The Cape Verdean Isles and jazz are not obviously connected, though Horace Silver’s father hailed from the islands and Silver’s music invariably contained African and especially Latin elements. Cape Verdean jazz singer Carmen D’Souza definitely does not belong to the mainstream of vocalists in the jazz idiom and her sound is more a fusion of traditional Cape Verdean rhythms such as morna and coladjon as well as modern jazz, piano jazz most notably. This album (her first dating back to 2005), recorded in Lisbon, is a largely original selections of compositions co-written between D’Souza and Theo Pas’cal. However, it does contain two surprises in highly original reworkings of jazz standards. Charlie Parker’s ‘Donna Lee’ has never been heard sounding quite like this before and this fresh approach has all the feel of a Jazz Hot Quintet recording with accordion and strummed guitar. A more conventional take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My favourite things’ is sung in English with a style that can only have been influenced directly by Macy Gray and is the nearest thing to a straight jazz piece with flugelhorn, though the use of Cape Verdean percussion gives this a slightly exotic twist. Of the original material, ‘Ivanira’ has a lovely shuffling beat to it with a fine piano solo from Jonathan Idiagbonya while Carmen’s voice deepens somewhat on the jazzy ‘Luta’ complete with double bass and flute. The light and breezy opener ‘Manhå 1 de Dezembro’ features a catchy repetitive chorus. In general D’Souza’s voice is an acquired taste with a high pitched delivery that is quite idiosyncratic, but her vocalese is straight out of the Ella Fitzgerald songbook which is no bad thing and her vocal influences vary between Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, while instrumentally she has listened to the music of Harbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Horace Silver and Joe Zawinul, hence the interest in jazz instrumentation. Having performed to critical acclaim at Womad in 2005, Carmen D’Souza is a singer who can easily switch from jazz to roots styles at the drop of a hat and with aplomb. The title track incidentally refers to a traditional gathering of friends and family in the Cape Verdean islands when they come together to eat the local soul food.
Formerly one of the founding members of the mighty roots reggae group the Gladiators, bassist and singer Clinton Fearon featured on some of the most enduring sides of Jamaican music starting with ‘Hello Carol’ for Studio One back in 1969 and throughout the 1970s he composed and performed with the very best including Junior Byles, the Ethiopians, Max Romeo and Willi Williams among many others. Indeed it may come as a surprise to some to learn that the backing group to seminal roots artist Yabby You, who passed away a couple of years ago, were none other than the Gladiators under the alias of the Prophets.
However, when the Gladiators split up in the 1980s, Fearon moved on to the United States where he settled and founded new roots group John Brown’s Body. However, he still harboured solo ambitions and signed with French independent label Makasound in 2012 for a fine recording, ‘Mi deh ya’, and has now returned on Sterns/Chapter Two with an all-acoustic album revisiting some of the classic Gladiators songs as well as some new ones. Pride of place resides with the anthemic ‘Let Jah be praised’ which has gorgeous harmonies and just acoustic guitar and bass to accompany. Fearon has always been a superb bass player and the most melodic of basslines accompanies the very Bob Marleyesque ‘Stop before you go’. Another winner of a song is ‘Richman Poorman’ with the most basic of percussion. Can reggae still work in such a pared down setting? The answer here is an emphatic thumbs up because, when stripped down to the bone, the songs reveal the sheer beauty of the melodies and Clinton Fearon still possesses a fine voice. This is a joint Franco-British release that deserves to reach a wider public and with songs such as the folk-reggae sounding ‘On the other side’, the album should achieve precisely that.
From his tenure in Miles Davis’ early 1970s fusion through to his debut on ECM, saxophonist Dave Liebman has trod his own distinctive pathway and this latest offering is no exception, straddling post-bop and freer territory with a fine line-up that features Marc Ribot on guitar. In parts this is muscular, dense and uncompromising music and that is just the way devotees of Liebman’s sound will like it. Of the compositions on offer, the reworking of the three standards are the most interesting. From the Ornette Coleman-Pat Metheny collaboration, ‘Trigonometry’ is tackled and this is a fresh sounding interpretation with Liebman on soprano. A fittingly atmospheric take on Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ features some lovely bass work in the intro with Liebman reverting to tenor while on Albert Ayler’s ‘Omega is the Alpha/Ghosts’, Ribot excels on guitar. Elsewhere the opener ‘Olivier’ is a tribute to French classical composer Olivier Messaien while there is a pared-down duet between piano and soparano on an untitled free form ballad. Freedom within a structure would be one way to describe the album as a whole which is challenging and demanding, but entertaining for all that.
