Sidestepper ‘The Buena Vibra Sound System’ (Palm)

A CD that came about after Richard Blair aka Sidestepper went to Colombia to meet up with Toto La Momposina, he was soon recording local Afro-Colombian artists which in turn developed into this pumping dance floor mix of Colombian, Nigerian and Jamaican styles. Great tracks with my pick probably the 12” mix of La Paloma. Brilliant

Graham Radley

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers ‘Soul Finger’ (Limelight/Universal) 3/5

This 1965 recording data is notable in in the long Jazz Messenger’s history for the pairing of two trumpeters who epitomised the band’s hard bop sound in the early-mid 1960s: Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that in the same year the pair had recorded in a live setting together for Blue Note on ‘Live at the Cookers’ and their playing is inspired on the studio date contained herein. More surprising is the inclusion of tenorist Lucky Thompson who had played with Blakey in the 1940s. Pianist John Hicks and bassist Victor Sproles complete the line up which does not feature trombonist Curtis Fuller as on the previous ‘’S Make It’ and ‘Indestrutible’ albums from 1964. By far the most immediate track is ‘Buh’s Bossa’, a long time favourite on dancefloors of the jazzdance scene with Blakey providing his own take on the then Brazilian drum beat. A Hubbard composition, ‘The Hub’, is in the classic Messenger’s groove with both trumpeter’s excelling. Hard bop is to the fore on ‘Freedom monday’, an underrated Blakey composition while blues-inflected hues predominate on the title track. While not quite on a par with the fiery playing and universal excellence of the Blue Note albums of the period, ‘Soul Finger’ fills in a useful gap in the Messengers chronology. Moreover, it was the second album for the label after ‘’S Make it’ which included Morgan and Hicks and Sproles, but omitted Thompson in favour of Sun Ra saxophonist John Gilmore. It is a pity these two line ups did not record more frequently together for there was undoubted empathy between them as amply demonstrated here. Messengers devotees will want this album for a key transitional period in the group’s history.

Tim Stenhouse

Dizzy Gillespie ‘Dizzy on the French Riviera’ (Philips/Universal) 4/5

An uplifting festival mood permeates this 1962 live recording from the Juan-les-Pins festival, just along the coast from Nice and one in which the Latin tinge that Gillespie so revered is very much in evidence. From the crescending wave sounds of the intro, ‘No more blues’ was destined to be a classic and the rendition here is arguably the finest ever on record with Gillespie in fine form on trumpet and aided by a lovely piano solo from arranger Lalo Schifrin (who was the brainchild of the ‘Gillespiana’ suite from a couple of years earlier)and various Brazilian percussion. The extended ten minute plus version of ‘Long, long summer’ is played as a cha cha cha with Gillespie and fiery alto saxophonist Leo Wright alternating solos, and Schifrin providing Latin vamps to good effect. Of interest in the band line up is the addition of gipsy guitarist Elek Bacsik who, at this time, was accompanying a young Serge Gainsbourg on his early jazz-flavoured albums. 
The seldom recorded ‘For the gypsies’ proves to be a revelation with a distinct modal feel and Wright providing a refined flute solo while ‘Here is it’ reveals the blues inflected side to the group’s sound. Mark this down as a the perfect accompaniment to those long, hot summer days and evenings that we are promised are on the way.

Tim Stenhouse

Camera Obscura ‘My Maudlin Career’ (4AD)

Follow up to the excellent ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country’ and once again working with producer Jari Haapalainen. This is Tracyanne Campbell coming up with some of her strongest songs to date, sometimes dark (Away With Murder) and often, like ‘Careless Love’, relationship based but always delivered in that special Camera Obscura way. I love it, this band so deserve to be huge.

Graham Radley

The Idan Rachel Project ‘Within My Walls’ (Cumbancha)

Second International release from Israeli composer and keyboard player Idan Raichel further developing his range of influences so that Israeli/Middle Eastern fuses into a wider global soundscape. Sung in Hebrew, Arabic, Cape Verdean (Mayra Andrade is a songwriting collaborator) Creole, Spanish and Swahili you get a feel of the diversity with other collaborators including Marta Gomez, Somi, Zohar Fresco and Alon Nadel plus a 24 piece orchestra. Old meets new, ambient meets traditional, the result is captivating.

Graham Radley

Roberto Fonseca ‘Akokan’ (Enja Montuno) 4/5

Cuban pianist and arranger Roberto Fonseca first came to prominence as arranger for the very last Ibrahim Ferrer album, but debuted as a leader internationally (a few previous Cuban only albums)with an outstanding release in 2007, ‘Zamazu’ that promised a great deal. He returns with a second album that confirms his compositional prowess and an offering that will surely end up as one of the year’s best. Following on in the piano lineage from both Chucho Valdes and the vastly underrated Emiliano Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s and from Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the 1990s and beyond, Roberto Fonseca is throughly grounded in equal measure in jazz and Cuban roots, and in some respects is a pianistic equivalent of trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez. This recording, like the previous effort, is light years away from the conventional Latin jazz album and several external influences are evident which range from the South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim to African, European and Latin American folk music.

