Various ‘John Morales: Presents the M & M Mixes vol. 3. New York underground anthems and previously unreleased exclusive disco mixes’ 3CD 4/5

The roots of dance music have been dissected and re-analysed in the last fifteen years and disco has rightly been cited as playing a pivotal founding role. One of the welcome by-products of this renaissance of interest has been a series of classic re-issues and this latest offering from John Morales of newly created remixes very much fits into the classic category. For those were simply not around to appreciate the music first time round, John Morales, along with musical partner Sergio Munzibai, was one of the early 1980s pioneers of the remix (founding fathers from the mid-1970s being DJs such as Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons among others) and between 1982 and 1990 the partnership created an impressive six hundred and fifty plus mixes before Munzibai sadly passed away in 1991. In recent years John Morales has been persuaded to re-investigate and eventually re-create some of the lesser known (to a wider public at least), yet richly appreciated at the time undergound dance sounds of the classic disco era and beyond into what became known as boogie and then morphed into garage and at a later stage transmogrified into house music. With a plethora of music to choose from, Morales has wisely cut across labels and eras with the earliest re-mixes here pre-dating the beginnings of disco (a disputed time frame at the best of times since dance-inflected soul music existed in the 1950s and 1960s and arguably before in the form of blues, but from a strictly stylstic viewpoint disco commences roughly around 1973/4, though exceptions to the general rule of thumb can always be found) until the mid-1990s when drum machines and synthesizers were the order of the day.

A few surprise inclusions emerge and testify to John Morales open-minded approach to the art of mixing. Marvin Gaye’s ‘I want you’ has been given a major makeover with a far more percussive underpinning and some skillful re-editing. Likewise who would have expected the Stax classic from the Dramatics ‘Whatcha see is whatcha get’ being elongated. It certainly works and that ever so evocative and dare one say dramatic intro receives an extra few minutes which only adds to the dancer’s and listener’s pleasure. What has become something of a rare groove classic has been lovingly re-mixed in Loose Joints’ ‘Is it all over your face?’ which sounds as fresh now as when it first arrived as a prized West End 12″ back in 1980. Naturally some better known grooves are given a new coat of paint and these include the jazz-funk anthem by Donald Byrd and the Blackbirds ‘Rock Creek Park’ and Barry White’s ‘Never, Never gonna give you up’ which can now both similarly be viewed in a new light. Some songs only require minimal surface changes since they were so good the first time around and this is certainly the case of Jean Carn’s irresistably soulful ‘Was that all it was’ and equally Third World’s ‘Now that we’ve found love’, both big dancefloor hits at the time. Salsoul was a seminal disco label and it is fitting therefore that Loleatta Holloway is represented with her essential ‘Hit and run’ song and the backing band of the Philly sound MFSB re-emerge simply under a different name as the Salsoul Orchestra with the suggestive ‘You’re just the right size’. Not everything has worn as well. Curtis Hairston does sound a little dated, but in general this is a generous and carefully selected selection that will merit repeated listens.

Tim Stenhouse

Tito Puente ‘El Rey Bravo’/’Tambo’ (Malanga) 5/5

This pairing of a supremely rare 1962 Tico LP and a heavy Afro-Cuban percussive album from 1960 on RCA makes for essential early period listening by the undisputed ‘King of the timbales’, Ernesto ‘Tito’ Puente. The recordings feature the cream of Latin musicians with Ray Barretto, Carlos ‘Potato’ Valdes (present on both) and pianist/arranger Gil López featuring among a host of others. The first album, ‘El Rey Bravo’ is notable for the inclusion of an early version of what would prove to be Tito Puente’s signature tune, ‘Oyé como va’ (Listen how it goes) which Santana re-envigorated some eight years later and, in the process, greatly aided Puente’s career at a time when the big band Latino sound had become somewhat passé for a new generation of Latin music fans. A storming rendition of ‘Málanga con Yuca’ features an incessant piano vamp and some wild flute from a then young Johnny Pacheco while the instrumental ‘Tokio de noche’ fits very much into the impressionistic attempts to depict Japan which other musicians at the time would attempt, most notably Dave Brubeck and Horace Silver. Various folkloric rhythms are showcased on the recording with the faster-paced ‘Gúaguancó’ being a steaming slice of a piano-led number while ‘Son Montuno’ is only marginally less frenetic. The second album is far more instrumental driven and could almost be described as a introduction to Afro-Cuban percussion. However, a dancer’s delight of a tune and sure to burn up the dancefloors of any era is the pacy big band plus vocals ‘Traigo el coco seco’ (literally ‘My head is dry’) while for Afro-Cuban specialists they need look no further than the repetitive yet intoxicating rhythms of ‘Africa hablá’. This is quite similar in nature to the kind of music that jazz drummer Art Blakey was making on the two ‘Holiday for Skins’ volumes with a host of Latin percussionists. A terrific duet of recordings, then, and how about pairing Puente’s extremely rare ‘Carnival in Harlem’ with his collaboration with La Lupe devoted to Puerto Rican music legend on ‘Homenaje a Rafael Hernandez’ (tribute to Rafael Hernandez)? Plenty of music still to trawl in the immense Tito Puente archives, but this latest offering will more than suffice for starters. íQue viva el rey! (Long live the King!)

