Various ‘Orient Noir: a West-Eastern divan’ (Piranha) 4/5

Here is an explorative journey that seeks to examine the musical connections on either side of the Mediterranean and is, at the same time, a showcase for some of the artists on the German label. Musicologist Dr. Bertram Nickolay has put together a well thought out and eclectic selection of songs that really works with the varied musical styles blending together. Some are old friends such as Marseilles based pianist Maurice El Médioni whose Algerian pied-noir origins offer some delicious Mediterranean-style jazz with a Latin tinge on the trumpet and vocal accompanied piece ‘Ya maalem/Kelbi razahi’. This contrasts wonderfully with the twenty-first century world fusion of Watcha Clan whose ‘Im min’alu’ marches to drum beats and Balkanesque brass. This is an unusual mix with vocals in Arabic, yet it still sounds totally convincing. Eleswhere there are some interesting discoveries. Samy El Bably is a trumpeter who plays in an atmospheric fashion with minimalist accompaniment and heavy percussion on the piece ‘Ana bamasi al haba doll’, which also features clarinet and accordion, a lovely combination. For rootsy grooves, arguably the most diverse and satisfying track of all is by the legendary Klezmatics who, on ‘I ain’t afraid’, perform in a very different vein from per usual with a folksy intro and gospel-inspired lyrics complete with drum roll. At some point Piranha would do well to put together a separate anthology of the band. For emotive female lead vocals, look no further than the opener by Salwa Abou Greisha with a mournful intro on ‘We daret el ayam’ which is augmented by a string-led orchestral ensemble. In fact the only gripe with this compliation is that contains no proper inner sleeve notes and this is one occasion when informative details on the relatively unknown musicians would have proven useful. The digipak format is neatly presented with an evocative silhouette of the Pharoahs. A fine illustration of how East and West can be perfectly compatible from a musical perspective. Tim Stenhouse

Matthieu Saglio ‘Diouke’ (Matsag) 4/5

Cellist Matthieu Saglio is a French native who has moved ship to Valencia in Spain where he has been an integral part of nuevo flamenco group Jerez Texas who are an acclaimed unit (feted no less by the Left of centre newspaper El Pais) in the country. However, this new solo project marks a departure stylistically and bears comparison with the wonderful African-fusion album by Vincent Ségal and Ballake Sissoko ‘Chamber music’ of a few summers ago and if that whetted your appetite, this new album surely will too. The cello is ideally suited to small group collaborations and this is where the album scores triumphantly with West African kora player Abdoulaye N’Diaye performing throughout with Carlos Sanchiz ably assisting on an array of Spanish accordion, harmonica and keyboards. There is pan-Mediterranean feel to the opener ‘Lima’ wth a lovely combination of accordion, horns and vocals that gives the piece something of a Brazilian feel. Arguably the catchiest track of all is the uplifting collective vocal led ‘Fallou Gallas’ which could well become a hit on world roots radio programmes if given sufficient airplay. Underlying it all is some fine accordion and cello soloing. Saglio has, on previous albums, devoted his attention to Arabo-Andalusian and Mediterranean music and a potential future project is, perhaps, hinted at on ‘Miba’ with fine fender keyboards. Blues inflections predominate on a delightful mid-tempo number ‘Malengue’, a distinctive African-inspired piece with N’Diaye once again taking lead vocals. If one had to look to other cellist for seminal influences, then the late great Pierre Fournier and even the mighty Rostropovich might be obvious choices. In terms of fusing musical styles, though, Yo Yo Ma is probably a more influential figure. A real slow burner of an album that deserves your attention on the musician’s own label (http://www.matsag.com/). One of the year’s most intriguing discoveries. Tim Stenhouse

Martha High and Speedometer ‘Soul Overdue’ (Freestyle) 4/5

Formerly a singer in James Brown’s crack 1970’s formation and a lead singer in her own right, recording a Brown produced album for Salsoul, Martha High has all the right credentials to record a classic soul album with funk-tinged grooves and this is exactly what she conjurs up here, with an authentic 1960s feel provided instrumentally by the excellent extended band Speedometer. The selection of songs veers towards classic covers with a few originals composed by guitarist Leigh Gracie. One of the best numbers is the delightful take on ‘Sunny’ which commences as a laid back jazzy trio version with double bass, but then suddenly veers off in an altogether different direction and in fact morphs into a Latin jazz version with a Jimmy Smith inspired hammond organ solo. Almost as good is the James Brown penned ‘No more heartaches’ which is an uplifting slice of 1960s soul which is heavy on brass and rhythm guitar. Gritty soul is the order of the day on the reprise of the Don Covay classic ‘You got it’ while soul-blues territory is entered on ‘I’d rather go blind’ which Etta James famously made her own. While High does not possess the same vocal range as James, this is nonetheless a fine alternative with understated vocals that impress. Martha High possesses a warm, gentle voice that immediately endears the heart and soul, and crucially she does not over adlib which makes for a refreshing change. The seldom covered ‘Trouble Man’ from the epic Marvin Gaye film soundtrack receives a faithful rendition complete with subtle electirc piano and vibes. Of the new songs, ‘No more worries’ with its heavy bassline and rhythmic guitar riffs fits in well with the rest. Overall a fine album that showcases one of soul’s unrecognised artists. This album will go a long way to putting that lack of exposure to right.

