Ojos de Brujo ‘Corriente Vital’ (Warner Spain) 3/5

Released to tie in with the tenth anniversary of the Catalan group and rumoured to be their last recording together while individual members pursue solo careers, this compilation enables the listener to go back in time to the emergence of rumba flamenco, which Ojos de Brujo have been a the forefront of pioneering, and which has been an integral part of the music scene in Barcelona. Among the favourites, ‘Sultanas de merkaillo’ with its instantly catchy hooks stands out and the fusion of flamenco guitar and hip-hop beats works extremely well. Similarly a flamenco take on Bob Marley’s ‘get up, stand up’ with Spanish lyrics included and lovely harmonies is a winner of a song and Bob and Pete Tosh would surely have appreciated this tribute. Two new songs include the title track produced by Nitin Sawhney with subtle beats and hip-hop influences. A one-off gig at the Barbican in mid-April may possibly be the last time in a while that UK audiences have the opportunity to see Ojos de Brujo live, which would be a great pity since their infectious enthusiasm is simply made for a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

Alborosie ‘2 Times Revolution’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

The nations of the Mediterranean have in recent years produced a host of singers who are either partly, or wholly influenced by reggae music. These include Sargent Garcia in Spain, Pierpoljak in France and the Franco-Basque-Spaniard now based in Barcelona, Manu Chao. Perhaps the most able candidate of all in a strictly roots reggae vein is a relative newcomer on the scene, Alborosie. Italian singer Alborosie has long been settled in Jamaica and amazingly sounds as though he has learnt his English from the teachings of Rasta’s, so authentic a voice does he now possess. This new album is arguably his most convincing yet and one that deserves to catapult the singer to international status. An obvious contender for a single is ‘International drama’ with its film score piano intro. Alborosie has clearly listened to a good deal of the early Wailers’ albums for Island and this is most evident on the infectious ‘Soul train’ and on ‘Who you think you are’. More roots reggae vibes are in evidence on the up-tempo rockers tune ‘I wanna go home’ while conscious roots lyrics abound on ‘Jesus he’s coming’. There are even shades of Manu Chao on ‘La revoulccion’ which is sung in Spanish. Not all is retro, however, with a reggaeton feel on ‘Camilla’ with dub echoes and sampling. A ragga-style vocal delivery is equally present on Rolling like a rock’ which has a riddim similar to Black Uhuru’s ‘General penitentiary’. Clearly aiming to appeal to a wider audience, Alborosie duets with a (unnamed) female singer on the lovers groove of ‘You make me feel good’ and on ‘Rude bwoy love’. A varied set, then, and one that deserves to go beyond the confines of reggae fans.

Tim Stenhouse

Nguyên Lê ‘Songs of Freedom’ (ACT) 4/5

In previous projects guitarist Lê has devoted an entire album to the music of Jimi Hendrix. This latest set takes a wider panoramic vision as its starting point and focuses instead on a homage of sorts to the music of the 1970s (though the Beatles, Cream and Janis Joplin are more 1960s). If one is expecting a straightforward album of standards, think again. These have been carefully thought out and mark a departure from the originals. The album title is of course a subtle reference to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption song’ which here is transformed into an eerie sounding piece with electric guitar and subtle use of strings. Even more unusual is ‘Eleanor rigby’ which has a Far Eastern feel on zither and builds into a mid-tempo number. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Part-time paradise’ received a wonderful Latin jazz version from Ray Barretto, but here it is a very different creature. The tempo is taken all the way down to just marimba and guitar accompaniment and duet vocals. It is indeed a creative and lovely sounding departure from the original. Various guest vocalists including David Linx and Linley Marthe add to the already eclectic mix. This is no better illustrated than on the North African flavoured ‘Come together’ which features Dhaffer Youssef. Nguyên Lê is definitely a musician with a highly original sound and one that emerges clearly irrespective of the repertoire selected.

