Madredeus ‘Essência’ (Eter/Sony) 4/5

Portugese folk, but not fado, is normally seldom heard outside the Iberian peninsular, but in the case of Madredeus they have become internationally recognised, thanks in no small part to their participation in the Wim Wenders’ 1990s film and cinematic homage to the capital ‘Trip to Lisbon’. Now some fifteen years later and the line-up has changed substantially with only of the two founding members remaining and a new lead singer in Beatriz Nunes. However, the distinctive sound is immediately identifiable and the fusion of classical and Portugese folkloric sounds just as intoxicating as it ever did. Possibly the strongest piece and one that will serve to promote the album as a whole is the driving ‘Palpitiçao’ with heightened tension create by the clever use of guitar and collective strings, and in particular the inventive trombone sound effect on cello. Nunes possesses an almost angelic sounding voice and uses this to the full on the opener ‘Ao longe o mar’ and her delicate vocals are showcased to perfection on ‘O Paraiso’. The mournful ‘Amanha’ with extended string passages is beautifully performed by the instrumentalists. For a change of mood ‘A estrada da Montanha’, with a guitar-led intro and use of organ is a mid-tempo number that is an absolute winner and more of this style from Madredeus would be most welcome. If one had to make once criticism of the album, then it would probably be that there is an imbalance between the quieter paced numbers and the uptempo ones, but long-time fans will doubtless not be concerned by such trivia. For those new to the group, a fine introduction to a formation that sounds as committed as ever. Exquisitely crafted and refined music. Tim Stenhouse

Laurinda Almeida-Bud Shank Quartet ‘Brazilliance vol 1 +2’ (Poll Winners Records) 5/5

This superb package groups together two original World Pacific LPs from 1954 and 1958 respectively and effectively chronicles what was the formative period of Brazilian samba-based rhythms and jazz music fusion for what would eventually become known as bossa nova. In fact the sounds contained herein pre-date the bossa era and as such provide an invaluable insight into composers before the likes of Jobim and Bonfa.These include the great Brazilian songsmith Ary Barroso, pianist-composer Radamés Gnattali and major exponents of the north-eastern Brazilian roots music, Luis Gonzaga and Pixinguinha. All have their songs showcased here. The initial project started when Brazilian guitarist Almeida and bassist Harry Babasin performed as a duo on the Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and the latter had the idea of adding drums and a horn. The drummer in question just happened to be Roy Harte who was co-founder of Pacific Jazz records and the rest is history. Laurinda Almeida provides the majority of original compositions on offer and they are more akin to Brazilian folk music (that includes choros and changing beat patterns which adds to the interest) with the strong presence of one Almeida’s major influences, classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. Key tracks include Gnattali’s pernnnial ‘Atabaque’, Barosso’s ‘Terra séca’ and a lovely take on the American songbook standard ‘Speak low’. A change in personnel in the rhythm section is present on the second album with Gary Peacock on bass and Chuck Flores on drums replacing the previous incumbents. Both Almeida and Shank were more confident in their writing talents and consequently it was a mainly original list of numbers with Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Little girl blue’ and ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ only two of the three standards covered. Of the originals, ‘Nocturno’ and ‘Mood Antigua’ impress above all. Extremely generous timing and excellent, lengthy and incisive interviews with Bud Shank from 2008 and original review comments from the legendary Down Beat review. The only minor criticism one can make is why was the vol. 2 original cover (aka ‘Holiday in Brazil’) not placed on the front CD sleeve, so evocative is it of Brazilian folklore. This is merely to quibble with what is an unbeatable value release that plays as cool as the very best Brazilian jazz, but has a slightly different feel from bossa nova and yet is no less enticing for that.

