08th Jan2017

Steve Slagle ‘Alto Manhattan’ (Panorama) 4/5

by ukvibe

Saxophonist Slagle has a great pedigree having started out working with Lionel Hampton, pianist Steve Kuhn, Brother Jack McDuff and Carla Bley, not to mention Woody Herman and Cab Calloway. He started leading his own groups some thirty years ago. These combos included the likes of Mike Stern, and currently, Dave Stryker. Indeed, 2016’s ‘Routes’ by the Stryker-Slagle Band – Expanded is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
This new release is somewhat different from what he has produced before and consists of five new original compositions, two classics and one solo alto saxophone piece.
Slagle is featured on alto saxophone and flute. Opening with ‘Family’ the ensemble features two saxophones and two drummers. No holds barred Jazz with elements from Cuba and Africa thrown into the mix. Two versions of Alto Manhattan are included. The first is a hot quartet reading, the second adds a second saxophone in the shape of Joe Lovano, another of Slagle’s former employers. A particular favourite of mine is the slowly loping blues styling of ‘I Know that You Know’. The alto saxophone sounding its most lyrical here.

‘Body and Soul’ follows, allowing us to hear the expressivity of the saxophonist’s tone at close quarters. This is an unaccompanied saxophone feature and along the way, Slagle included references to Monk, Duke Ellington and Ornette Coleman and a certain Charlie Parker.
Pianist McCoy Tyner’s composition ‘Inception’ follows. Quite a challenging extended minor blues theme to play but great fun.

The tempo is reduced for the lovely ballad ‘I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry’. The vocal sound of the saxophone is made clear here. In my view this is one of the best renditions of the song I have heard, even surpassing Frank Sinatra’s version. There is some fine piano playing here too from Laurence Fields.

I mentioned earlier that Slagle plays flute on the album too. The two final tracks feature the flute. ‘Holiday’, dedicated to harmonica player Toots Thielemans features Joe Lovano unusually playing G mezzo soprano saxophone playing in unison creating a wonderful sound. ‘Viva La Famalia’ ends the set featuring two drums, bass and flute lead, somewhat reminiscent of the music of fellow flautist Herbie Mann. A bright and breezy conclusion. I did feel that I missed the input from piano on this track, but this is but a minor quibble.

This is a splendidly varied and interesting recording which holds the listeners interest throughout.

The group consists of the aforementioned Fields on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Roman Diaz congas and Bill Stewart at the drums along with special guest Joe Lovano on three tracks.
Apparently, the album title is Latino for the New York City area where Slagle lives, Upper Manhattan or The Heights.

Here we get everything from up-tempo blues, and bop to Latin and romantic ballads all played with equal confidence.

Alan Musson

31st Dec2016

Siya Makuzeni Sextet ‘Out of This World’ DIG (Private Press) 5/5

by ukvibe

We’ve been writing about contemporary Jazz from South Africa for a little while now, having previously highlighted the work of Nduduzo Makhathini, Afrika Mkhize and Darren English. In truth we are just skimming the surface of what is a vibrant domestic scene. If domestic in this context sounds parochial then it is not meant to, but broader recognition is slow in coming. There are signs that this is changing, albeit primarily through collaborative work – take for example albums from Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors, Bänz Oester & The Rainmakers or Morten Halle’s group, Halle’s Comet.
Exposure is an issue. The fact is that Makhathini and Mkhize, like many South African Jazz artists, release albums independently and therefore do not have the resources of a corporate machine behind them to penetrate lucrative markets like the US and Europe. Whilst in theory digital platforms and social media give unprecedented opportunities on the biggest stage the marketplace is crowded and without avenues into more traditional media (print and radio), the impetus of a major label or touring internationally it is difficult to make an impact.
Arts funding is one way that South African musicians can receive support. Examples include international initiatives like Pro Helvetia which provides residencies and recording opportunities in Switzerland or the joint South African/Norwegian Concerts SA designed to support the live music scene in South Africa. In addition, there are a number of domestic award programmes which give artists promotion and vital financial support – the SAMRO Overseas Scholarship Program, the ImpACT Awards and probably the most prestigious, The Standard Bank Young Artist awards.