London independent label Whirlwind are quickly making a name for themselves in uncovering some of the hippest new talent on the UK jazz scene and this is one of their best signings thus far. Leader, composer and flautist Gareth Lockrane actually studied first of all at the National Film and Television school to postgraduate level, but music has become his major passion and a debut album was recorded back in 2003 ‘Grooveyard put the cat out’. The long awaited follow has been virtually a decade in the making and the album is brimming with beautiful soul-jazz flavours that have a good deal more meat on the bone than one might normally expect from this kind of formation. Indeed the band performed on the opening night of the 2012 London Jazz Festival at the Forge in Camden. Thus ‘Whistleblower’ is lovely flute-led number with a heavy saxophone solo from long-time accompanist Alex Garnett and some menacing hammond organ from the Larry Young school of playing. In contrast the gentle mid-tempo groove of the opener ‘Frizz’ with flute and brass, features an extended tenor solo from Garnett and keyboardist Ross Stanley. Guest performer Niua Lynn features on three compositions, offering wordless vocals. Overall the album is quite varied in its approach with cinematic, funk and rock influences all appearing at various junctures. The musicians really stretch out over infectous jazz-dance rhythms and this marks the band as one to watch out for in the near future. The inventive cartoonesque sleeve cover comes courtesy of artist Bill Bragg (no connection presumably with the English folk singer-songwriter).
Ex-Toto lead singer Steve Lukather has always led a more open-minded musical approach as a solo artist and has found himself recording with the likes of Aretha Franklin, George Benson and even Miles Davis. His interest in blues and soul is a long-term one and he toured with white soul singer Boz Scaggs on his ‘Silk Degrees’ album tour way back in the mid-1970s. Lukather’s first solo album dates back to 1988 and his influences take in Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles psychadelic period among others. By far the most melodic piece on the new recording is ‘Right the wrong’ which sounds like a potential single with ‘Last man standing’ not far behind. There is a soulful ballad in ‘Once again’, while fans of Toto will hear some of his old band in ‘Creep motel’ (Toto are in fact undergoing a thirty-fifth anniversary tour this year). Hendrix would certainly have approved of the instrumental cut, a soulful guitar reworking of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’. It has to be said that while some of the material falls outside the remit of this review, notably the prog-rock feel of the title track, the blues-inflected sound on ‘Rest of the world’ is ideally suited and maybe this is an aspect of his repertoire that Steve Lukather would like to explore in more depth in future.
Singer Zucchero is a household name in Italy for his brand of pop-infused music, but for this latest project he has gone down a different route with a distinctly pan-Latin flavour and it is largely a successful fusion. The sessions, co-produced by Zucchero and Don Was, were recorded in Havana
and feature some top Cuban session musicians including pecussionists Changuito and Horacio ‘el negro’ Hernandez with long-time Santana conguero Paul Rekov appearing one one track. There is a definite nod to Santana on the uptempo opener ‘Nena’, delivered in Spanish and English, which is instantly catchy and the obvious contender for a single and a slow burning rendition of the evergreen quasi-Cuban anthem ‘Guantanamera (guajira)’ that is sung here in Italian. Another Santana soundalike number surfaces on ‘Baila (sexy thing’) which actually sounds pretty convincing, while the slightly rockier ‘L’Orlo’ includes Rekow laying down some heavyweight percussion. The major surprise on the album is the inclusion of a reworking in a Latin vein of a 1980s UK pop hit ‘Everybody’s got to learn sometime’ which works amazingly well in this new setting and full marks to Zucchero for attempting it and avoding the pitfall in general of another post-Buena Vistas re-enactment. More diversity in approach can be found in ‘Cuba libre’ which has acoustic guitar and something of a Manu Chao flavour with mariachi-style trumpets. With vocals in Italian, Spanish and the odd English-language song, Zucchero is reaching out to a wider international audience and the pan-Latin American sound is further explored in a duet with Brazilian pop-samba singer Djavan. Tim Stenhouse