Tim Stenhouse

Bohuslan Big Band with Nils Landgren and Colin Towns ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ (ACT) 3/5

This is the latest collaboration between the Swedish jazz big band and a well-known guest musician. Previously the likes of Avishai Cohen, Bob Mintzer, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler have all participated. The origins of the big band go back as far as the 1950s when it performed as a military band and one that in turn dates back to the early nineteenth century. For this new recording the overriding theme is a tribute to one of America’s greatest composers, Cole Porter, but updated and given the inimitable big band treatment. A heavy modal bass intro to ‘I get a kick out of you’ with light Latin percussion is an album highlight as is the funk-infused ‘What is this thing called love’. Some interpretations verge on the pop side, as with ‘I love Paris’. Of the most interesting pieces, several are the slower numbers such as ‘I’ve got you under my skin’ which receives a sensitive rendition with an extremely catchy keyboard riff and ‘Every time we say goodbye’ which is both mournful and plaintive in character. Trombonist Nils Landgren gets plenty of opportunity to solo throughout and on some songs contributes his own vocals which lie somewhere between a Chet Baker sound-alike and the straighter vocal approach of Kurt Elling.

Tim Stenhouse

Munto Valdo ‘The One and the Many’ (Warner Jazz) 4/5

This varied set from Cameroonian singer-songwriter, arranger, producer and recorder Munto Valdo reveals an eclectic approach to one-man music making that takes on board Brazilian, reggae, blues and myriad other influences. He has collaborated among others with Damon Albarn’s African Express and played in a live context with a host of African musicians including Ali Farka Toure. The totality of these experiences comes together in a cohesive whole here. In fact the use of harmonica on the instantly catchy ‘No mercy’ recalls Ismael Lo while elsewhere there are hints of Gilberto Gil in both the voice and the manner of playing the guitar. Blues are evoked on ‘Timba’ and there are lovely laid-back guitar and vocals on ‘Miengu’. Sound effects approximating a forest emerge on the pared down ‘Djongo’ complete with choir vocals all sung by Valdo himself. An uptempo number ‘Musseing’ impresses with its funk-infused bass line. Throughout the time signatures are quite unusual in structure and there is enough variety to keep one guessing as to what is happening next. Munto Valdo will be performing live in the UK from mid-May through June as opening act to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo tour. Slightly more to the rootsy side of world music than his compatriot Richard Bono, a promising future awaits the richly talented Munto Valdo.

Tim Stenhouse

Azymuth ‘Aurora’ (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

It is some two years since José Roberto Bertrami’s CD ‘Butterfly’ and Azymuth return with a set that has a distinctive retro early 1980s feel that takes in jazz, funk and even disco grooves. Produced by Daniel Maunick and David Brunkworth, the album has the classic Azymuth imprint all over it. This is typified by the title track which features one of those instantly recognisable bass and percussion intros and atmospheric keyboards before developing into a semi vocal piece with singing chores divided between Sabrina Malheiros, daughter of bassist Alex, and Marcio Lott. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album. Traditional samba rhythms surface on ‘Isso’ as does another instrumental, based on one of the classic samba rhythms, ‘ E partido alto’. The driving ‘Ta nessa ainda bicho’ features subtle keyboards from Bertrami and the creative use of percussion. Jazz-funksters will be in seventh heaven on the heavy bass-led ‘In my treehouse’ that part way through morphs into a samba-inflected instrumental with vocoder chants and cuica drums. Other tracks are devoted to the trio’s favourite football team, ‘Meu mengô’ and to Michel Legrand on ‘Carnaval Legrand’. If this is a tried and tested sound, it is nonetheless a well-crafted one and there is little or no reason to depart from it.

Tim Stenhouse

Kairos 4tet ‘Statement of Intent’ (Edition) 4/5

This new set from the Kairos builds on the debut ‘Kairos Moment’ of two years ago and once again is an all-acoustic album that is very much in the melodic vein of the 1970s ECM recordings by Jan Garbarek and latterly by Charles Lloyd from the late 1980s to the present. Multi-reedist and leader Adam Waldmann has welded a tightly knit group sound, which has benefited greatly from extensive touring during 2010. The new album has something of a political bent to it, but is ultimately enjoyable on a solely musical level. It certainly has all the feel of a musical formation that is on an urgent mission and this makes the intensity of the music all the more enjoyable. Accomplished individual and ensemble playing predominates here with the engaging ‘Box set anti-hero’ being the pick of the compositions on offer while there is terrific work from the rhythm section on ‘Hicks’ with melodic saxophone from Waldmann. Special mention should be made throughout of the piano playing of Ivo Neame. Indeed he has the opportunity to take off on an extended solo on the incendiary trio outing entitled ‘Philosophy of futility’. Vocalist Emilia Martensson provides some refreshing to proceedings on the romantic sounding ‘Maybe next year’ and impresses in particular on the lovely waltz that is ‘The calling’. With beautiful clarity of sound to this recording session, Kairos 4tet belong very much in the pantheon of the new jazz scene that is emerging in the UK. With such a classic sound to them, they should expect to attract an audience way beyond these shores. A lengthy UK tour begins in April and continues through May and into early June.