Siya Makuzeni was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz in 2016. The list of past winners reads like a who’s who of South African Jazz in recent years – Gloria Bosman, Tutu Puoane, Andile Yenana, Kesivan Naidoo, Bokani Dyer, Kyle Shepherd and Nduduzo Makhathini to name but a few. Makuzeni is in good company.

The term Young Artist might imply that Makuzeni is new to the scene, when in fact she has been playing Jazz for 15 years. This is her first album as leader however. She learnt her trade as a trombone player and singer in groups led by progressive Jazz musicians like bassist Carlo Mombelli (The Prisoners of Strange) and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt (Language 12), but her musical footprint extends beyond jazz into rock, hip hop, reggae and electronica. Makuzeni does not want to be defined by one genre and her debut reflects this approach. She refers to her style as crossover – an organic concoction of traditional and modern Jazz, Xhosa music, soul, electronic and experimental sounds.

From the opening bars of “Moya Oyingcwele” (Holy Spirit in Xhosa) it’s apparent that Makunzeni’s is a voice to be reckoned with. Her vocals exude strength, confidence and an attitude that at times borders on the feisty. There’s a tangible sense of exploration as she slips seamlessly from words into vocalese, using her voice as an instrument to extend possibilities. It was Carlo Mombelli who introduced her to the vocal dexterity of Urszula Dudziak and it’s easy to hear how a musician might be at home experimenting through sounds as well as words. Makuzeni also makes good use of a vocal effects box, modulating her voice or looping her vocals to provide backing support.

Supporting Makuzeni are some of best from the current crop of South African Jazz musicians – Thandi Ntuli on piano/keyboard, the excellent Ayanda Sikade on drums, Benjamin Jephta on bass (himself recently announced as 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz winner), Sakhile Simani on trumpet/flugelhorn and Sisonke Xonti on Tenor sax. The American drummer Justin Faulkner (part of Branford Marsalis’ band), who replaces Sikade on “Through the Thunder”.

Even with the use of vocal effects there is a raw, live quality to the album. Most of the tracks are fairly funky with central themes expanded through soloing. The lead single and title track is a perfect case in point. Building around looped, echoing chants and a prominent bassline it opens out into solos from Xonti and Ntuli.

There are two instrumental tracks,”Brazen Dream” and “Through the Thunder”, which feature Makuzeni on trombone. I’ve said it before, but I’m a sucker for a good trombone solo and it’s good to hear it on these tunes. The harmonies with the other brass instruments remind me of the jazz funk of Black Banda Rio.

The exception to the overall funkiness is the album’s only cover, of Bheki Mseleku’s “Through The Years”. Tackling a song originally sung by Abbey Lincoln further demonstrates that confidence I mentioned and showcases Makuzeni’s comfort in a traditional Jazz setting. I find it interesting rather than exciting; it’s as old fashioned as the rest of the album seems progressive.

Last and definitely not least, “Hold On”, is one of my favourite tracks in 2016. It grows around an insistent, funky bassline, trumpet and sax wheeling and circling around each other as if in flight. And then there’s Makuzeni’s scat…phew!! Great tune.
Music from such a creative and talented spirit really deserves wider recognition. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years for album number two.

Andy Hazell

30th Dec2016

Clinton Fearon ‘This Morning’ (Boogie Brown Productions) 4/5

by ukvibe

Ex-Gladiators vocalist and bassist Clinton Fearon returns with an album in which he performs on every musical instrument as well as composing the songs. The result is surprisingly good and a fine example of a neo-classic roots reggae album. Now resident in the US in Seattle, Fearon pulls no punches when it comes to pertinent social commentary and has the spate of police shootings against young black males in his sights on the chilling, ‘No Justice’, which really brings home the message with some lovely vocal harmonies very much in the Gladiators tradition. Chunky rhythm guitar and saxophone greet the listener on the excellent title track, and again the horn work is classy with strong hooks on, ‘Speak Your Mind’. Arguably his strongest lead vocal performance is reserved for, ‘Don’t Be Afraid’. Of note throughout the album is the interesting sparse use of hammond organ and this creates an earthier sound. Clinton Fearon may not be a prolific musician, but if this eleventh solo album in total, and third for Boogie Brown Productions, is anything to go by, then taking the time to compose and record has paid rich dividends with this excellent latest recording.

