Various ‘Panama 2’ (Soundways) 2LP/CD 5/5

panama-2The much-anticipated follow-up to the superb volume one is finally with us. 
It was the former that introduced us to the varied sounds of Panamanian music and the original liner notes read like a vinyl collectors dream. Stumbling upon a treasure trove of rare grooves in central America. Volume two takes up the story again and is a cornucopia of musical delights on offer. What is interesting is that the major Latin labels of new York used Panama as a testing ground for their products’ sounds. This exposed Panamanians to a whole range of top quality music from the Tico and Fania labels to name but a few. On this compilation the styles vary from heavy Latin descargas to tropical cumbia and funk-laden calypso covering the decade 1967-1977. The opener ‘La Murga’ by Papi Brandao y su conjunto sets the tone with a song composed and made famous by Puerto Rican tromobonist/vocalist/producer Wille Colon and inpsired by an indigenous rhythm of Panama referred to in the title. Another Colon tune, the instrumental ‘Jazzy’ is revisited by Los Papacitos while the hard-hitting guaguanco ‘La confianza’ by Menique el Panameno con Bush y los Magnificos shifts from Afro-Cuban intro to montuno section effortlessly. Camilo Azuquita has made a career in France since the late 1970s, but here we find him on a classic salsa dura song on ‘Borombon’.
For left-field music fans, ‘Juck Juck Pt. 1’ by Sir Jablonsky fits the bill perfectly. While the bass and drums are influenced by funk, the guitar riffs are roots reggae and the horns and vocals classic calypso, or at least the Panamanian take on the genre. This musical metissage should not come as a great surprise when one looks at a map of the region and realises the proximity of Trinidad and the facility with which the casual radio listener can tune in to a multitude of different sounds. Among other numbers, the percussive instrumental take on ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ by the Soul Fanatics impresses as does the Latin rock of the Santana-influenced ‘Descarga superior’ complete with saxophone solo by Los Superiores. Factor in the usual high standard of sleeve notes and graphics with original single/album labels and covers and you have one of the year’s indispensable compilations.

Tim Stenhouse

Victor Olaiya’s ‘All Stars Soul International’ (Vampi Soul) 3/5

victor-olaiyaThe Funky Lagos saga continues with this re-issue of a 1970 LP that came out in Nigeria and combines highlife and funk. The songs on the original either side segue into one another and this gives the album as whole the feel of a non-stop mix. James Brown influences are all too obvious on covers of ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘There was a time’, the former featuring an extended saxophone solo. Of the highlife cuts, the highly melodic ‘Okere gwonko’ hints at 1960s Bobby Benson while ‘Soro jeje fum arogbo’ fuses traditional highlife with US funk to good effect even if the female vocals are not the strongest. Clearly modern Nigerian music was in the process of defining itself at this time and consequently songs such as ‘New Nigeria’ and ‘Everybody needs love’ were searching for a happy medium between external influences and updating traditional genres. Funk fans will probably be more satisfied with this album than world roots ones. As ever with Vampi Soul releases, a beautifully illustrated gatefold sleeve with detailed notes inside courtesy of Max Reinhardt.

Tim Stenhouse

Fred Fisher ‘Atalobhor’ 2LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 3/5

fred-fisherNigeria was very much attuned to the developments in funk and soul in the United States during the 1970s and as a result bands formed in the former who sought to give their own unique take on modern black music. It is in this light that one should view the group put together by Fred Fisher and the four albums condensed onto two CDs here. The multi-talented Fisher was at once a trombonist and vocalist as well as songwriter and composer. He perfected a sound known in Nigeria as Asolo rock. Simply put, this fused Afro-funk and rock with more soulful melodies. Perhaps the nearest equivalent better known to western audiences is Segun Buckner, though Fisher has less of an Afro-funk flavour. Overall the albums have a polished feel to production reflecting the sound that was coming out of America with labels like Solar and Casablanca. Instrumental dancefloor action is the order of the day on ‘No way’ from 1981 while ‘W.T.F.S.’ is more like a Nigerian attempt at early Earth, Wind and Fire or Brass Construction. It is on the second CD that the African content is more in evidence as exemplified by songs such as ‘Kisiana’ with King Sunny Ade style accompaniment and ‘Elimedede’. Gatefold sleeve with authentic cover photos and excellent graphics round off this welcome re-issue. Ten of the songs featured on the CD release are not available on the vinyl one.

