graves. While there is no doubting the energetic effort and potential here, what is finally delivered sadly comes up short. The majority of the pieces are overly long and ramble on in a loose impromptu jam session style (but sadly missing the magic of that genre), while the piano playing veers between pop and classical, and somewhat lacking in sophistication. Moreover, the hi-energy drumming does grate after a while. Four tracks are above ten minutes in length and even the shortest piece weighs in at seven and a half minutes.
That said, the pared down sextet that includes Thundercat on bass on two numbers, impresses on the, ‘Isle of love’, a gentle ballad, a hint perhaps that more is to come from this band, with a lovely piano roll and a bassline to match. On ‘The end of corporatism’ horns operate in unison with an elongated piano solo. Washington is content to play a secondary role. Another ballad, ‘Adam and Eve’, begins with a piano solo that indicates that Debussy-esque rêveries have influenced graves and the repetitive horn riff works well here. Something that could be developed further on future releases. Bop meets Middle Eastern flavours are married on ‘El diablo’, with a bass breakdown and piano vamping.

Cascading notes succeed one another throughout, but are they actually the right notes? As both Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal have very ably demonstrated, it is not necessarily how many notes you play, but rather the manner in which you play them that differentiates between musicians, and listening to long sequences of this album can prove to be a difficult experience. Not on a par with ‘The epic’, then, and not nearly as densely layered. A case of going back to the drawing board and re-thinking strategy.

Tim Stenhouse

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02nd Apr2017

Woodlander ‘Calvins Toboggan’ (QFTF) 4/5

by ukvibe

Woodlander is the brainchild of Bern based swiss pianist Luzius Schuler. A unique trio existing of piano, trumpet and drums.
In the past unusual band setting are often related to newly discovered technical possibilities. Often there is a clear relationship between the decreasing number of instrumentalists and the increasing amount of loopstations, laptops and electrical outlets being used on stage.
Luzius Schuler strips down his Woodlander to the bare musical necessities. Acoustic and pure. Making this debut appear sincere and vulnerable. Calvins Toboggan is an album full of strong ideas, musicality and fantasy.
Toboggan the title track is an elegiac soundtrack through a landscape reminiscent of Thomas Mann’s Zauberberg. Romantic and resonant. Woodlander talks in a soft and confident voice. Schuler is managing the harmonic settings and restoring basslines with great virtuosity and zero cliche. Not fearing space. Mats Spillmann on trumpet carries the melodies with a slick tone and exemplary technique. Throughout the recording with a mature taste and comment. Developing the stories Schuler suggests in the opening heads.

Hieronymus is a dancing, oriental flavored blues. Steadily grooving and exploring all attributes of Schuler’s compositions. Drummer Jonas Ruther knows when to fall back and when to push. He is reluctant to get in the way of either Schuler or Spilmann. His transparent sound and uncomplicated playing emphasizes the intimate band setting.

The three move in a natural way and seem wired and fascinated by what they throw at each other. At times a little too much in control for lack of soul and risk taking.

Woodlander is a I have the room above her from Switzerland. Young, confident, straightforward and interesting. In the right mix between avant garde and access.

shg

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