Tim Stenhouse

Art Pepper ‘Meets the Rhythm Section’ (Poll Winners Records) 4/5

One of altoist Art Pepper’s most loved and respected albums, ‘Meets the Rhythm Section’, an encounter with no less than the then recently dissolved Miles Davis rhythm section, this superlative recording is paired with a lesser known item that dates from a year previous in 1956 with some of the top Hollywood musicians. The former is the stronger of the two releases and features a classic selection of the American songbook, some relatively recent for the time at least jazz standards and one original composition in ‘Straight life’ that would virtually become a signature tune for Pepper and be the title of his warts and all autobiography, one of the most candid accounts by any musician all genres included. Needless to say the msuical accompaniment from the likes of Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass (who also co-wrote with Pepper ‘Waltz me blues’) and drummer Philly Joe Jones is a dream to behold and Pepper positively revels in the company. Thus a terrific ‘Tin tin deo’, a lilting ‘You’d be so nice to come home to’ and a seductive ‘The man I love’ are just three highlights of an outstanding set. For the second album, Pepper was under the leadership of pianist Marty Piach and his quartet featuring Pepper offers an excellent if altogether briefer in terms of soloing album. Mainly standards are covered, though Paich contributes three pieces including Sidewinder’ (not be confused with the later commercial classic from Lee Morgan) with ‘All the things you are’ and ‘You and the night and the music’ the picks of the bunch. No extras or alternate takes on the first album, but original sleeve notes and Down Beat reviews are included.

Tim Stenhouse

Count Basie ‘In London’ (Poll Winners Records) 4/5

The evocative cover with Basie surrounded on either side by Cockney pearly kings in splendid regalia is somewhat misleading; the original album was actually recorded in Sweden with two concerts in Gothenburg from September 1956.This is neatly coupled with the fine bonus of a radio broadcast from New York from two months later with a virtually identical line-up of the full Basie orchestra that includes Frank Foster on reeds, Freddie Green on guitar, Thad Jones on trumpet and Joe Williams on vocals. The latter excels on ‘Alright, okay, you win’ while the band swing effortlessly through a carefully selected set of largely Basie band composed classics such as ‘Shiny stockings’, ‘One o’clock jump’ and ‘Jumpin’ at the woodside’ along the odd standard. Three numbers are reprised on the radio concert with ‘Basie land’ and ‘Cherry point’ new additions. Extended new notes as well as the original comments and handily Gramophone and Down Beat reviews rightfully place the recording in its proper historical context.

Tim Stenhouse

Lester Young and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison ‘Going For Myself’ (Poll Winners Records) 4/5

This release, a Verve Original LP from 1958, is noteworthy as it was lester Young’s last studio recording and therefore is an important historical document, especially since he is surrounded here by a crack formation. An all-star line-up features Oscar Peterson on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums. On five of the numbers (including three alternate takes) Lou Stein alterantes with Oscar Peterson and drummer Mickey Sheen for Louis Bellson. The two separate sessions date from July 1957 and February 1958 and are essentially a classy selections of standards with three originals, two co-written by Young and Peterson and Edison. What is striking in these sessions is that Lester Young’s tenor sound is as warm as ever with outstanding interpretations of the Juan Tizol number ‘Perdido’, the Gershwin brothers’ ‘Love is here to stay’ while the original ‘Flic’ (French for ‘Cop’) is a fine piece. The Hollywood and New York recording settings does not contrast unduly and the two formations compliment one another. At just under seventy-six minutes this represents excellent value for money and needless to say the music itself is timeless. Original sleeve notes and Down Beat review.

