21st Dec2016

Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling ‘Upward Spiral’ (OKeh) 4/5

by ukvibe

A chance encounter in 2015 led to Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling hooking up for a joint project and the results are here for all to admire. Accompanied by his long-time quartet, Marsalis operates in lyrical mode to Elling’s vocal pyrotechnics recalling his collaborations with Sting and the selection of standards and originals is at once challenging and entertaining in equal measure. Marsalis and his quartet have been in a rich vein of form cutting a series of critically acclaimed albums and pairing them with Elling was a musical marriage made in heaven.
As with other Elling recordings, the music would not be complete without new lyrics added to classic jazz instrumentals and on this occasion ‘Doxy’ is interpreted and treated to a groovy reading with scatting from the vocalist and fine tenor soloing from the leader. The busy opener, ‘There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York’, is the ideal vehicle for some typical Elling storytelling and Marsalis impresses on soprano and Elling’s musings continue on the more improvisational sounding piece, ‘Momma said’. Branford Marsalis has developed into that most lyrical of musicians and a duet of just saxophone and vocals makes for a thrilling alternative version of, ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’.

For a delightful take on the Brazilian songbook, ‘Só Tinha de Ser Com Você’ is taken at a gentle bossa nova tempo and sung in Portugese with sensitive accompaniment on piano and soprano saxophone. Elling has become adept at performing straight ahead ballads and, ‘Blue gardenia’ is among the finest he has performed to date with the lovely tenor soloing of Marsalis recalling the great Ben Webster while a significantly slowed down rendition of ‘Blue Velvet’, best known these days as the title track to David Lynch’s 1986 cult film, is taken at the most sedate pace imaginable and accompaniment is pared down to skeletal format with bass, drums and saxophone. Ending matters on a high is, ‘The Return (Upward Spiral)’, which begins as an uplifting mid-tempo vibe with Elling easing his way through with sensitive piano and drum accompaniment before it is transformed part way through into an expansive quartet number. One of the finest jazz vocal albums of the year and with such a fine backing band that can stretch out at will, this is way beyond the usual accompaniment. One looks forward to these musicians hooking up for a live recording at some stage.

Tim Stenhouse

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21st Dec2016

Sun Ra ‘Singles – The Definitive 45s Collection: 1952-1961’ 3CD (Strut) 5/5

by ukvibe

A year or so ago Strut records brought out one of the most compelling of Sun Ra anthologies compiled with love by DJ Gilles Peterson and the label returns with this new offering that effectively opens up a whole new chapter in the Sun Ra story and makes the re-issue worth all the effort. Long-time fans of the musician may not immediately warm to this given that the numbers are significantly shorter than on the usual album format, but they would be wrong to ignore it because the music is historically significant in that it sheds vital light on how Sun Ra and the Arkestra evolved at a time in the mid-1950s when music was experiencing seismic shifts below the surface and, crucially, it charts how the leader had soaked up the influences of other jazz musicians around him, and even other musical influences taking in doo-wop, R & B and vocalese. Of interest to potential buyers are the varying formats that this package comes in. While the first issue is a triple CD, in March 2017 two separate vinyl editions will be released, one as a 3LP in a gatefold sleeve and the other, an extremely limited edition 10 x 45s box set with original art work reproduced and a booklet. Sun Ra aficionados will want to acquire either of these and the originals are near impossible to find these days.

The first CD here focuses on the early-mid 1950s and one is struck by who seemingly conventional Sun Ra and the band sounds, or to phrase it another way, how competent the Arkestra were at performing straight ahead swing and bop jazz, and this makes the later exploratory material all the more innovative.There is something of an American songbook feel to, ‘Chicago USA’, with male vocal while, ‘Daddy’s gonna tell you no lie’, has a strong 1950s doo-wop barber’s shop feel to it. That said, Sun Ra was clearly evolving as an artist and a left-field number such as, ‘I’m strange’, with spoken dialogue leaves little doubt as to the alternative direction that the leader was in the process of undertaking.