Tim Stenhouse

Clara Moreno ‘Miss Balanco’ (Far Out) 4/5

clara-morenoCarioca (native of Rio) singer Clara Moreno has quietly established a reputation for excellence over six albums and this second for Far Out is by far the most accomplished thus far. It certainly helps that productions chores are taken care of by mother Joyce and arrangements by father, drummer Tutti Moreno. However, Clara Moreno is very much her own singer and is certainly not trading on her mother’s reputation. The song selection is a judicious one that harks back to the classic samba era and follows the recent trend of artists such as Orchestra Imperial and Marisa Monte in updating this timeless sound. Opening proceedings is the big band samba of ‘Deixa a negra gingar’. This was the same song that a young Flora Purim sung to great effect with Duke Pearson for Blue Note and Moreno’s delivery is flawless. Another favourite is ‘Bebete’, originally a mid-nineteen-seventies tune performed by Djavan, but best known in the UK for the mid-nineteen-eighties version by American-based group Tudo Joia. Guesting on piano, legend Joao Donato solos on the ivories on the groove-laden ‘Que besteira’ while a more reflective side to the singer is found on ‘Uala Ualalala’. The jazzy sensibility of ‘Vai deuagarinho’ hints at the early Tania Maria and it is only really on ‘Mestico’ with its guitar riffs and subtle keyboards that one is reminded of her mother Joyce. Seminal 60s vocalist Orlandivo shares singing duties on ‘Temanco do samba’ and the album ends on a high with the flute driven ‘Samba de negro’. A fine, well-rounded album that points at a number of musical avenues for Clara Moreno to exploit in what promises to be a lengthy and highly successful career.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Nicola Conte Presents Viagem 2’ (Far Out) 4/5

nicola-conteThe follow-up to the critically acclaimed first volume, ‘Viagem 2’ is, if anything, an even tastier selection of classic Brazilian grooves. No Nicola Conte compilation would be complete without some instrumental Braziliance and in this case pianist Tenorio Jr. delivers the goods with the anthemic, ‘Consolacao’ and an instrumental version of ‘Simbinha’. A debuting Jose Roberto Bertrami is featured on the highly percussive ‘Kemal’ and piano trio genius comes in the shape of Tema Tres who take a leaf out of the Milton Banana trio on ‘Yema tres’. Vocalists, however, are more prominent on volume two, and particularly female singers. Moody bossas such as ‘Janinha Amanha’ typify the sound and Brazilian music aficionados will instantly recognise the song as being one immortalised by Alaide Costa. Big band arrangements compliment the tasty piano licks on the vocal version of ‘Sambinha’ by Vera and in general several of the singers will be unfamiliar and recorded on smaller labels in Brazil, hence their rarity. Vocal harmony groups of the ilk of MPB4 for the men and Quarteto Em Cy for the ladies were all the rage during the classic era and male harmonies sore on ‘Redondo sambao’, which is an uptempo samba with flute accompaniment. A left-field English language song comes near the end of the compilation on Bobby McKay’s ‘Bossa nova’, chronicling the bossa craze and its media impact in the United States. This even extended to performances at the White House for JFK. Musical proceedings end on a calming note with some big band crooning from Dick Farney and his orchestra. One might quibble at the time length under fifty minutes and at the bias towards female vocalists (though this writer would never argue against too many Brazilian women in the world!), but the quality is undeniable and counts above all.