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Ragga Ragga Ragga 2013’ (VP) 3/5

This yearly installment of the freshest dancehall sounds of the ragga sub-genre is now upon us and once again it is an interesting mix of cross-boundary hopping grooves. Contemporary soul and reggae sounds are becoming increasingly blurred for a younger generation of musicians who simply see the commonality between them and this is reflected in the production of Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor. His own contribution on ‘Struggle’ features some soulful instrumentation in both the use of keyboards and in the background vocals. Young vocalist Romain Virgo is one of the new talents to emerge on the Jamaican music scene and he illustrates this by offering ‘No scary movie’ which he has co-written. In an altogether rawer vein comes the sole offering on the compliation by Gyptian ‘Non stop’ which features vocoder-like vocals. It has to be stated that some of the ragga songs can be a tad formulaic and furthermore are phrased in a vernacular that only a few can truly appreciate. However, this fact seemingly matters little since the music is primarily aimed at dancefloor action and on this score alone, the music will either sink or swim.

Tim Stenhouse

Yellowman ‘Young, gifted and yellow. Reggae anthology’ 2CD + DVD (VP) 4/5

It is difficult now to fully appreciate the impact that Yellowman truly made on the Jamaican music scene back in the early 1980s when roots music was in decline, Bob Marley had passed, and a new emerging style of dancehall was in the ascendancy. However, it is nonetheless true to say that Yellowman rapidly became the biggest selling DJ on the island, and arguably for a brief period of time in the mid-1980s the most influential artist in reggae, and certainly his influence on a younger generation of musicians was significant. He was innovative in several respects, not least the subject matter, which touched on hitherto taboo subjects and also in that, alongside Fathead, he recorded the first ever live dancehall album ‘Live at Aces’ which spawned numerous subsequent copyists. Yellowman was important equally in that he had to combat serious prejudice against his own person since he was born an albino in a society that traditionally looked down upon such individuals and consequently marginalised them. Yellowman’s very public presence and pronouncements via his music challenged those perceptions. Finally, Yellowman was the first Jamaican musician to be signed up on a major American label (with Columbia) and this set an important precendent for what would folllow during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s when Jamaican artists became far more popular and mainstream in the American music industry. The lyrics are invariably witty, humourous and above all else original. A fine example is ‘Mad over me’ which opens side 1 of the two CD set, but it could equally apply to ‘Yellowman getting married’. Some of his most enduring lyrics featured the production talents of Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes who collaborated on a good deal of the early work here and ‘Mr Chin’ is a fine example of the pair in full flow. No less than nine collaborations feature Yellowman and Fathead in tandem and the politically revealing lyrics of ‘Operation eradication’ leaves no doubts as to the seriousness of the general political and social context which Jamaica found itself in at the time with a polarisation of political parties and an increasingly lawless society where the division between the haves and have nots simply grew to unprecedented proportions. A twenty-five minute accompanying DVD gives just some hint of what Yellowman was capable of in a live context and this is taken from the annual Sunsplash reggae festival in Kingston, in this case during the mid-1980s with a different set of numbers from those on the CD set.