Tim Stenhouse

Kurt Elling ‘The Gate’ (Concord/Universal) 3/5

Vocalist Kurt Elling is now in the big league of jazz artists and now on his second album with Concord after a critically acclaimed sojourn at Blue Note.

Clearly Elling is being geared up for the wider market and this explains why he tends to focus on this album on more straight ahead delivery on classic and modern standards. However, something has been diluted in the process. For long-term fans there are nonetheless some memorable moments to behold and these include the delightful take on Miles’ seminal ‘Blues in green’ with lyrics added by none other than Al Jarreau. The more experimental side to his repertoire surfaces briefly on ‘Samurai cowboy’ which in some ways is a kind of homage to the vocalese talents of Bobby McFerrin. Of the standards, Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ out’ is an excellent take on the 1980s pop-jazz song while Earth. Wind and Fire’s ‘After the love has gone’ is a surprise candidate for inclusion, nonetheless yet works wonderfully well even minus the trademark horns. On the minus side, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Golden lady’ sounds flat and adds nothing to the original while ‘Norwegian wood’ has simply been sampled far too often in the recent past for it’s own good. This is an ultimately frustrating listening experience given the unquestioned talents Kurt Elling has at his disposal and one wishes he were not forced to be pigeonholed into any easy listening category since he is in fact a musical sculptor who needs the free reign. If you really want Elling to reach a wider audience, then it is necessary to provide that audience with a visual as well as oral illustration of his craft. A live CD/DVD would go a long way to educating the audience on the totality of Kurt’s vocal skills.

Tim Stenhouse

Joe Lovano US Five ‘Bird Songs’ (Blue Note) 5/5

Tenor giant Joe Lovano has been with the Blue Note label now for some twenty years and during this extended period has cut some of the finest music of his career. Continuing on from his last album, ‘Folk Art’, Lovano has recorded once more with US Five and for this project has devoted the album to the music of Charlie Parker. Though playing mainly on his favoured tenor, Joe Lovano performs on a variety of reed instruments including straight alto, double soprano and G-Mezzo soprano saxophones. The piece ‘Passport’ is taken at a brisk pace and possibly the number most like Parker in its interpretation. Yet on tenor Lovano evokes rather Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and even in parts both Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon. A truly inspired ‘Donna Lee’ is an album highlight and here it is played as a ballad. This enables the listener to hear the piece in a whole new light. Compelling is the only way to describe the take on ‘Barbados’, complete with latinised percussion.

This number has long been a favourite of Jazz Jamaica and Lovano succeeds in capturing the Caribbean flavour of the composition. Further Latin incursions, though this time of a Brazilian jazz kind, are to be found on ‘Dewey square’ and this is so convincing Joe Lovano really ought to think about devoting an entire album to this genre. Esperanza Spaulding plays a lovely lengthy bass solo while James Weidman impresses with lyrical piano riffs. This is an outstanding ensemble performance with some truly novel takes on a normally all-too familiar repertoire, thus cleverly avoiding the pitfall of playing old school be-bop. A brief late March UK tour takes in the south-east and north-east of England. Hopefully he will return for an extended tour in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Richie Spice ‘The Book of Job’ (VP) 3/5

Contemporary reggae singer Richie Spice has been on the scene for some time now and this is his fifth album. It steers between a modern update on the classic roots genre and a more lovers-oriented approach and works best on the songs devoted to the more socially conscious side of the singer’s songwriting. A potential future single and arguably the most convincing track on the entire album is ‘Find Jah’ which, from the very first notes, is an instant winner. More of this style is required from Spice. Almost as good is the opener ‘Better tomorrow’ with lovely female harmonies. The lilting hues of ‘Confirmation’ has Spice’s voice somewhere between a roots vocalist and the saucer delivery of say Sizzla. In fact Richie sounds positively like a latter-day Dennis Brown on ‘Serious woman’ with its subtle use of keyboards. Produced mainly by Donovan Germain and elsewhere by Shane Brown and Stephen ‘Lenky’ Mardsen, this latest album is a mixed bag of goodies and the slightly annoying intro vocalizing by Spice, which is repeated on several songs, could do with being dispensed with immediately. Singles already out included within feature a take on the Crusaders ‘Street life’ retitled ‘My life’ and ‘Jah never let us down’.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993