Tim Stenhouse

Alborosie ‘Escape from Babylon’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

alborosieItalian reggae singer Alborosie was already a well-known singer in his native land having created group Reggae National Ticket fifteen years ago and sold over 200,00 copies of the group’s albums. However, he was not satisfied with this and instead decided to quit the band and instead move permanently to Jamaica. It was there that after intially struggling to continue his career that Alborosie became house engineer in Port Antonio, Portland and, after remixing music for the likes of Manu Chao and UB 40, finally started to refocus on his own singing career. Two 45s surfaced in 2008 and after touring in Europe an additional two singles were released. Fast forward to 2009 and this new album which pays homage to the golden roots era of the 1970s and the individual artists that inspired him such as Bob Marley and Burning Spear, and groups like Black Uhuru and Steel Pulse. In essence Alborosie’s style updates the modern roots and dancehall sound. His gruff vocal delivery is distinctive (and different from say Prince Far I) and occasionally he employs the sing-jay style as on ‘Real story’. Reworking the Horace Andy classic ‘Money’ with Andy sampled in the chorus, Alborosie lays down his own vocals to good effect here and in fact a Horace Andy soundalike voice features in the background to the thoroughly modern roots song ‘No cocaine’. In a more melodic vein, ‘One sound’ is one of the album’s highlights with Gramps of Morgan Heritage guesting on lead vocals while a rockers riddim predominates on ‘America’ which is another diatribe against the perceived vices of that nation, but different from Tikhen Jah Fakoly’s epochal ‘Tonton d’Amerique’. Ska flavours are present on the first single to be lifted, ‘Mama she don’t like you’, featuring female vocalist Ieye, and which with radio play could cross over. The riff-laden riddim of ‘I Rusalem’ and virtuous call on ‘Good woman’ attest to his Rastafarian beliefs. 
While this is unquestionably a roots recording, it is one that has plenty of appeal to a wider audience outside strictly reggae circles and there is not the slightest trace of an Italian accent in his vocals which just indicates how well-integrated Alborosie has become in Jamaica. A very promising debut for Greensleeves that bodes well for the future.

Tim Stenhouse

Queen Ifrica ‘Montego Bay’ (VP) 4/5

queen-ifricaSinger Queen Ifrica is an interesting artist at several levels. Most obviously, she is a woman singer who performs in the roots vernacular and that is a fairly rare commodity and she does so singing in the sing-jay style reminiscent of Eek-A-Mouse. Secondly, the singer appeals to reggae fans across sub-genres and is equally at ease in dancehall and lovers as in roots. Thirdly, Queen Ifrica is the daughter of ska legend Derrick Morgan (though only knew him from her twneties onwards) and as such has an impeccable musical pedigree. The album is a varied and thought-provoking set. Immediately attracting attention is ‘Don’t sign’, a reworking of the Studio One riddim (best known as ‘Movie Star’)produced by Donovan Germain. Ifrica’s vocal delivery reveals a mature voice and one that is capable of adapting to both traditional and modern styles. The first single in the market place, ‘Lioness on the rise’ is included and is a lilting, surefire hit, once again produced by Germain for whom Queen Ifrica recorded in the early 1990s. For roots fans there is much to commend and the percussive opener ‘T.T.P.N.C.’ is in fact a tribute to the Nyabinghi centre in Montego Bay. This is Africa’s way of expressing gratitude to the Rastafari community where she was raised. Pared down production and nyabinghi drumming feature on ‘Calling Africa’ which is a message-laden song with a lovely gospel chorus. Another classic riddim, namely the Satta Massagana, is revisited on ‘Coconut Shell’ with a thoroughly modern accompaniment. In a more romantic vein the lovers rock inspired song ‘In my dreams’ is a catchy take on the sub-genre. All in all a fine debut for VP and one that gives Queen Ifrica plenty of scope to explore the evolution of Jamaican popular music in its myriad forms.