Tim Stenhouse

Jah Thomas ‘Stop yu loafin’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

Classic reggae re-issues have been a little thin on the ground in recent times. Thus when a genuinely excellent one such as this surfaces, it is good news indeed. The original album came out in 1978 and has all the hallmarks of the roots era. It is a Channel One production under the leadership of Jo Hookim and is backed by the Revolutionaries in their prime which means Sly and Robbie are at the helm to supply the solidest of bass and drum grooves. Although there are no bonus cuts, the music speaks for itself with wonderful interpretations of riddims that will be immediately familiar to anyone with a basic underlying knowledge of reggae music history. Jah Thomas was of couse not only a DJ, but a producer in his own right and for those interested in his productions on the Midnight Rock label they should immediately turn to the Greensleeves 12″ Rulers series which brought out a collection of his extended singles. However, the reason why this new re-issue is especially memorable is that Jah Thomas belonged to a select number of DJs who were able to cut their own interpretations of Channel One’s most enduring rhythms and others included Trinity and Ranking Trevor. Highlights include a title track which has the ‘Skywalkin’ riddim that became a Horace Andy signature tune, ‘Black Star Liner’ which uses a famous Ken Boothe Studio One riddim and ‘My Jamaican Girl’ which uses Barrington Levy’s ‘Shine eye girl’ as the underyling rhythm. The sparse accompaniment of bass and drum allied to the lovely organ playing makes for a thrilling ‘Send me the pillow’. Full marks to Greenlseeves for reproducing in the pull out inner sleeve the graphics to the orignal cover in larger print. This imagery conjurs up the era and daily life like no other art form and significantly enhances the listeners enjoyment. Tim Stenhouse

Wara ‘Leave to remain’ (Movimientos) 3/5

Nine piece London-based band Wara typify the cosmopolitan make up of the capital and this very modern take on the Latin music scene which takes on board elements of nu-soul, the funkier side of jazz and even pop-reggae has much to be commended. On the positive side the fusion of Latin grooves with jazz-funk inspired instrumentation and lyrics that shift between English and Spanish works extremely well and is an integral part of the group’s identity and this should remain firmly at the core of their repertoire. It is best exemplified by songs such as ‘Somewhereland’ which comes across as a more latinised version of Incognito and certainly the undercurrent of Latin percussion and electric piano makes this one of the albums strongest components. Lead vocals here are delivered by Congolese-Argentinean singer Juanita Euka who happpens to be the niece of Congolese soukouss legend Franco. For fans of straighter ahead Latin dancefloor music, there are a couple of numbers that fit the bill. Salsa with a modern twist permeates the uptempo ‘No se vende’ which has a jazz interlude on trumpet while there is a catchy keyboard vamp on the mid-tempo ‘Caprichoso’ which is sung in English. Nu soul with an acoustic flavour is the order of the day on a breezy reworking of ‘Flesh and bones’ which was the title track of their 2011 EP, though the rap interlude could easily have been dispensed with. Where the group need to be wary is attempting too many styles in one recording and the cod-reggae of ‘Run for cover’ which part way through then morphs into two-tone ska territory is maybe a step too far on a first album and should be attempted in more depth at a later date once the group are fully established with their own distinct identity. It will be enough for audiences to come to terms with the combination of soul and Latin music, convincing though this is. Afro-Cuban folk roots are explored on ‘Pide a yemayá’ with the lead vocalist sounding akin to Myriam Makeba here. Overall a very promising debut and the UK tour continues through June and July.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘London is the place for me volumes five and six. Afro-Cubism, calypso, highlife, mento, jazz. The music of black London’ 2CD/2LP (Honest Jons) 5/5

As far as musical social histories of the capital go, this latest two volume set of songs and instrumentals in the ongoing series devoted to London could hardly be bettered and should certainly be viewed as as a valid means of chronicling what has over time become the most cosmopolitan city in the world in terms of its demographic make up. Flash back to the 1950s when there was a large-scale immigration taking place of citizens from the Caribbean and to a lesser extent from West Africa. The musicians emanating from these regions of the world constitute the majority of participants on this wonderfully put together and beautifully illustrated compilation with original photos, labels and album covers (many from the personal collection of writer Val Wilmer) of the era and engage in some early fusion of styles, doubtless influenced by virtue of their migration to the capital by being exposed to new musical styles outside their native lands. Thus Ghanaian Buddy Pipp and his highlifers explore Latin music themes on the sumptuous instrumental ‘Sway’ featuring none other than Jamican alto saxophonist Joe Harriott while Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece forsakes his horn for a brief percussive breakdown. One of the most compelling numbers is ‘Mambo contempo’ by Nigerian percussionist and band leader Ginger Johnson.