On the second CD, vocalist Hattie Randolph is showcased and delights on a superlative reading of the standard, ‘Round midnight’, while the B-side to this single, ‘Back in your own back yard’, has a definite echo quality. The funkier side to the Arkestra surfaces on the strong R & B influenced number, ‘Tell her to come on home’. From an instrumental perspective, both ‘Saturn’ and ‘Velvet’ are fine examples of bop-inflected jazz with a modern twist and there is some fine tenor saxophone soloing to admire. Keyboard soloing comes to the fore on, ‘Space loneliness’, with fine trumpet soloing and Sun Ra was an early exponent of the electric piano, even in the 1950s.

For the final CD, the band come full circle and a minor hit in the UK from 1982 (available also as a 12″ on the indie label that among others Pigbag recorded on), ‘Nuclear war’, became the title track to an album. More progressive dancefloors could attempt to showcase the hypnotic, ‘Disco 2021’, while Sun Ra’s increasing preoccupation with other worldliness is indicated by titles such as, ‘Saturn moon’ and ‘Cosmic extensions’.

The Strut research team along with archivist Michael D. Anderson deserve the highest praise for bringing this project to fruition and the listener gains enormously from hearing the singles in their totality. This is quite simply what anthologies were made for.

Tim Stenhouse

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21st Dec2016

Roberto Fonseca ‘ABUC’ (Impulse!) 4/5

by ukvibe

Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca returns with his eighth album and, although on the legendary Impulse label, this is a recording that is firmly rooted in the Caribbean and has Afro-Cuban jazz at the very core of its essence. Recorded in Havana, and sounding as though it was probably made at the famous EGREM recording studio, with members of the Buena Vista Social Club, notably vocalist and guitarist Eliades Ochoa and trumpeter Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal, and alumni from various other Cuban legendary formations including Orchestra Aragón, this has an old-school quality to it that makes for some scintillating Cuban jazz. The big band era is revisited on the brassy accompaniment and full percussion plus collective chants on, ‘Afro Mambo’. DJs and listeners alike have fallen in love with a stunning reading of the old chestnut, ‘Cubano Chant’, that Ray Bryant composed and which featured on the ‘Drum Suite’ album by Art Blakey from the late 1950s and a memorable Afro-Cuban jazz interpretation by Cal Tjader. This engaging piece, which bookends the album with a second solo piano version at the end, is right up there with the best of them and includes guest New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty who adds some vital punch to proceedings. In a different mood altogether, ‘Habanera’ has a brooding percussive background with the meanest of bass lines and wordless female vocals. Indeed vocal harmonies are a regular feature of the album and classical and Afro-Cuban elements collide in melodious harmony on, ‘Sagrado Corazón’, which is mainly gentle-paced before suddenly hitting a hypnotic riff. Further variety is provided with a funkier R & B ditty, ‘Finally’, while Fonseca’s pianistic skills are showcased fully on long solo passages on, ‘Contradanza del espiritu’. A fine album from a pianist now in his early forties who has fully soaked up the tradition of Cuban music, yet still found something fresh and new to say.

Tim Stenhouse

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20th Dec2016

Various ‘Alligator Records. 45th Anniversary Collection’ 2 CD (Alligator) 4/5

by ukvibe

If Crown and King records typified the sound of 1950s blues, and Chess ruled supreme from the 1950s into the 1960s with Delmark closely rivalling its fellow Chicago label from the mid-1960s onwards, then one could argue with some conviction that the modern era in blues began in earnest with the creation of Alligator records in 1971. Blues was then at something of a crossroads with the emergence of soul music making major inroads into what had formerly been called R & B and with rock music ruling the roost, and groups such as the Rolling Stones both looking forward with innovative new sounds and looking back towards the blues tradition for inspiration. Into this maelstrom arrived one Bruce Iglauer, a native of Cincinnati, but whose love of the blues, Fred McDowell in particular, led to a blues pilgrimage to the Windy City where he became permanently resident. Enthralled by the vibrant club scene of Chicago, Iglauer had the foresight to set up a label that looked back to the overlooked greats of blues music and provided them with a much needed voice, while at the same time looking forward to the future, nurturing young talent. It was this all-encompassing and level-headed policy that paid dividends in the long-term and is the subject of this handsome overview of the label’s musicians. Previously, Alligator has celebrated its twentieth and twenty-fifth anniversaries, but this was by no means an overnight success story. In fact, it took the good part of a decade before Alligator became fully established and in the early days margins were so tight that just one record was released per annum.