Tim Stenhouse

Caetano Veloso ‘Zii e Zie’ (Wrasse) 4/5

caetano-velosoNow going by first name only, such is his notoriety, Caetano Veloso returns reinvigorated and refreshed with an album that harks back to the 1980s. Gone are the strings and layered production of his 1990s recordings and in comes a pared down, altogether funkier feel courtesy of producers Pedro Sa and Caetano’s son Moreno Veloso. This lighter and brighter indie rock sound is typified by the album’s immediate winner and surefire dancefloor hit (especially if elongated as a re-mix)in ‘A cor amarela’ which could prove to be a key soundtrack to the summer. Almost as good is the mid-tempo ‘Sem cais’ with delicate vocals from Caetano and a simple but devastatingly catchy guitar riff. A major surprise is in store on the radical reworking of the samba classic ‘Incompatibilidade de genios’ which Joao Bosco made a hit out of during the mid-1970s. Here it is transformed into a languid indie folk ballad which only an artist with the imagination of Caetano could have conceived and realised. Pure genius. The social rap on ‘A base de Guanatanamo’ recalls the collaboration with Gilberto Gil on ‘Haiti’ from the early 1990s. Samba-flavoured percussion simmers on ‘Ingenuidade’ while ‘Por quem’ is a beautiful ballad. Arguably Caetano’s best album in over a decade and sure to win over a younger audience as well as the faithful.

Tim Stenhouse

Nite-Liters ‘Analysis’ (Dusty Groove) 4/5

nite_litersThis seminal rare groove funk album from 1973 has long been a collectors dream and with tasty arrangements and production courtesy of one Harvey Fuqua, the tone is set for some classic rhythms on arguably the finest of the five albums the band cut in a prolific five-year period. With hindsight one can view ‘Analysis’ as symbolising a seismic shift in black music from dance-oriented funk to what would come to be termed disco. The album is a very diverse outing that takes in a multitude of influences from jazz and blues, Latin, but also interestingly pop and rock to a lesser extent. Minor pop chart had already been secured by the band with the single ‘K-Jee’ and they were obviously not averse to attracting a wider audience as long as they did not compromise their craft. This was clearly not the case on ‘Analysis’ and it is rather their open-minded approach to music that shines through on the recording. Jazzy guitar riffs a la Wes Montgomery are in evidence on the classy ‘Pee Foul’, this writer’s favourite composition, and also featuring nice Afro-funk drums and percussive accompaniment. Further jazz influences are evident on ‘Happy hooker’ where the keyboard influences of Donald Fagan and Jimmy Smith meet head on with hand claps added for good measure. Funk with a distinct Parliament stamp is found on ‘Anything goes’ with vocals while ‘Cowboy’ takes a leaf out of Johnny Cash’s Mariachi trumpet riffs from ‘Ring of Fire’. Latin percussion riffs add depth to proceedings as on a lovely reworking of the then recently recorded instrumental ‘Valdez in the country’ by Donny Hathaway and the lengthier cut, ‘Drumology’ is a funk equivalent to Tito Puente’s ‘Top Percussion’ project with beefed up drum action. A heavy jam session is the order of the day on ‘Damn’ which precedes the jazz-funk era by a few years while ‘Craaaashing’ could be straight off a blaxploitation movie soundtrack. Nite-Liters were a Kentucky-based band that during the nineteen-sixties underwent numerous changes in personnel, but continued to make the diversity of their line up and output a virtue. Male, female and instrumentalists all made up the constituent parts. Definitely one for the groove-laden listener.

Tim Stenhouse

Khaled ‘Liberte’ (Wrasse) 4/5

khaledFormerly a Cheb or ‘young man’, Khaled has long been a full matured singer and in recent times has been eager to explore different facets to his repertoire above and beyond updating the rai beat which first gained him notoriety. On this latest recording, aptly titled, he has liberated himself from musical shackles to explore the roots of Arabic music. In so doing he has temporarily at least banished the sound of synthesizers and an altogether rootsier feel is omnipresent. In particular Khaled has sought to internalise the Gnawa music prominent in Morocco and parts of Algeria, Diwan music as well as adding the ubiquitous Egyptian strings that are an integral feature of classical and light classical music in the latter nation. As with Egyptian classical, Khaled has opted for instrumental intros to the main part of the song and this merely enhances the feel of authenticity. Key tracks include ‘Raikoum’, which is an obviuos candidate for single, ‘Yamina’ and the title track, but the album in general impresses as a cohesive whole. Produced by ace world fusion man Martin Meissonnier and recorded in Paris with strings added in Cairo, this is one of Khaled’s freshest recordings in a while and one that may prove to provide new impetus to what is already a glittering career.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993