Of course the spoken word is a powerful tool in expressing daily life and is no more a potent weapon than in the hands of the masterly calypsonians of Trinidad (and to a lesser extent their Jamaican counterparts). Lord Kitchener engages in some witty social commentary on both ‘My wife went away with Yankee’ when US soldiers were based in the Caribbean islands and on sporting matters on ‘Cricket umpires’. Travel is a recurring theme on this compilation and during the 1950s the deluxe form of crossing the Atlantic was by luxury liner. This is the subject of Lord Beginner’s depiction of a journey from Southampton to New York on ‘The dollar and the pound’. One major advantage that London had over the musicians mother country was the relative quality of the recording studio and a key individual who crops up as engineer on several recordings and later as a seminal figure in modern British jazz is Denis Preston. His attention to detail ensured that the calypsonians in particular were captured in premium musical surroundings and consequently their music has been preserved for posterity. Old friends from previous volumes in the series return such as Cab Kaye and Ambrose Campbell and their inclusion makes for a vibrant and cohesive whole.

For left-field music the Fitzroy Coleman quintet offer an instrumental in ‘Uncle Joe’ that sounds incredibly prescient since the clarinet has all the hallmarks of the then nascent Columbian cumbia genre that took on board jazz influences. Elsewhere Jamaican vocalist Lila Verona enters double-entendre terrain on ‘Big instrument’ which surely takes a leaf out of the early blues recordings of one Dinah Washington. It is left to calypsonian the Might Terror to extol the virtues of living in a new country in ‘Life in Britain’, a sentiment that is worth bearing in mind with the recent and tragic political events in London in the last few weeks.

Tim Stenhouse

Classico Latino and Friends ‘Journey through Latin America’ (Classico Latino) 4/5

Here is a novel idea. Take classically trained chamber music musicians from the UK and fuse with Latin American musicians who are also classically trained, but, in addition, have a natural sensiblity for their own folk music and fuse the two into a cohesive whole. It may superficially sound a simple enough task to undertake, but in practice this requires a good deal of skill and understanding to pull off allied with a profound respect for the two distinct, if not necessarily mutually exclusive, musical cultures. The good news for the listener is that the finished product is a both a refreshing and, in parts, passionate reworking of some of the finest examples of the Latin American songbook. Recorded at the prestigious Abbey Road studios, this album has the potential to reach a wider audience that may be new to Latin American folk music and is looking for a beginners way in. The sounds take in a myriad of styles from bolero, danza, jorupa, rumba and tango to mention but a few. The tone is set by the instantly catchy opener, ‘Alma llanera’ (Soul of the plains) which is an example of the jorupa style from Venezuela and this features some lovely interplay between strings and piano. Another winner of a tune is the famous rumba song ‘Moliendo café’ (Grinding coffee) which was memorably covered as an Afro-Cuban jazz number by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band in New York, but here has a more organic Puerto Rican folk theme complete with percussion and piano vamps. The song features the guest vocals of Eirini Tornesaki. Indeed Puerto Rico is also the destination from which the wonderful song ‘Capullito de alheli’ emanates and readers will recall the superb rendition by Caetano Veloso a decade or so ago on an album dedicated to the Spanish language repertoire of the Latin American continent. Here the opening piano vamp leads into some light and uplifting ensemble performances and the piece develops into an essentially Afro-Cuban structure with all the feel of the Buena Vistas who have surely been an influence on Classico Latino’s thinking. Virtuosity abounds on the bouncy Columbian number ‘A lo que vinimos’ while Carlos Gardel’s seminal Argentine tango song ‘El dia que me quieras’ is not quite the radical departure that Eddie Palmieri conjured up on his memorable ‘White album’ (The Latin music equivalent of the Beatles famous recording), but is nonetheless different again from the original and works extremely well in its own right. Classico Latino are the brainchild of cellist Graham Walker, violinst Lizzie Ball and Columbian pianist Ivan Guevera and the collective endeavour is certainly one of the year’s finest world fusion projects thus far this year. One live date at the Gateshead will be forthcoming on 13 July. Tim Stenhouse