Tim Stenhouse

Ahmed Al Khatib and Youssef Hbeisch ‘Sabîl’ (Moucharbiek/Harmonia Mundi) 5/5

From an ongoing series of new recordings under the aegis of the Institut du Monde Arabe, that wonderful edifice on the banks of the Seine in Paris devoted to promoting Arabic culture in its myriad forms and with one of the best views of the city from its impressive bookshop that also contains ai impressive music collection, comes an interesting pairing of Palestinian musicians, Ahmed Al Khatib on oud and Youssef Hbeisch on various percussion with an emphasis on Oriental instrumentation. Arabic classical music differs significantly from other continents/territories, notably Western classical, in its emphasis on rhythm as opposed to harmony in Western musical forms and in pratice this means a far greater liberty afforded to the percussionist here to explore new ground. This is precisely why the music by the duo is so rich and densely layered for the listener to be instantly swept away. At times one has to pinch oneself to be reminded that just two musicians are on the recording. The music resembles a deeply evocative journey into the unknown and the listener is thereafter transported into a mystical kingdom which is for all that both a soothing and a healing experience. It has to be acknowledged that the superlative music is matched by the excellence of the in-depth interview conducted with Ahamd Al Khatib which not only covers his and Hbeisch’s career, but also tackles the basics of Arabic classical music, Western misperceptions on the music and detailed explanations on the instruments performed herein. Bi-lingual notes in English/French with a poem by Ibrahim Al Khatib translated into both languages as well as its original Arabic. At some stage some enterprising company ought to do an anthology of contemporary Arabic classical music aimed at a wider non-specialist audience. What this release does so brilliantly is to immediately take you into the musical realm of the subconscious and that alone is worth all the effort. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Jubilee album. Twenty magic years’ (ACT) 4/5 Astor Piazzolla and Manos Hadijidakis and Athenian Colours Orchestra ‘The last concert’ (Milan) 4/5

Bandoneon tango giant Astor Piazzolla passed away some twenty years ago and this previously unreleased concert is one of the very last times he ever performed in a live context before being transported back to his native Argentina on the president’s own plane, sadly in a coma. Here he is in fine form in spite of his impending illness. The pieces contained within were in fact performed a decade earlier in 1980 at the Haraklion in Athens during the August music festival and were therefore familiar to Piazzolla and an appreciative Greek audience when reprised. Two pieces were specifically composed for orchestra, both in three parts. For the former, ‘Tres tangos para bandonéon y orquestra’, there is a lovely shift between the intimacy of the bandoneon which has plenty of space in which to shine and the lushness of the strings. The second, ‘Concierto para bandonéon y orquestra’, again alternates between the two formats and impresses in the use of strings to dramatically heighten the tension. Piazzolla regularly throughout his career composed epic pieces designed specifically for film, most memorably two for Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘Last tango in Paris’. A final piece ‘Adios Nonino’ is a much beloved composition, almost a signature tune in fact, and will be more familiar territory for those who know and love ‘Zero hour’. The orchestra that accompanies Piazzolla was created with the aim of unearthing and showcasing unknown works of twentieth century music and reviving lesser known ones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Composer and conductor Manos Hadijidakis won the Oscar for best song in 1960 in the Jules Dassin film ‘Jamais le dimanche’ and died four years after this recording, aged sixty-nine. Confirmed fans of Piazzolla’ craft will find much to marvel at in this recording which deserves to be issued on CD for the first time and is a refreshing change from the numerous live performances that are currently available. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Jubilee album. Twenty Magic Years’ (ACT) 4/5