This two CD set celebrates some of the most enduring musicians and an integral part of the label’s success was the living Chicago blues series which is exemplified here by the contribution of Jimmy Johnson on, ‘Your turn to cry’. Major commercial success came with the signing up of Koko Taylor in 1975 and her offering, ‘Voodoo woman’, was a clear indication that Alligator was going up in the world. Even Mavis Staples was not averse to recording for the label and here it is a storming interpretation of, ‘Will the circle be unbroken’, a song that she was only too familiar with from her work as part of the Staples family. Further hits followed and included the likes of Roy Buchanan, Albert Collins and the white blues-rock of Johnny Winter, all ably represented here, while harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite conjures up a storm on, ‘The well’.

The roots of the blues and its diverse constituent parts were not overlooked, however, and this encompassed gospel, folk-blues and even country-blues. That gospel and blues are inextricably linked is illustrated here by the mellifluous harmonies of the Holmes Brothers on ‘Amazing grace’ while the latter styles are covered by singer Delbert McClinton on, ‘Givin’ it up for your love’.

Bruce Iglauer always had an eye to the future and this was illustrated by the ‘new bloods’ anthology. From this, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials offer up, ‘Hold that train’, and more recently Shemekia Copeland has hit big time, exemplified here by, ‘Devil’s hand’. Other younger musicians worth investigating on this sampler are Selwyn Birchwood and Toronzo Cannon. One of the most interesting of recent artists is soul-blues singer-songwriter Curtis Salgado who has recorded a series of acclaimed albums. From his more recent work, ‘Walk a mile in my blues’, lays down the tightest of rhythm sections and some superbly soulful vocals.

Key to the longevity of the label has been that Bruce Iglauer has maintained the same guiding principles and with a dedicated team, Alligator has gone from strength to strength in the twenty-first century. Blues fans will marvel at the array of talent on board, and neophytes could do a lot worse than investigate this excellent value for money thirty-seven track anthology (with no repetition of tracks from the previous anniversary albums) if they think they may just be interested in the blues and would like to sample an overview of diverse styles for a fuller flavour.

Tim Stenhouse

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20th Dec2016

Various ‘Soho Scene ’62 – Jazz Goes Mod’ 2CD (R&B) 5/5

by ukvibe

In the late 1980s a Straight No Chaser inspired compilation dedicated to the music scene in Soho surfaced with the title, ‘From Route 66 to the Flamingo’. This was later expanded on CD and chronicled a period when the gritty Rhythm and Blues of Garnet Mimms and Ike and Tina Turner rubbed shoulders with the soul-inflected jazz of Cannonball Adderley and Jimmy McGriff on the dancefloor. This new compilation takes the vibe and mood a step further and covers individual years in far more depth. One of a series of three double CDs covering the period 1962-1964, the first offering divides up into a CD devoted to the emerging modern jazz scene in London with CD2 focusing on 45s of US musicians.
The second CD is arguably the more impressive and groups together some of the most prestigious of the independent jazz labels such as Blue Note, Impulse and Prestige. Fans of the ‘Jazz Juice’ series will have fond memories of Quartette Bien’s epic, ‘Boss très bien’, and it still ranks as one of the finest American attempts at a fast-paced samba-jazz number. More Latin-influenced flavours are to be found via Argentine pianist, composer and arranger Lalo Schifrin who offers up a percussive with strings accompaniment reading of the soothing yet absorbing piece, ‘The wave’. In a more Caribbean vein, Mingus band trumpeter Ted Curson supplies all the Latin fever required on, ‘Fire down below’, with blistering trumpet solo. An unexpected 45 from Lee Morgan on Riverside, ‘Raggedy Ann’, directly precedes his greatest commercial success with, ‘The Sidewinder’, and has a strong Jazz Messengers feel with Clifford Jordan ably supporting him on tenor saxophone.