Tim Stenhouse

27th Dec2016

Various ‘The Musical Mojo Of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac And His Music’ 2CD or separate 2CD + DVD Limited Edition (Concord) 4/5

by ukvibe

A stalwart of the New Orleans music scene for some six decades. Dr. John is fully deserving of a tribute to his musical craft and this atmospheric live recording capturing an evening’s entertainment at the Saenger Theatre in the Crescent City does justice, both to the songwriting talents of the singer-songwriter and his prowess as a pianist. It cuts across musical boundaries to incorporate R & B, funk, jazz and blues, but above all else it is foot-stomping good music to embolden the soul. The impressive array of musicians bears testimony to Dr. John’s standing among his contemporaries and includes the late Allen Toussaint, members of the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, not forgetting Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers and regular keyboardist for the Rolling Stones), and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Of course, Dr, John himself does perform on various numbers, especially his most popular songs, but Leavell does a fine job of performing in his pianistic place elsewhere. A full brass section including members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band do a sterling job of backing up the tight rhythm section and New Orleans music would be nothing without its individualistic brass contribution. Blue Note label boss and musician Don Was provides the bass line grooves.

An opening statement of intent comes with the 1973 hit single, ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’, on which Dr, John and Bruce Springsteen duet on vocals and this adds a grittier side to the song. Of note throughout the live performance are the wonderful background harmonies of the McCrarys who are outstanding on the call and response vocals with Cyrille Neville on, ‘My Indian Red’. The listener is transported back to the R & B era of Fats Domino on ‘New Orleans’ with lead vocals and full band from John Fogerty. Former Meters members George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste cook up a musical storm on the funky uptempo gumbo groove of, ‘Junko Partner’, while gospel-inflected R & B is offered up from Mavis Staples on, ‘Lay My Burden Down’, which is a definite concert highlight, and from Aaron Neville on the relaxed and jazzy tones of, ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’, with brother Charles wailing on saxophone.

If it is groove-laden music that you are in search of, then the late Allen Toussaint ranks with the very greatest of them and ‘Life’ is a typically understated and dignified number that must be one of the very last songs the singer-songwriter, producer and arranger ever recorded. A moodier and soulful atmosphere is created by Irma Thomas on, ‘Since I Fell For You’, while in marked contrast, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux interprets one of the staple songs of the New Orleans songbook in, ‘Big Chief’, complete with funky keyboard riff and punchy brass. That Dr. John is a gifted pianist/keyboardist is showcased on the gentle-paced, ‘Rain’, on which he duets with New Orleans trumpeter and Spike Lee’s musical director, Terence Blanchard. In fact the music contained within this special evening undergoes myriad mood changes and in an uptempo and uplifting tempo comes Group Widespread and horn section members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band who lay down a percussive near ten minute take on, ‘Familiar Reality’.

Ending off the evening’s proceedings on a high, Dr. John duets with trombonist Sarah Morrow on two of his most endearing compositions, ‘I Walk On Guilded Splinters’ and ‘Such a Night’, both of which receive a rapturous reception and rightly so. Crème de la crème musicians abound here, but the constant presence of a regular band keeps this from turning into an all-stars wash out that fails to deliver.

