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Verve Original LP from 1958, is noteworthy as it was lester Young’s last studio recording and therefore is an important historical document, especially since he is surrounded here by a crack formation.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

Jessica Lauren 4 ‘Jessica Lauren 4’ CD/LP/Digital (Freestyle) 4/5

Here is the much anticiapted album from keyboardist Jessica Lauren who has featured on so many other musicians albums and live performances ranging from jazz-funkster Tom Browne and jazzy soulstress Jean Carne to the blues-gospel hues of Barb Jungr. A foretaste emerged in early spring with the excellent latin-influenced instrumental ‘Mr. G’ from the latest Frerestyle compilation, but what is refreshing about this latest project is that one can hear Lauren perform almost exclusively on acoustic piano. The opener ‘White mountain’ which is something of medium-paced Latin shuffle with a simple but catchy piano riff sets the tone with the two percussionists David Gallagher and Paul Gunter embarking on some fine experimentation in a classic ‘montuno’ percussion workout. If anything the Latin Jazz flavours are quite understated on ‘Vaya con dios’ with the subtle use of strings supplied by the Wrecking Crew while the initial 12” single ‘Happiness train’ to promote the album featuring the vocals of dancefloor diva Jocelyn Brown is more blues-inflected than soulful disco, but works all the same. For much of the albums pieces, Jessica is content to blend in to the overall sound rather than dictating and when she really does start to solo, it is in a gentle manner and with a simple (but never simplistic) approach. The Latin feel is reflected in the creative late 1950s art cover on the CD which harks back to Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria albums on the Californian Fantasy records label. Tim Stenhouse

Amadou and Mariam ‘Folila’ (Because) 3/5

On their latest album ace Malian duo are not necessarily breaking any new ground, but have wisely decided to stick with the previously the winning formula of mainly French lyrics (with the noticeable inclusion of English gradually slipping in to appeal directly to a young rock audience), driving musical accompaniment of Malian inspired blues and simple lyrics that are easy to relate to and instantly catchy. Possibly best of all is the blues feel that is constant throughout ‘Oh Amadou’ with lead vocals from the male lead as well as harmonica while the other obvious contender for most compelling number is the politically charged lyrics of ‘Africa mon Afrique’ with an undercurrent of Afro-Beat horns. Guest appearances include contemporary French new wave rock singer Bernard Cantet, formerly lead with influential 1980/1990s group Noir Désir who have now disbanded, and he seems to revel in the new musical universe, and contributes vocals on four songs and performs on guitar elsewhere. Scissor Sisters band member Jake Shears appears on the uptempo ‘Metemya’ offering vocals in English while Amp Fiddler contribute on the blues guitar driven ‘Wari’. A misguided attempt at pop-rock on ‘Dougou badia’ falls short of expectations and such blatant attempts at entering the charts are best avoided by a duo such as Amadou and Mariam who are fully capable of reaching a wider market on their own terms. A confirmation of their existing talents rather than a major departure. Nonetheless possible new ground for future releases can be found on the pared down closing song ‘Chérie’ which is a much needed illustration of the more reflective side to the duo’s repertoire. More of this side on album, please.

Tim Stenhouse

Nancy Vieira ‘No amá’ (Liusafrica/Harmonia Mundi) 5/5

Cape Verdean singer Nancy Vieira is one talented young singer with a very promising future and this stunning album could prove to be one of the surprise hits of the summer. Vieira’s delivery is that of understated passion and she has been surrounded by some of the cream of Cape Verdean instrumentalists, who compliment the singer’s approach to perfection, and critically among the best songwriting talents also with three songs from Mário Lúcio and two from Teofilio Chantre apiece. The opener ‘Maylen’, with its relaxed vocals and sensitive guitar and percussive accompaniment, is a strong contender for the most compelling album number, but is only one of a host of outstanding compositions on offer. Arguably the Afro-Cuban influenced and guitar led ‘Trubuco’ is the pick of the bunch while the light Brazilian-style samba ‘Nhara Santiago’ with delightful flute intro and cavaquinho background is another strong contender. What comes across from this recording is that Nancy Vieira has listened to a wide range of musicians and singers and there are even echoes of Brazilian songstress Elis Regina on the quasi-bossa (in terms of the sue of guitar and vocals) of ‘Ninguém é di ninguém’ on which Vieira displays some lovely ad-libbing as the song develops into a gentle samba in the second half. Only on ‘Brasil (nos sonho azul)’ can a parallel be made with other Cape Verdean singers, here the obvious comparison being that of Cesaria Evora. The album is already picking up plaudits in the French media and they were first to spot the mercurial talents of Cesaria Evora. A fine new talent to be reckoned with. Tim Stenhouse

Heritage Blues Orchestra ‘And still I rise’ (Raisin’ Music) 4/5

If blues is not really your bag, think again for what we have here is predominantly acoustic folk-blues with a difference. The Heritage Blues Orchestra are a ten piece band that are overwhelmingly American in terms of line up, but with a Franco-American production team, and this gives the album a more historical feel on the rich blues tradition and a nice balance between acoustic and electric approaches to the genre. A killer acoustic tune is the terrific trombone-led version of ‘C-Line woman’, which Nina Simone once performed so wonderfully, but here with the gorgeous vocals of Chaney Sims on lead and some fine call and response background vocals into the bargain. Slide guitar and harmonica combine well on the gentle paced ‘Going uptown’, another acoustic number with some nice brass work. Standards include compositions by Son House, Muddy Waters and Leadbelly no less and for the former a storming version of ‘Clarksdale moan’ features some impassioned male lead vocals while Muddy’s ‘Catfish blues’ is given the Chicago electric treatment with the orchestra in full flow. Early blues from the field holler are present on a mournful interpretation of ‘Go down Hannah’ that is captured beautifully by Chaney Sims. More acoustic folk-blues emerge on ‘Big legged woman’ and on ‘Chilly Jordan’ while electric blues surface again on a co-written Eric Bibb song ‘Don’t ever let nobody drag your spirit down’. This may be too late for this year’s Blues Awards that have recently taken place, but will surely be a prime contender for folk-blues album for 2013. Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993