The death of pianist and composer Dave Brubeck in December 2012 at the age of ninety-two was a great loss to the world of jazz and to music in general. His towering contribution spans some seven decades and no anthology can ever claim to capture the entirety of such a staggeringly fruitful and creative career. That said, Union Square go beyond the obvious to provide a well thought out overview of the Columbia years, in studio and live formats, with the odd caveat. It was while at Columbia that the classic quartet including the fabulous alto saxophone playing of Paul Desmond, the surefire bass of Eugene Wright and the dynamic polyrhythms of Joe Morello reached full maturity and from an early example of the quartet in full bloom, ‘Brubeck Time’ in 1954, the standard ‘A fine romance’ and the beautiful Brubeck composed ballad ‘Audrey’ are taken. This was already a band in complete control. Of course the seminal ‘Time Out album could not be excluded and ‘Take Five’ is arguably the most instantly recognisable piece in jazz history alongside ‘So what’ and a few other worthy candidates. It should not be forgotten that at the time this most unusual of time signatures (in 5/4 time) was positively frowned upon by the head of Columbia jazz and was seen as something of a risk. The gamble paid off handsomely and ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ is almost as compelling and has been covered countless times with vocal version by Al Jarreau and French jazzer Claude Nougaro especially memorable. The follow up album ‘Time Further Out’ was no mere re-hashing of the first and ‘It’s a raggy waltz’ and ‘Unsquare dance’ both contained in this compilation are fine examples of Brubeck’s genius for finding instantly catchy melodies from then unorthodox time scores. Dave Brubeck loved reworking other famous pieces from film and the American songbook and on ‘Dave digs Disney’ scored another winner of an album with ‘Someday my prince will come’ and ‘Heigh-ho’ included here. Miles Davis would cover the former and it has become a staple of the jazz repertoire ever since. From the Columbia period, Brubeck’s most adventurous excursions were his jazz impressions of places the quartet visited on tour and some of these are found in the present anthology. From ‘Jazz Impressions of Eurasia’ the lengthy ‘Brandenburg Gate’ is another Brubeck classic and he has performed this on countless occasions including with a symphony orchestra. It is a pity that no numbers from ‘Jazz Impressions of Japan’, on a par with Horace Silver’s ‘Tokyo Blues’ are included with ‘Koto song’ being a particular favourite. Likewise ‘Jazz Impressions of USA’ featured ‘Summer song’ that would have been a worthy inclusion. Much under-estimated is Brubeck’s solo work and here a fine rendition of ‘The Duke’ and ‘In your own sweet way’ are illustrations of his essentially blues-inflected style. For those wishing to hear more of this, they should seek out ‘Brubeck plays Brubeck’. One could quibble about the lack of any interpretations from the quartet’s recording of ‘West Side Story’ or the omission of ‘Castilian Blues’, or even Brubeck’s take on the bossa nova, or his live recordings including a glorious tour of Mexico. There are numerous candidates for inclusion here and it would require an entire box set to do full justice and that is just for the decade or so that the quartet were together. A lengthy inner sleeve article from Mojo writer Chris Ingham places Brubeck in a wider historical context. Every house should have at least one or two Dave Brubeck albums and if you are searching to find where to start off, this is as good a place as any and at a bargain price too. Tim Stenhouse
If the studio version of Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion project whetted the appetite for more, then the live version from the 2010 tour is even better and includes not only all five compositions off the original album, but equally some tasty reworkings of his vast back catalogue and a couple of improvisations that are a sheer delight. The lovely bright feel to ‘Spirit of the air’ typifies the album as a whole and this is a beautifully constructed piece with trademark Metheny licks that hark back to the Wes Montgomery era. With all the ambience of a full Pat Metheny Group recording, ‘Expansion’ features some gorgeous layered textures that features piano, vibes and percussion and this is an exquisite flowing piece with Metheny pushing himself to the limit on this driving number. Both improvisatory pieces impress with number two a simple rhythm over which the guitarist embellishes the sound with increasingly complex layers. Of the classic compositions, ‘Sueño con Mexico’ which originally featured on the 1970s ECM album ‘New Chutauqua’, maintains the repetitive riff of the orginal while adding some Methenyesque improvisations on top. Quite simply one of his most beautiful of all pieces and that acoustic feel that so distinguished the orginal is rightly retained to stunning effect. The evocative and melodic number ‘Antonia’ displays the full range of instrumentation that Metheny has programmed and these include marimba, piano and what sounds like a melodica. Metheny’s storytelling quality is exploited to the full on ‘Tell her you saw me’ which like other numbers from his repertoire has a film soundtrack atmosphere to it. The proof of the pudding here is that at no point does one ever have the feeling that the music is being generated than anything other than a supremely creative human being and this is precisely what Pat Metheny and still managing to remain on the very top of his game.