Tim Stenhouse

26th Dec2016

Miles Davis Quintet ‘Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5’ 3CD box set (Sony Music) 4/5

by ukvibe

This latest edition in the series of Miles Davis recordings made for Columbia/Sony focuses on the period 1966-1968 and covers the very latter period of the classic quintet of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Long-time fans will be curious about the insights that the alternative and often extended versions of the original albums provide as well as the studio banter that shunts back and forth between leader Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero. Those new to the original albums may find the constant switching from one take to another somewhat disorienting and detracting from the original listening experience. However, more seasoned observers of the Miles mid-late 1960s sound will find this to be a revelatory experience and one that brings them closer to the rationale and intentions of the musicians themselves. The first two CDs cover the albums, ‘Miles Smiles’ and ‘Nefertiti’, with bonus material from the latter. Excluded is any material from either, ‘Miles in the Sky’ or ‘Sorcerer’.
By far, the most interesting of the material and the most listenable is actually contained on the third CD where music from the ‘Water babies’ album is heard in significantly longer versions. For example, ‘Fall’ runs on for over eighteen minutes which is some three times longer than the original album take and it is a lovely ballad with Miles and Shorter working wonders in tandem on what proves to be a most haunting theme. As for Shorter, the tenorist plays at his most lyrical here. One of the joys of listening to the music in this setting is that it enables one to be in on the interactive dialogue and the creative process more generally. Thus on ‘Water babies’, the session reel take features a percussive background of Williams on the cymbals and just bassist and saxophone, but piano left out and then one hears Miles instructing the drummer who thereafter creates a Spanish-tinged flavour on percussion. Take one features the plaintive saxophone of Shorter which is most enjoyable, the tenorist and trumpeter in tandem once more, and Hancock in comping mode.

Some will question whether the chatter is absolutely necessary and here it is undiluted in a warts and all presentation. At the very least it does bring the studio sessions to life, but one can legitimately ask whether it actually enhances the individual’s understanding of the original finished product. As with the complete, ‘In a Silent Way’ box set, the extended versions do shed new light on the music as a whole, yet one can fully understand why Teo Macero felt the necessity to reduce the music down to a more manageable and, arguably, more coherent single disc. In the end the listener can compare and contrast with the original albums and that can make for a worthwhile endeavour.

Inner sleeve notes from Ashley Kahn with black and white photos of the individual members of the quintet. A pity there is no collective photo of this band in performance. An online transcription of the dialogue is available. What would really enhance the current series of complete recordings would be a re-issue of the ‘Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel’ in Chicago from 1965. Originally re-issued at an exorbitant price on vinyl and CD in the mid-1990s, a trimmed down CD package would make a welcome re-edition and enable a new generation to re-examine some of the most exciting live jazz performances ever recorded for posterity.

Tim Stenhouse

25th Dec2016

Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Rising Grace’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel has, until recently, enjoyed a relatively low profile, with a career that stretches all the way back to 1990 when his debut album, ‘The promise’, was produced by Gary Burton. The guitarist went one step further in 2000 when founding his own label, Material records.
A first ECM recording beckoned for Muthspiel in 2013 in, ‘Travel Guide’, with a trio outing as part of MGT. However, his leader debut for the label, ‘Driftwood’, dates from 2014 and another trio, this time bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, both of whom are featured for this new recording. The main difference with the new album is that, in addition to the existing trio, pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire are on board and it is this larger ensemble that makes the music all the more worthwhile.
One of the most lyrical pieces is the Mehldau composition, ‘Wolfgang’s Waltz’, with trumpeter Akinmusire in scintillating form and a definite nod towards the Spanish tinge with a flamenco feel in parts. Another ambitious number is a tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler, ‘Den Wheeler’, and this has something of the feel of Wheeler’s own ECM recordings from the mid-1970s, ‘Gnu High’, immediately springing to mind. Grenadier takes a lengthy solo on, ‘Father and son’, where Mehldau comes to the fore as an accompanist, and this recalls his work with Charles Lloyd for ECM.

This is, in general. less of an album to showcase the guitarist’s virtuosity, be that on acoustic or electric guitar, and more of a recording to admire the musicality of the band, the compositions and arrangements. Great subtlety and an understated performance all round at that.