V/A ‘Philly Regrooved 3 – Tom Moulton Remixes: More from the Master’ 2CD (Harmless) 5/5

Now into a third and this time extended instalment, for those not already familiar with the concept, the Tom Moulton remixes focuses on one of the pivotal figures of the origins of dance music from the classic disco era of the 1970s. Tom Moulton was arguably the creator of, or at the very least the person who first thought up the notion of an elongated dance number which morphed into the 12″ single with additional instrumental segments and extended introductions and was able to effortlessly segue this together. For this latest project, Moulton has revisited some of the underground as well as more recognised dance classics of the 1970s and given them new mixes in his own distinctive and ultimately timeless voice. Several of the originals are extremely hard to find, but even for those having them already in their possession, it will still be like listening to the numbers for the first time with the reworkings on offer here. There are too many highlights to mention them all, but suffice it to say that Tom Moulton has always had a soft spot for the soulful Philly groove and there are once more numerous examples of this sound on the current compilation as on the previous two.

One surprise which has a good deal of relevance to the present day is ‘Soul recession’ by Double Exposure. With its socially conscious lyrics, one should not forget that disco flourished during a period of major recession that hit the northern US cities particularly badly during the mid-late 1970s and therefore the music was in many respects a positive response to a very negative economic climate that reigned at the time. The beefed up percussion makes this ideal fodder for the dancefloor and of course the harmonies by Double Exposure are utterly sublime.

Another Philadelphia based group with the sweetest of collective voices were Blue Magic and ‘Look me up’ is a heavy soulful tune with falsetto lead vocals that typifies the classy production that Sigma studios were capable of. Cult band the Ebonys have one of the hardest to find original albums on Philadelphia International (thankfully re-issued on CD and vinyl formats in recent years) and the inclusion of the excellent ‘Making love ain’t no fun (without the one you love)’ is a most welcome one and features some delightful hi-hat cymbals and lush strings sound that was an integral part of the classic Philly dancefloor groove. More familiar to the ears is William deVaughan’s ‘Be thankful for what you’ve got’ which here receives an extended vibes instrumental section halfway through and results in over nine minutes worth of dancefloor delight. The Spinners ‘Could it be I’m falling in love’ does not divert too much from the original whereas Melba Moore’s ‘Standing right here’ has a far more pared down feel with a guitar and percussive intro, and some lovely flute work. Underlying it all is the subtlety with which Tom Moulton has perfected his remixes over the years and these sound as good today as they did back in the mid-1970s. This is what Tom Moulton is truly the master of, keeping the music flowing endlessly.

Tim Stenhouse

Rodion G.A. ‘The lost tapes’ CD/2LP/Digital (Strut) 3/5

Rumanian dance music is virtually unheard of in the UK and only the vocal female choirs of La Voix Mystère des Bulgares will be familiar to those up on their world roots grooves. Which is where this compilation fills in part of the void. During the brief ‘open’ period of dictator Causescu’s sinister rule between 1965 and 1972, Rumanians were allowed for a short time access to the rock and pop music of the English-speaking world and this exerted a major influence on a whole generation of young musicians at the time including one Rodion Roşca. Between 1975-76 Rodion formed his own group Rodion G.A. and this collection is devoted to the band’s repertoire between 1978 and 1983. The project was realised largely thanks to the efforts in 2012 of film maker Luca Sorin who established contact with Rodion after several months investigation. Listening to the sounds now one is immediately reminded of the early electronica of groups such as Kraftwerk, but other influences are apparent and these include prog rock and classical. Instrumentation is extremely basic and used reel to reel tape with live drums and cheesy sounding synthesizers. Only one record label existed in Rumania, the state owned Electrocord. Probably the most compelling piece is ‘Cântec fulger’ which features whirling synths and bubbling percussion with vocals. Drum machine grooves predominate on ‘Alpha centauri’. There is even a nod towards early 1980s Soft Cell’s sound on ‘Citadela’. Fans of the Wire magazine will revel in some of the more avant-garde sounds here. Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993