Surrounded by his trusted trio of Ramses Rodriguez on drums and Omar Gonzalez on double bass, Fonseca has augmented the format with percussionist Joel Hierrezuela while soprano saxophonist/clarinetist Javier Zalba participates once more. That Fonseca has listened widely is beyond doubt and is highlighted by the assimilated folk tunes on ‘Bulgarian’ where Fonseca’s Cuban piano vamps beautifully accompany Hierrezuela’s rootsy clarinet sound. Another tribute, ‘Lento y despacio’ this time to Latin America, is performed as a quartet outing and impresses as does ‘Lo que me hace vivir’(’What makes me live’)which emphasizses the cohesiveness of the quartet. Two trio performances reflect the sophistication of Fonseca’s compositions as on ‘Cuando uno crece’ and in his reflective tribute to French cinema on ‘Como en las peliculas’. 
In a similar vein the gorgeous lullaby ‘Drum Negrita’ that features Fonseca and clarinetist Zalba in duet. Guest vocals come in the form of Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade who sings in Cape Verdean Portugese creole on ‘Siete Potencias’(Bu Kantu) devoted to the Orisha gods while Raul Midon is a revelation on the swing jazz song ‘Everyone deserves a chance’ on which he also manages a guitar solo. This writer would like to hear an entire album of Midon singing in a jazz context. Recorded in just four days in the legendary Egrem studios of Havana, the crystal clear sound and mastering captures every nuance of the instrumentation. This is a recording that reveals great subtlety from a musician who will surely play a major role in the jazz piano for many years to come.

Tim Stenhouse

Senta Lain ‘Michel Ongaro’ (Hippo)

Senta Lain are a great band from Kenya who were formed by blind band leader Michel Ongaru 8 years ago. Michel is a multi-instrumentalist and plays harmonica, guitar, flute, drums, marimba and piano. Musically the band combine a wide range of influences and cultures which include Kenyan benga and soukous styles with gospel and Cuban Son. Very good.

Graham Radley

Jah Wobble & The Chinese Dub Orchestra ‘Chinese Dub’ (30 Hertz)

Developed from the Liverpool 08 Capital Of Culture commission and with strong input from Jah Wobble’s wife Zi Lan Liao (Guzheng) and the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra plus on ‘Dragon & Phoenix’ an appearance of Wobble’s sons. They were joined by visiting Chinese dancers and vocalists (the wonderful Gu Yinji and Wang Jinqi) plus Wobble’s regular touring band. I had the pleasure of seeing them at Womad and every part of this East/West union came together brilliantly in a way which was both inspiring and magical. Highly recommended.

Graham Radley

Federico Aubele ‘Amatoria’ (ESL) 4/5

Buenos Aires born guitarist and singer-songwriter Federico Aubele has carved out a career path that reflects the downtempo side of the electronica genre and one that, similar to Gotan Project, takes on board a multitude of influences that range from dub reggae and tango to Mexican bolero, flamenco and bossa nova. Aubele moved to Berlin in 2001 remaining there until recently returning to Buenos Aires, and it was while there and undoubtedly influenced by the dance scene in the city that he released three critically acclaimed 10” singles for ESL. This latest album, the third full length one, is a natural successor to 2004’s ‘Gran Hotel Buenos Aires’. More refined and intimate, but less rootsy than Manu Chao, Aubele focuses on an all original song selection, invariably sharing chorus vocals with the excellent Natalia Clavier. The opener ‘Luna y sol’ typifies the subject matter of intimate love of the album as a whole and has a dub feel throughout. For dancefloor action, one need look no further than ‘Siempre nuevo’, but even here it is more likely to be the chillout section of the evening’s entertainment. It is the combination of laid back vocal delivery and refined beats that permeates proceedings on ‘Otra vez’. Caetano Veloso immediately springs to mind as a possible vocal influence and this is particularly the case on the lovely ‘Te quiero a ti’ with its sensitive vocals and on the minimalist love ballad ‘Hermosa’. One highlight is the gorgeous duet on ‘Sueno mi guitarra’ while ‘Tan cerca’ is a pared down ballad with guitar in background. In general the album is full of catchy, personal songs with melodic hooks and on the Eighteenth Strret Lounge label that the Thievery Corporation are associated with, this should prove to be a winner with several different audiences and bring together world roots and dance music fans.

Tim Stenhouse

Vieux Farka Toure ‘Fondo’ (Six Degrees) 4/5

Following up the 2006 debut comes this new recording once again showcasing Vieux Farka Toure’s own compositions and a well rounded and varied album it is at that. Help is on the way from an array of Mali’s top musicians including long time collaborator with and student of of Ali Farka Toure, vocalist Afel Bocoum, and ace kora player Toumani Diabate. Vieux is certainly expanding his musical influences on ‘Fonda’ and one of the album’s highlights and strongest cuts is ‘Diaraby’ where dub meets Malian blues head on with heavy percussion that takes a leaf out of Brazilian samba. This is definitely an avenue that Vieux should explore further in subsequent albums. In a more traditional vein, but no less stunning, is the beautiful duet between guitar and kora with Toumani Diabate on ‘Paradise’. A tribute to the motherland on ‘Mali’features a funky bass and guitar riff with n’goni combining to great effect. By contrast one of the album’s instrumental tracks, ‘Slow jam’ is a lingering blues-inflected piece with the focus firmly on Vieux’s guitar skills. Moroccan gnawa is hinted at on ‘Sarama’ with reggae riffs emerging on ‘Al Haira’. A sense of urgency is conveyed on the uptempo ‘Cherie Le’ with nice guitar solo. In general it is the subtle combination of modern western and Malian influences that differentiates Vieux from his father, though the west African roots are always present even in the background. A beautifully illustrated digipak gatefold sleeve provides striking images of Vieux in his home environment. Ali’s son has definitely come of age on this album and provides evidence of how his future sound may evolve.

Tim Stenhouse

Follow up to his 2006 debut and it’s a solid step forward with the desert blues so much the trademark of his late father now broadened out by the introduction of more modern influences. Check out the dubby ‘Diaraby Magni’ for an idea of the newer influences and ‘Wale’ for the traditional side of things, including guest vocals from Afel Bocoum and ‘Paradise’ with Toumani Diabate guesting. Highly recommended.

Graham Radley

travelling the spaceways since 1993