Tim Stenhouse

24th Dec2016

Gilbert Bécaud ‘Anthologie 1953-2002’ 20 CD box set (Warner France) 4/5

by ukvibe

The French do not do things by half measures and so it proves with this titanic box set, the size of a substantial vinyl edition with a separate illustrated book and the individual CDs contained in a neat pocket wallet folder (‘Italian style’ according to the French notes) with original album recordings as well as a plethoras of extras including unreleased studio and live performances from throughout his illustrious career.
A non-French public may well question who exactly Gilbert Bécaud was and, unlike say Yves Montand, he did not enjoy the same level of international status, although he did enjoy one UK pop hit with, ‘A little love and understanding’. Indeed several of his songs will be more familiar in their translated versions and Bécaud was a gifted songwriter first and a singer second in the early stages of his career. That, however, would be to vastly underestimate his importance to a French-speaking public of the 1950s and 1960s who grew up listening to his music, and stayed loyal to him thereafter.
Bécaud was born in 1927 in the south-east port of Toulon and was a child prodigy on the piano aged nine. His family then settled in Paris and he became professionally linked to the world of music as a composer of film music under the pseudonym of François Bécaud. In 1953 he made his debut as a solo performer at the Olympia music hall in Paris, recording two singles, ‘Mes mains’ and ‘Les croix’, and scored his first hit with ‘Monsieur pointu’ which became something of a signature tune for him. Although initially only a support act and one-time manager of Edith Piaf and prior to that pianist of Piaf’s then husband, Jacques Pills, Bécaud was electrifying in live performance and, by February 1955, was a star in his own right. Thus the mythical sobriquet of, ‘Monsieur 100,000 volts’ was born and remained with him throughout his career. His legion of fans were largely young girls who wore the then in-vogue bobbysox and, in this respect, he played a similar role to the young Frank Sinatra as a teenage idol.

That said, Bécaud was no overnight teenage sensation who would rapidly disappear and was a versatile artist. In 1956 he began an acting career, with the director Marcel Carné (of ‘Les enfants du paradis’/’The children of Paradise’ fame) and, by 1960, Bécaud had become one of the most popular of French singers, and this at a time when Brassens ruled supreme, and both Ferré and Brel were emerging as genuine talents. In 1960, Bécaud was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque and composed a Christmas Cantata. The following year, he topped the French charts with his immortal, ‘Et maintenant?’ (translated into ‘What my love?’ in its English language version), In 1962 he was composing his very first opera, ‘Opéra D’Aran’ (included here), which proved to be a commercial and critical success, and moreover was performed under the esteemed conductor Georges Prêtre, who worked with Maria Callas among others. Another major hit followed in 1963 with, ‘Un dimanche à Orly’.

A new and significant challenge to Bécaud and the singers of his generation arrived with the pop and rock revolution from across the Channel and was known in France as ‘Yé-Yé’. The singer was astute enough to adapt and move with the times, composing hit songs for a younger generation such as ‘Salut les copains’ for Richard Anthony and, eventually, for Eddy Mitchell, both of whom typically adopted anglophone names to appear more hip to the new sounds and younger generation who craved songs everything from the English-speaking world. Johnny Halliday was another such figure. Bécaud remained loyal to the Olympia venue which assured and facilitated his solo success, and between 1954 and 1997 he performed there no less than thirty times, a record that has yet to be beaten.

Over the year Gilbert Bécaud clocked up numerous hits and they are all included here with ‘L’important, c’est la rose’, ‘La solitude, ça n’existe pas’, ‘L’indifférence’, reflecting the contrasting moods of the human condition and comfortably fitting into a tradition that contemporaries such as Charles Aznavour had laid down.

Numerous ‘Best of’ packages have surfaced in the fifteen years since Gilbert Bécaud’s death in 2001, notably the 2011 ‘Essential’ which is substantial in its own right with 12 CDs and arguably a more informative booklet, and these truncated compilations may be a more realistic and affordable option for those starting off with an exploration of the French chanson tradition. This box set, however, towers above anything else out there for the serious collector with the final CD devoted to live recordings from l’Olympia between 1955 and 1983, a curiosity of singing and storytelling combined on, ‘Gilbert raconte et Bécaud chante’. One minor presentation quibble and a couple of discographical omissions of note. It is a pity that nowhere in the package can one find the original album covers from the 78s, 45s and LPs and that would certainly have enhanced the authenticity of the project, as would some of the most endearing lyrics being printed out for posterity. The remix ‘Suite’ is best ignored while the impressive ‘1973 live’ concert and the 1964 re-orchestrated versions of his early hits have been left off this anthology which Bécaud’s ‘inconditionnels’ (‘devotees’) would undoubtedly balk at. Otherwise, required listening for fans of French chanson and for long-time Bécaud fans, a feast of music to treasure.