Few pianists are capable of engendering a more soulful groove than Les McCann and ‘The shampoo’ is a superior example of the soul-jazz groove while alto saxophonist and leader Cannonball Adderley contributes a catch little ditty in, ‘Gemini’. Vibist Johnny Lytle became the darling of the 1980s jazz-dance scene and here, ‘The moon man’ features him on an explosive number with Ray Barretto on congas. Among the lesser known musicians, Larry Frazier and ‘After six’ impresses with lovely guitar licks and saxophone. Modal beats emerge on the Prestige 45 by John Wright, ‘Strut’. Guitarist Kenny Burrell teams up with Ray Barretto on a bossa reading of the evergreen, ‘Out of this world’, and this renews the pairing that worked so well on the classic Blue Note album, ‘Midnight Blue’.

The first CD focuses firmly on the bop-influenced local scene and British musicians and of course Tubby Hayes could rival any of his US contemporaries and here it is the interpretation of ‘Yeah’ that takes the breath away. Don Rendell was beginning to make waves on the jazz scene with his quarter and, ‘Manumission’ was equally potent on the dancefloor. Often, UK bands would record their own takes of soul-jazz favourites from across the Atlantic and this proved to be a winning formula for Tony Coe and his quartet who covered Cannonball Adderley’s, ‘Sack o’ woe’ to good effect. Plenty of rare and hard to find records including, ‘Good morning Judge’, from baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross and the Jazz Workshop.

Compiled by Nick Duckett and with extensive sleeve notes courtesy of Smiler Anderson that are beautifully illustrated, the inner sleeve is worthy of an award in its own right and features exemplary discographical notes that other re-issue labels would do well to replicate. The genius of this type of compilation is that it captures a specific point in time and transports us back to a golden era of music that only a few were able to experience first hand first time round. For that accomplishment alone, we should be eternally grateful. Available also in vinyl format.

Tim Stenhouse

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20th Dec2016

Keely Smith ‘The Intimate Keely Smith’ (Real Gone) 4/5

by ukvibe

Singer Keely Smith is possibly better known for her collaborations with Louis Prima, but was in fact a fine vocalist in her own right and this intimate date from 1964 provides all the evidence required to back that assertion up. Influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day and even Julie London, Smith reached the height of her popularity in the late 1950s recording albums for Capitol with larger orchestrations under the majestic arrangements of Billy May and Nelson Riddle, and it was quite probably these collaborations that attracted the attention of one Frank Sinatra to his then fledgling Reprise label on which this album was recorded. However, in comparison to the uptempo outings with Prima, here the temperature is taken down a notch or two with the fine accompaniment of just a quintet including bassist Red Mitchell, Irv Cottler on drums and Jeff Lewis and Ernie Freeman alternating on piano, plus unlisted guitarist. The repertoire comprises the great American songbook and the breathy delivery that was a Keely Smith trademark is ideally suited to this material, no better illustrated than on, ‘He needs me’. The mood, then, is deeply melancholic and nostalgic, with a gently moving, ‘Time after time’, featuring some judicious guitar licks. At times, Smith enters into Julie London territory as on, ‘Blame it on my youth’, and on the Lionel Bart composition, ‘As long as he needs me’. Seven pages of informative notes and the original studio recording details outlined inside the jewel box are included for that extra touch of authenticity. Mark this down as an album for those long winter evenings. An underrated singer who deserves more than a cursory note in books on jazz singing.

