Joyce ‘Visions of Dawn’ (Far Out) 4/5

Here is an unexpected and most pleasant surprise. A previously unreleased trio session of Joyce in Paris from 1976 at the peak of her creative powers. Along with bassist/guitarist Mauricio Maestro and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, this folk inpsired project cooks from start to finish. 
The purity of Joyce’s voice is reminiscent of early Gal Costa, but the instrumentation is decidely jazzier. There are two bona fide classic songs in ‘Banana’ (possibly the original version and fresher than ever in its pared down form)and ‘Clareana’ that became a staple tune of Joyce’s concert repertoire. However, this post-tropicalia album works as a whole with an intriguing suite in three parts that is at once reflective and of the lesser known compositions, ‘Nacional Kid’ is a catchy rootsy piece with bongo and guitar intro while ‘Chegada’ features duet vocals and guitar accompaniment. Musical proceedings are enhanced by a gorgeous authentic 1970s Tropicalia-influenced sleeve cover courtesy of Andy Votel. 
A welcome addition, then, to the Brazilian music catalogue and this paved the way for the seminal ‘Feminina’ only four years later.

Tim Stenhouse

Gareth Williams Power Trio ‘Shick’ (Linn) 3/5

Formerly keyboardist and founding member of UK trip hop band US3 that re-worked Herbie Hancock’s classic piece on ‘Cantaloop’, Gareth Williams now debuts in his own right with an excellent overview of his acoustic, and to a lesser extent, electric piano skills. Williams has clearly taken in multiple musical influences that range from pianist Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau to progressive rock. The sensitive touches displayed on the modern standard ‘Giant steps’ bodes well for the future and he does not overpower the listener with technique. Furthermore his own compositions reveal a souful performer who is particularly adept on ballads. This is demonstrated on the Bill Evanesque ‘Izelda’ and on the specific tribute to the piano legend, ‘Evans the Piano’, where the trio stretches out. Other more contemporary future directions are hinted at on ‘Holey Moley’ with Jaco Pastorius bass licks. Perhaps the fender tracks are non-essential at present and one wishes the bass solos could be reduced in length. However, there is much to appreciate on this first offering and this is certainly a notch above the average piano trio outing.

Tim Stenhouse

Wynton Marsalis ‘He and She’ (Blue Note) 4/5

A new album after last year’s triumphant release and this one is based around the concept of the different stages in a male-female relationship with occasional and relatively short poem interludes recited by Marsalis himself. Stylistically this is one of Marsalis’ most diverse and stride piano, swing, post-bop and Afro-Cuban all feature at some point in proceedings. It is the waltz-like groove of ‘The sun and the moon’ which immediately attracts one attention with soulful, gospel inflections on tambourine that have become a trademark of previous releases. In contrast ‘School Boy’ begins as a ragtime piece with stride piano from excellent new band member Dan Nimmer accompanying Marsalis on trumpet before transforming into a modern bop composition. Possibly the first half is over-laden with poem recitations, but this is compensated in the second part of the album by the extended, virtual non-stop suite. This commences with ‘First crush’ which convincingly creates a romantic ambience, continuing with blues licks on piano on ‘First slow dance’. If ‘First kiss’ is something of a disappointment, strangely lacking in emotion, then ‘First time’ more than makes up for this with an Afro-Cuban flavour that begins as a danzon before upping the tempo into a spicy, fiery mambo that Machito or Tito Puente would have been proud of. Possibly the most impressive track on the whole album, however, is reserved for the longest peice, ‘The razor rim’, weighing in at over twelve minutes. This modal-influenced composition serves as a vehicle for Marsalis’ gorgeous restrained playing with Latin tinges kicking in after three minutes and excellent tenor soloing from Walter Blanding. The verdict may still be out on Marsalis’ influence on the evolution of jazz, but this latest release demonstrates that he is still active and creative both as a composer and performer.

Tim Stenhouse

Nathan Riki Thomson ‘Under Ubi’s Tree’ (Naim) 4/5

Australian multi-instrumentalist Nathan Riki Thomson has concocted a fascinating fusion of traditional East African music with jazz-inflected grooves on this debut album. This comes across as a modern day equivalent of the Strata East label and its more experimental side. Aided by a trio comprising two percussionists and Thomson on bass, assorted flutes (the North African ney and exotic sounding mahsai) and a multitude of other instruments (plus guitarist Antonio Forcione on selected pieces), the album explores the relationship between African folkloric music and jazz. 
This is an avenue that has been previously explored among others by percussionists Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Traditional melodies have been adapted, though several pieces are self-penned by Thomson. Thomson has lived and worked in Africa for five years and has amassed a wealth of practical experience in addition to working on soundtrack music for film, theatre and television in the UK. 
The atmospheric ‘Song for Otso’ sets the tone for the album with the mix of double bass and kalimba while on the freer ‘Cheza’ the bass predominates along with bass and alto flutes. In contrast ‘Illalla’ is a modal piece with wordless vocals. Thomson does not restrict himself to African percussion alone and on ‘Bus to Bagamoyo’ we hear the Afro-Brazilian instrument the berimbau used to fine effect. Perhaps the most successful fusion of Western and African sounds is to be found on ‘Waiting for Rain’ which is reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders spiritual flavoured Theresa recordings with the use of viola, harmonium, bass flute and vocals. Decidely left-field, yet surprisingly melodic and accessible, this will appeal to music lovers in search of more esoteric sounds.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Once Upon a Time at King Tubby’s’ (Pressure Sounds) 4/5