Tim Stenhouse

23rd Dec2016

Nick Sanders & Logan Strosahl ‘Janus’ (Sunnyside) 4/5

by ukvibe

These are both new names to me and so a little research is required.
Pianist/composer Sanders lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in New Orleans and is a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston. He has released two previous albums on Sunnyside Record, both of which were produced by Fred Hersch.
Strosahl is a saxophonist/composer. He was born in 1989 in Seattle, Washington. He trained as a jazz musician. He now focusses not only on jazz and free-improvisation but also contemporary classical music and Renaissance and Baroque composers.
In Roman mythology Janus was a God – a God of time, with two faces, one looking forward in time, the other looking back. This exemplifies the music on offer here. On the one hand the performers look forward with their twenty-first century originals, on the other they look back to an era of fourteenth and eighteenth century sounds and including some twentieth century jazz standards for good measure. Music seems to have no boundaries for these two. Improvisation can happen in any genre of music.

Sanders and Strosahl met at University at Boston’s New England Conservatory some ten years ago. Performing as a duo, the seeds of the idea for this album were sewn. Both performers are accomplished improvisers. Over the years they have built up an almost telepathic interplay in the same way that Bill Evans and Jim Hall did many years before them.
Variety is the keynote here. The barbed ‘Sigma’ written by Sanders opens the set, the stately ‘Allemande’ from Strosahl follows, with the frisky, fun-loving ‘Thelonious’ hot on its heels. A little later we are treated to an interpretation of music from Olivier Messiaen – intense, caliginous with a repeating, almost sinister tolling piano note. Enthusiastic liveliness is the hallmark of the title track, coming from the pen of Strosahl. Then, along comes Hoagy Carmichael’s classic ‘Stardust’ and the mood changes to that of a late-night jazz bar. I’m reminded, here, of the Edward Hopper oil painting ‘Nighthawks’.

This is a well recorded and well executed project and is clearly a labour of love for the participants, who together take the listener on an epic expedition through the highways and byways of distinctive and wide-ranging source material.
I do have a preference for the familiar standards and the duo work their magic on ‘Old Folks’ with the saxophonist “singing” the melody. It’s almost as if the performers were transporting the listener back to the 1930’s here.

The virtuosity of these two musicians is never in dispute and their musical reciprocation is certainly helped by having worked together for so many years. Their repertoire is wide-ranging but ultimately, for me, the coexistence of so many musical styles left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Alan Musson

22nd Dec2016

Various ‘Please Release Me – The Soulful Side of Country’ (Jasmine) 4/5

by ukvibe

When Ray Charles cut the album, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’, he fully understood the connection between rhythm and blues and country genres, and it should come as little surprise, then, that the resulting songs were loved by country, soul and blues fans alike, and that cut straight across ethnic lines. In reality, country music and the blues, and its later incarnation soul music, were always cut from the same cloth, albeit from different sides of the geographical track, and in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a sub-genre, southern soul, drew deeply from the country well of songwriters and positively flourished. That included the likes of Loleatta Holloway (in her pre-disco diva days), Denise Lasalle and a young Candi Staton to name but three.
This new compilation captures an earlier era in the 1950s and early 1960s and takes a leaf out of some of the finest ACE label anthologies, including the three volumes thus far exploring the relationship between country and soul music, focusing squarely on the quality soul singers who loved to interpret the country music repertoire. There are some surprising candidates too. Who would for example expect [Little] Esther Philips who later cut, ‘Home is where the heart is’ and ‘What a difference a day makes’ interpreting country songs? Yet interpret them she most certainly did and she opens up proceedings here with, ‘Release me’. And what about Fontella Bass, William Bell and even New Orleans singer par excellence, Fats Domino? The latter interestingly chose to cover Hank Williams immortal, ‘Your cheatin’ heart’. They must have known they were onto something good and this is what makes the music as a whole so enjoyable. Charles has two offerings of which, ‘Take these chains from my heart’, is an achingly soulful rendition with the singer extracting every last ounce of sweat from the song. Solomon Burke impresses with another brace of songs of which, ‘I really don’t want to know’, is marginally superior, while northern soul icon William Bell makes an impassioned plea on, ‘Please help me. I’m falling’.