Tim Stenhouse

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19th Dec2016

Herbie Hancock ‘Sunlight’ / ‘Feets Don’t Fail Me Now’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 3/5

by ukvibe

Disco music exploded onto the dancefloors from 1974 onwards, but went truly global after 1976 and even jazz musicians had to change attack in order to survive and indeed thrive. John Handy may have been an integral part of Charles Mingus’ band, but by the mid-1970s he had adapted his sound to record an endearing 12′ Hard work’, while trumpeter Donald Byrd was schooling a younger generation and even produced his own band, the Blackbyrds. Herbie Hancock did not buck this trend and set about combining the sophistication of jazz improvisation with the street-vibe of funk and disco. The result was the smash disco and pop hit, ‘You bet your love’, and the introduction of a new instrument, the vocoder, enabled human voices to be distorted and given an extra layer or two of sound. This introduced Hancock to a whole new audience that new nothing at all about his jazz career. Of note here is the extended 12″ bonus version of the classic disco groove that has beefed up percussion, and extra long intro and soulful background vocals. The rest of the album was not quite strong, but the B-side of the extended 12″ version of ‘You bet your love’, ‘Tell everybody’, is included and the nearest thing to the hit in terms of style and tempo.

One gripe about this re-issue. In comparison to the aforementioned Headhunters period, Robinsongs could and should have included a third album that groups together Herbie Hancock’s flirt with contemporary disco and soul. In 1981 He released, ‘Magic Windows’, the title track of which was an underground dancefloor hit and the album featured the wonderful lead vocals of Gavin Christopher and Vicki Randle as well as a guest appearance from disco diva Sylvester.
To this writer’s knowledge this album has yet to be re-issued on CD in the UK and, as an R & B flavoured release, would have sat ideally among the other two albums.

Tim Stenhouse

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18th Dec2016

Herbie Hancock ‘Thrust’ / ‘Man-Child’ / ‘Secrets’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

by ukvibe

Multi-keyboardist and ex-Miles alumni Herbie Hancock enjoyed his greatest solo commercial success when he recorded his game-changing ‘Headhunters’ album in 1973 and this new re-issue package takes the story that bit further with the following three studio albums that Hancock and the band cut between 1974 and 1976. While ‘Headhunters’ remains the first and only port of call for many, that would be a mistake because what followed was some of the most exciting and funkiest music ever laid down. If the early 1970s was a period of experimentation for the leader and his Mwandishi project, then by ‘Thrust’ (1974) everything had fallen into place and he had formed a vastly talented and exciting new band. Pride of place goes to the melodic, ‘Butterfly’, that remains one of Hancock’s most endearing compositions, co-written with multi-reedist Bennie Maupin and Jean Hancock. Almost as good is the jam-session groove of ‘Spank-a-Lee’ that enabled the crack rhythm section of bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Mick Clark and percussionist Bill Summers to reign supreme. Another terrific number is, ‘Actual Proof’. These were the original versions of the compositions and they are as strong as anything on ‘Headhunters’. Long-time fans will want the live interpretations available originally in Japan on the ‘Flood’ double album.

By 1975 and the album ‘Man-Child’ the headhunters line-up was rapidly expanding and included Harvey Mason and James Gadson on drums, Louis Johnson sharing bass duties with Paul Jackson, and guest appearances from no less than Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone and Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Hancock would return the favour by performing on the anthemic, ‘As’, for Wonder on, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’. A notable new number that would regularly feature on Headhunters concerts is, ‘Hang Up Your Hang Ups’ and once again Hancock had come up with a winning formula of catchy hooks allied with superb playing and inter-action between band members. A new intake of band members came on board in 1976 when the final album here,’Secrets’, was released and Ray Parker Jr. joined on rhythm guitar along with percussionist Kenneth Nash and new drummer James Levi. The sound was less harsh and shorter in length and it was clear that black music in general was heading in an altogether different direction. A reprise of ‘Canteloupe Island’ was given a modern update while the opener, ‘Doin’ It’ was the nearest to the old Headhunters sounds and released as a single. Times were a changing for sure and the advent of disco led to a major rethink on the part of Hancock, the results of which were to be found in the following late 1970s releases chronicled in the very next review. Bonus cuts include single versions of the most famous numbers, but add little to the overall appreciation. Full discographical notes and illustrated as ever by original labels, and a photo of the original band.