Rewind in time to the late nineteen-seventies and an unlikely left-field group from Brazil stormed both the dance and pop charts with the anthemic instrumental winner in ‘Jazz Carnival’. The album from which that classic piece emanated has now been re-issued in its full glory augmented by some tasty remixes and a full original mix of the aforementioned track. Revisited some thirty years later, ‘Light as a feather’ now sounds way ahead of its time since it contained other pieces that were tailor made for lovers of quality Brazilian grooves. Repetitive, heavy basslines, an array of keyboard wizardry and a plethora of percussive sounds characterised the Azmuth which was orchestral in nature and yet only three players made up the group. Another composition that was tailor made for dancefloor action is ‘Avenida das Mangueiras’ which not only pre-dates house music by several years, but also sounds like a tune that Gotan Project could have been influenced by. This sprawling track develops and morphs into new entities as it goes along for some nine minutes. The title track with uptempo groove bassline, vocoder and handclaps was an ideal vehicle for leader, the late José Roberto Bertrami, to shine on electric keyboards and is an album highlight. One could arguably describe the track as a halfway house between Chick Corea and Light as Feather (surely an early influence upon Azymuth) and the Headhunters. For some subtle playing, look no furrther than the atmospheric, ‘Fly over the horizon’ which has been one of this writer’s favourite b-sides to the 12″ version of ‘Jazz Carnival’, and uses the sparsest of accompaniments and simplest of keyboard riffs over layers of synths from Bertrami. In a more experimental vein, ‘Amazonia’ was possibly Azymuth’s attempt at cracking the Kraftwerk danceable sound, but still in a thoroughly Brazilian fashion. Overall the group sound is unmistakably Azymuth even if they took on board diverse influences including Weather Report and others, and while immediately Brazilian to the ear, it was not quite like anything else before. This is no less than a Brazilian fusion masterpiece, right up there with George Duke’s ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ and Tania Maria’s ‘Come with me’. Essential listening. Tim Stenhouse
Amidst the social unrest of recent months in Mali comes a wonderful acoustic performance from one of the instrumental masters of West African music. Virtuoso musician Bassekou Kouyaté performs on the ngoni, a type of four-stringed lute from a tradition that dates back several generations. On his latest offering Kouyaté retains the warm, immediate sound of old, but this time round expands it with some other subtle stylistic innovations, best of which is the glorious ‘Ne me fatigue pas (Don’t tire me out)’ that has an intoxicating Afro-beat rhythm, complete with talking drum and shuffling beat. Female lead vocals are once again handled by Basskou’s wife Amy Sacko and she combines beautifully with background singers on the title track, but this is actually far more a family affair than you might think for now sons Madou and Moustafa are part of the band as well as host of guest singers who turn up throughout this recording. Fellow maestro Kasse Mady Diabaté takes control of lead vocals on ‘Sinaly’ which is the catchiest of melodies and at an especially rapid rhythm from the outest. A new voice to some will be Zoumana Tereta, who featured on the previous album, and here performs on three songs including ‘Dangou’. Blues giant Taj Mahal even makes an appearance on ‘Poye Z’. This is a fine album that will remain long on the ear and in the soul. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba will be performing at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow during late January and then at selected venue during a brief European tour. Thereafter they hope to be performing mid-February in the Malian desert as part of an evening for peace and national unity. With the healing quality of the music contained within, their own cultural contribution to reuniting the Malian people will be greatly appreciated. Tim Stenhouse