At a later stage in the 1990s soul, blues and country singers would come together for a series of sumptuous duets on the ground breaking album, ‘Rhythm, Country and Blues’ with pairings as unusual as Al green and Lyle Lovett, George Jones and B.B. King and even Sam Moore and Conway Twitty. It was a recording that sought to break down artificial boundaries, but the songs on this new compilation hark back to a different era when music was codified along racial lines, and consequently this makes the efforts contained within all the more praiseworthy.

Tim Stenhouse

22nd Dec2016

Black Classical ‘Candomblé’ (On The Corner) 4/5

by ukvibe

South London based On The Corner is one of the most forward thinking record labels of the last few years who are never concerned with taking risks, with their latest offering from Black Classical being no different. ‘Candomblé’ is a six track mini album that is truly eclectic and indefinable, incorporating numerous disparate influences, frequencies and sensibilities from many worthy origins. His tracks are heavily influenced by the rhythms and sonics of the African diaspora, and that is the focus here with this project continuing where ‘Running the Voodoo Down’, his last release on On The Corner, left off.
The six tracks featured include ‘Mina Nagì’ with its post-D&B/jungle beats and drum programming, ‘Orixas’, which fuses hypnotic polyrhythms with female ceremonial vocal chants and ‘JEJê’, a rather bizarre piece that comprises of relatively static and un-dynamic organ, mixed with gospel soul claps and punchy snare samples. ‘Voduns’, the longest track at 4’17”, is lighter on percussion duties, but again incorporates some straight organ playing that is more 1970s ‘end-of-the-peer’ variety summer show than Jimmy Smith, but it kind of works.

‘Mawu Batucada’ is an obvious percussion heavy fusion, with its dance floor friendly tempo, rhythmic whistle blowing and jolty piano appearing after the mid point and is very infectious. Shame it’s only 2’33” long, but this is common with batucada. ‘Batuque de Nação’ is my most favoured piece, with its samba percussions mixed with Edu Lobo-esque acoustic guitar and touches of cuíca, the Brazilian friction drum; my preferred Brazilian percussion instrument.

Currently available on Bandcamp (vinyl soon?), ‘Candomblé’, perfectly blends African, Brazilian and UK electronica, but without being forced or unnatural. Its strength is in its rhythm tracks, which contain totally absorbing, addictive and interesting pulses and patterns that combine the traditional with the contemporary, the loose with the tight, blurring the lines between the past and the future, however, this is not just a retro reproduction of old ideas and styles, but rather, ‘Candomblé’ maintains a modernity that is central to its heart, but with a heavy influence from West Africa and Brazil – just with an added twist of UK eclecticism.

Black Classical possesses a vast musical heritage and this is clearly on display here. Previously, he has had guest DJ spots on NTS Radio and his now legendary 12-hour spiritual jazz mix from 2012, which can be found here, is essential. And with On The Corner, there is never a dull moment, and there’s an obvious synchronicity between artist and label, with every OTC release having a purpose but continuing to sound fresh and interesting. With its release tomorrow, at the end of 2016, I just hope it doesn’t get forgotten about, with my only criticism being its short length.

Moreover, any release that is dedicated to two of the most important and unsung heroes of UK club culture, Colin Curtis and Machester’s Hewan Clarke is a winner with me, as these guys have also had an influence on my musical development. And as On The Corner’s Bandcamp profile states: ‘Deep Jazz-Experimental Electronic-Field recordings from the Future’ – and you can’t argue with that.

Damian Wilkes