Based on the concept of musical feuding in the studio between DJs who respond to one another with often humourous tirades on 45s, the latest compilation alludes to a tradition that actually predates reggae in Jamaica. In fact it is a tradition that harks back to the origins of African American folk music in the United States, yet from the 1960s became synonymous with the sound system culture of Kingston. Notable adversaries at the time included ‘confrontations’ between Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster on the one hand, and Lee Perry and Prince Buster again on the other. In extreme cicrumstances verbal fisticuffs could lead to physical violence. Happily, the only squaring up on this album is of largely good natured banter and is focused on witty put downs of one aonther by legendary DJs I Roy and Prince Jazzbo. This series of musical ripostes originated when the latter antagonised DJ Big Youth on vinyl, a supporter of Big Youth took exception to this and reputedly assaulted Prince Jazzbo outside Randy’s in Kingston. Consequently producer Bunny Lee urged I Roy to go into the studio and recount events. This in turn elicited a response from Prince Jazzbo and so the saga began to unfold. All stood to profit commercially from the 45s and the compliation features the DJ cuts, their instrumental versions backed by the Aggrovators and Revolutionaries, and even a couple of original vocals from Johnny Clarke and Derrick Morgan (who also contributes a verbal jibe at I Roy!). Needless to say there is joyful music and hilarity along the way. This is another episode, albeit a minor one, in the larger reggae jigsaw effectively put together by Pressure Sounds with a suitably cowboyesque duel on the cover to illustrate proceedings.

Tim Stenhouse

Gilad Atzmon ‘In Loving Memory of America’ (Enja) 4/5

With a March UK tour already underway, Gilad Atzmon returns with a nostalgic homage to the country whose music he grew up with from labels such as Blue Note and Prestige to artists of the calibre of Miles, Coltrane and Parker. Multi-reed player Atzmon has made the UK his home from the mid-1990s and in his career thus far has focused on a musical melting pot of influences from bebop and Middle Eastern schools. Here the regular quartet belongs firmly in the former, but with the luscious strings of Sigamos String Quartet to add an extra dimension. There is an interesting mix of five standards from the great American songbook and six originals. Of the former ‘What is this thing called love’ is a quartet piece with lovely fender rhodes and the wailing alto saxophone of Atzmon. Taken at a slower pace than per usual, ‘I didn’t know what time is was’ is reminiscent of Charlie Parker with the use of strings and the sound of the fender conveys an eery ambiance while ‘April in Paris’ is more conventional with acoustic piano soloing. The new compositions hardly sound out of place with ‘If I should love you’ featuring an interesting use of drums on a quasi waltz whereas ‘Tuto Tango’ impresses with its selective use of strings and straight ahead intro before kicking into a tango three minutes in. There is a subtle use of electronica on a couple of cuts, particularly the title track, and a final piece, ‘Refuge’, that reminds us that Atzmon has not altogether forgotten his Middle Eastern roots. Accomplished playing all round.

Tim Stenhouse

Oumou Sangare ‘Seya [Joy]’ (World Circuit) 5/5

After a wait of six years, Oumou Sangare finally delivers a new album and what a triumph it is too. Sangare returns to the funk-driven Wassalou sound, produced by Cheikh Tidiane Seck, but this time the sound is augmented by the use of flute and percussion from Magic Malik. As ever the songs are message laden and Sangare pulls no punches in standing up for her always forthright views. Little wonder, then, that she is now a UN ambassador in addition to supporting an orphanage for street children in the Malian capital of Bamako. Several of the songs fall into the category of hypnotic mid-tempo grooves, notably the title track and ‘Sukunyou’, and on compositions such as ‘Kounadya’ female background vocals provide inspirational harmonies with a new maturity to Oumou’s delivery and a lovely hammond organ solo courtesy of Seck. More reflective is ‘Senkele te sira’ and the lilting ‘Djigui’ with flute accompaniment while ‘Wele wele wintou’ is a quasi-Afro Beat rhythm with understated use of the ngoni. The uplifting ‘Sounsoumba’ is a call for harmony within marriage and in general the overall tone is a positive one. Already making waves in France, this promises to be Oumou Sangare’s most accomplished set thus far. A winner from start to finish.