Independent German label ACT is celebrating twenty years of existence and in order to showcase its talented acts has decided first of all to release this single CD anthology of some of the most memorable musical moments. Pride of place probably goes to the band which has done more than any other during the last decade to promote the label, EST. The title track from ‘Gagarin’s point of view’ is at once a sumptuous and refined illustration of the trio at their best and the brand new unreleased album ‘301’ (see review) a reminder of their talents. Another trio worthy of inclusion are that of Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, French accordionist Richard Galliano and Scandinavian pianist Jan Lundgren. ACT have made a virtue out of bringing together out of the ordinary musicians in seemingly unusual musical contexts and the ‘Mare rostrum’ album that this trio recorded became something of a cult hit in France with ‘The seagull’ being the number highlighted here. A more coontemporary trio has been that of French guitarist Nguyên Lê, bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons and percussionist Minu Cinelu. Collectively they offer the enthralling piece ‘Idoma’. Fusing jazz with other musical genres has been a trend that ACT has pioneered over the past two decades and arguably one of the most convincing has been the meeting of jazz with flamenco and more generally Spanish rhythms. Two volumes subsequently have been released, ‘Jazzpaña’ and ‘Jazzpaña II’. From the former ‘Tangos’ harks back to the 1970s with a big band accompanied by Al Di Meola on electric guitar while Gerardo Nuñez and ace pianist Chano Dominguez combine on ‘Calima’ for the latter. Vocalists have not been forgotten on the label and two fellow Swedish singers in particular have regularly been recorded. Rigmur Gustaffson offers ‘Close to you’ with Jacky Terrasson and trio while Viktoria Tolstoy contributes ‘Love is real’. If one had to single out one musical instrument on which ACT has excelled with new artists, then it would have to be the piano. Here young American pianist Yaron Herman performs ‘Heart shaped box’ and elsewhere German Bugge Wesseltoft and Pole Leszek Mozdzer exemplify their mastery of the ivories. It is a pity the likes of Vijay Iyer and Gwilym Simcock do not get a look in here, nor the superb Jan Johannson re-issue, one of Europe’s all-time great pianists. Perhaps a separate anthology devoted to new and recognised pianists is in order. Otherwise an excellent overview of one of the up and coming labels. Watch out for the double live CD of ACT performers which is imminent. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Ragga Ragga Ragga’ CD/DVD (Greensleeves) 3/5

The annual overview of modern ragga sounds continues with this mini chronicle of the contemporary reggae scene. Some of its premier practitioners are present including I Octane who delivers a staccato rhythm and vocoder vocals on ‘Informer a work’ and Gappy Ranks who offers two songs with ‘Money out deh’ being a possible reference to the current social and financial woes affecting the entire planet. A second contribution by Gappy is something of a departure from previous projects and is deep into dancehall territory with minimalist accompaniment. More social concerns are expressed by Stylo G on ‘Call me a yardie’. In general, however, catchy rhythms and punchy lyrics are the characteristic of modern ragga and this is no better exemplified than with the lo-fi instrumentation and repetitive riff of ‘Settle down’ by Mavado. Subtle this is not, but if you requirements are strictly dancefloor action, then this ticks all the required boxes. This contrasts with the 1980s style use of synthesizers, vocoder vocals by Khago who offers call and response vocals in the intro to ‘Turn up di ting’. An accompanying DVD is part video promotion of the singers featured on the CD and part interviews with musicians and for the latter, the thoughts of Gappy Ranks are most interesting. Tim Stenhouse

EST Trio ‘301’ (ACT) 4/5

Here is an unexpected treat for fans of the superlative trio formation from Sweden that transformed the way we view the classic piano trio sound and attracted an audience way beyond the confines of jazz untile the untimely death of its leader, Esbjorn Svensson. This release is in fact only part of music that was recorded in studio 301 in Sydney, hence the title, during an Australian tour by EST. It is certainly no left over session and compares favourably with the very best of the trio’s output. Some of the raw energy that was present on other albums is still there, but the overriding ambience here is one of reflection with an immediate intimacy created as on the opener ‘Behind the stars’. Three lengthy compositions weight in at over ten minutes and include the most conventional sounding piece ‘The left lane’ where each member of the trio has the opportunity to stretch out over the repetitive, yet seductive rhythm. One of the key album numbers is ‘Inner city, city lights’, a brooding piece with beautiful playing from bassist Dan Berglund, and which incorporates some truly atmospheric electronic programming from Svensson. Most experimental, but all too brief, is ‘Houston, the fifth’ while for minimalist vision the second part of ‘Three falling free’ features what amounts to a virtual bass-piano duet on ‘The childhood dream’ with delicate drum rolls nonetheless emerging from the background. A strong release, then, and we look forward to possibly more of this material being issued.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993