Tim Stenhouse

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17th Dec2016

Eugene Hideaway Bridges ‘Hold On a Little Bit Longer’ (Armadillo) 4/5

by ukvibe

Contemporary soul-blues with both a retro and modern twist is the order of the day on this well executed and varied set, that references in part Little Milton and B.B. King among others. Recorded in Austin Texas, with a full brass section and Hammond organ alternating with acoustic piano, this album harks back to the classic 1970s era of Hi and Stax records. There is a lovely attempt at 1950s B.B. King on, ‘Love You in Every Way’, with the Hammond organ of Clayton Doley to the fore and some neat guitar licks by the leader. In an old-style soul-blues vein is the mid-tempo and laid back, ‘Change Your Name’, with a killer storytelling line and immaculate delivery on the lead vocals. For a change in mood, there is a 1930s big band jazz feel to the all-instrumental, ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’, with fine soloing from Bridges and some stabbing horns into the bargain. A good deal moodier in intent, the bass-driven, ‘Lost and lookin’, has an intimate, pared down feel unlike anything else on the rest of the album. Guest slide guitarist Mick moody takes centre stage on, ‘Hold On a Little Bit Longer’, while boogie-woogie piano is a feature of the rocking, ‘V8 Ford’. In a more contemporary musical milieu, the clipped guitar intro to, ‘Definition of Time’, hints at late 1970s Chic, before heading straight into a storming soul-blues number. Bridges has clearly listened to the southern side of blues, including, perhaps, the great Bobby Bland, and this is most ably illustrated on, ‘Special Lady’, that has a definite 1980s indie soul flavour to it. A fine offering, then, from Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges and those in need of a blues-oriented take on the Christmas theme should listen to his own distinctive, ‘Merry Christmas’, (not contained here) that has become a perennial favourite with blues listeners.

Tim Stenhouse

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16th Dec2016

Keith Jarrett ‘A Multitude of Angels’ 4 CD box set (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

One can but marvel at the plethora of high quality material that ECM is able to conjure up from its seemingly endless archive of Keith Jarrett music, but this sumptuous offering from a series of live recordings from concerts in Italy in October 1996 must surely count among its very best to date and represents the pianist at the height of his creative powers. Even more significantly, however, we actually hear Jarrett here when his physical powers were still at their full potential and not at all diminished by the debilitating illness that would later plague him and in fact force him into premature retirement from which he has only in recent years returned.
The lengthy pieces divide up into contrasting moods and the most lyrical and accessible of the evenings is the Modena concert. Part one is the ideal way in which to hear the quiet reflective side to Jarrett’s playing and, of all the recordings here, is by far the most enjoyable to these writer’s ears, and with call and response passages is equally the most soulful. The CD ends with a memorable rendition of the standard, ‘Danny Boy’, and this is a tailor-made vehicle for the pianist. In outlook, this concert is not without recalling the melodicism of the famous The Köln Concert.

For fans of the more abstract side to Jarrett’s craft, then the Genoa concert offers much to admire and the staccato rhythm in Part One is a marked contrast to elsewhere. However, even within the abstraction, there are nonetheless passage of great beauty and this is a hallmark of the concerts as a whole.

More methodically organised, the Turin concerts are in in-between of the two aforementioned evenings and, as elsewhere, when Jarrett is fully engaged, the trademark grunts make an appearance, though in truth they are never intrusive.

Inner sleeve notes by the musician are an indication of how important Jarrett himself views these concerts in his already impressive canon of work. To this writer, the concerts offer a journey into the creative mind of Keith Jarrett and for that reason alone are a priceless document. Although recorded on Jarrett’s personal DAT recorder, the sound is at once vibrant and clear, and the listener has the distinct impression of being directly in front of the artist who is giving a one-to -one intimate performance.

Tim Stenhouse

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