Tim Stenhouse

Bill Frisell ‘Folk Songs Vol. 1’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

Here is a compilation of Bill Frisell’s works that will appeal to a broad canvass of listeners and not exclusively those of a jazz persuasion. The CD chronicles a decade of beautifully crafted songs on a series of thematic albums that range from country folk and blues to pared down acoustic jazz, and above all it is the melodic nature of the compositions and the sheer virtuosity of the playing that comes shining through. As Elvis Costello writes in the inner sleeve notes, Frisell defies petty categorisation and this thrilling overview reinforces the argument of the guitarist being a master practitioner of Americana. Multiple influences abound from John Fahey on the gorgeous rendition of the Carter family favourite ‘Wildwood flower’ to the decidedly Pat Metheny feel of ‘Gone just like a train’ and in general a jazzier nod to the works of Ry Cooder. Formats oscillate between trio and solo outings and somehow Frisell finds his own voice with songs that are predominantly from his own pen. As a whole this works extremely well and for newcomers to Bill Frisell is an ideal place to begin visiting his back catalogue.

Tim Stenhouse

Jane Birkin ‘Enfants d’hiver’ (EMI) 4/5

To coincide with a much anticipated live performance in London, Jane Birkin’s latest album is a musical reflection on her childhood. Long-time pianist Fred Maggi remains from the superb 2002 CD ‘Arabesque’ which re-worked the Gainsbourg repertoire so convincingly in a Middle Eastern/North African feel. Jane Birkin has spent virtually all her adult life in France and has become the Anglo-Francaise par excellence, combining an infrequent acting career with singing. The almost whispering delivery has become her trademark and not one she is likely to foresake as illustrated on ‘Il fait nuit’. Birkin has clearly been listening to other contemporary singers and the catchy ‘Periode bleue’ is the kind of song that Carla Bruni might have attempted with instrumentation to match while ‘Prends cette main’ has a pared-down country-folk feel that is very much in vogue. Reminiscent of her Gainsbourg-produced debut ‘Di doo dah’ with use of strings is ‘Maison etoilee’. 
It is the sad side of love which is never shared that is exposed on ‘14 fevrier’ while the title track is an intimate expose of her childhood memories. Political consciousness is showcased on ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’, the sole composition sung in English. All in all a strong album and one that cements her already established reputation.

Tim Stenhouse

The Blue Note Seven ‘Mosaic’ (Blue Note) 4/5

Setting off the seventieth anniversary of arguably the most prestigious label in jazz history, and certainly the one by which all others are measured, comes this fitting tribute from a collective of present day musicians. It was the mid-1980s renaissance of Blue Note via the Pathe-Marconi vinyl re-issues from France and Bertrand Tavernier’s wonderful ‘Round Midnight’ (criminally still not available on DVD over here)that introduced a younger audience to the fabulous recordings of hammond organists Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton, the hard bop musings of Art Blakey, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan, and the accessible yet avant-garde genius of Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers and Larry Young. This set of classic compositions on the label revisited focuses attention on the 1960s and in particular the hard-bop and modal sounds. The rhythm section is none other than Bill Charlap’s trio, a modern day Blue Note stalwart, and provides the required cohesion around which the other musicians are able to stretch out. These include tenorist Ravi Coltrane, altoist/flautist Steve Wilson and guitarist Pete Bernstein. While no single recording can ever fully represent the totality of music on offer on such a vast back catalogue(the 1950s catalogue in particular is deserving of a separate tribute), this tribute does enable one to enjoy the compositions of pianists of the calibre of Hancock, Monk, Silver and Tyner. Where the ensemble work best is on the modal and mid-tempo numbers and this is no better illustrated than on the delicious ‘Little B’s Poem’, a Bobby Hutcherson composition with sensitive flute playing from Wilson and fine ensemble performances all-round. The Grant Green piece ‘Idle Moments’ is rarely revisited and one wonders why. Here Pete Bernstein has the opportunity to solo with horns playing in unison. In a more uptempo vein, Horace Silver’s ‘The Outlaw’ is one of his less frequently covered pieces, but here is given a lovely Latin vamp before reverting to bop albeit with a continuous Latin tinge. The title track, a classic Jazz Messengers tune, receives a faithful rendition with polyrhythmic drumming even if the urgency of the original is near impossible to match. Unquestionably the 1960s was a fertile period for Blue Note and this is amply demonstrated on this recording which is far superior to the 1990s tributes by various artists and the ‘Blue Spirits’ compilation of Japanese artists that coincided with the sixty-fifth anniversary.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993