Tim Stenhouse

That’s Why ‘The Best of’ CD/LP/digital (Jazzman) 4/5

Norwegian Christian psychadelic folk jazz may sound a long-winded recipe for a musical mismatch, but when the eclecticism of approach is handelled by group That’s Why, the result is instead a magnificent slice of left-field music that is cohesive in nature. The brainchild of two musicians with a love of jazz, pianist Jan Simonsen and flutist Per Arne Lovold, the group differed from their peers in Norway in that the sound they created was a good deal more refined while at the same time they experimented in fusing folk and gospel hues, albeit of a uniquely Scandinavian variety. The one English language song is taken from a William Blake poem, ‘Children of the future age’, and floating guitar and flute combine to typify That’s Why’s essentially folk-jazz feel throughout this compilation. The influences upon That’s Why were wide ranging, from the psychadelic rock of Blood, Sweat and Tears to the pop-folk of Peter, Paul and Mary, with harmonies accompanied by a jazz setting that remind one of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross minus the scatting. These harmonies are showcased to the fore on the exquisite vocal and flute duet on ‘Vem kan sägla’, arguably the strongest number on the anthology. More avant-garde avenues are explored on ‘Den oppstadne’ with an extended keyboard solo. As per usual with Jazzman releases, extremely informative inner sleeve notes explaining the rationale and trajectory of the group are supplied and tell you just about everything you could possibly wish to know about them.The black and white cover and label conjurs up the 1960s perfectly, just like an Ingmar Bergman film from the same era. At forty-four minutes one could wish for a few more examples from the two albums that the group recorded. Nonetheless this is music that has been seldom heard outside Scandinavia and even then to a restricted number of aficionados. That Jazzman have brought the group’s repertoire to our attention is something we should be eternally grateful for.

Tim Stenhouse

David Sanborn ‘The again. The anthology’ 2CD (Warners) 4/5

To some alto saxophonist David Sanborn represents a form of smooth easy listening radio jazz that is anathema to the spirit of jazz innovation. However, that would be to seriously misread a musician whose personal listening tastes take in Bill Evans and Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Me’Shell N’dege Ocello to name but a few. In fact Sanborn has anothjer side to his repertoire that would flumux many a jazz purist, performing regluarly at the avant garde Kintting Factory in New York with the likes of Pheeroan Aklaff, Tim Berne and John Zorn while to take just one album, the debut for Elektra, ‘Another hand’ featured musicians of the calibre of Bill Frisell, Jack de Johnette and Marc Ribot. On this new anthology of David Sanborn’s work, there is something to appeal to all kinds of jazz fans, though it is fair to say that the 1980s period was one of consolidation rather than major exploration. For those new to the saxophonist’s music, arguably the strongest album of all on this offering are the cuts from the 1992 album ‘Upfront’ where Sanborn fused his natural love of the blues with some gritty, funky grooves that stand the test of time. His long-term arranger, bassist and producer Marcus Miller (Luther Vandross and Miles Davis among his other production duties) is on fire here and ‘Snakes’ is a fine’ illustration of the album’s burning hues while a reworking of the Latin soul classic from Joe Cuba, ‘Bang Bang’ will surely thrill. Elsewhere the early 1980s were a time of Sanborn combining his fiery alto with acoustic instrumentation and this works particularly well on ‘It’s you’ and is a deeply lyrical piece with a Stevie Wonder style synth bass. Likewise the 1978 track ‘Lotus blossom’, a Don Grolnick composition, shows another aspect to Sanborn’s craft with guitar and acoustic piano to accompany the leader. That David Sanborn can play beautiful melodies is beyond question with the 1983 Marcus Miller collaboration on ‘A tear for Crystal’ a fine example. Slow burning funk ditties are never too distant, though, and ‘So far away’ illustrates this to perfection. Where the anthology does very into muzak territory is on the collaborations with Bob James who pioneered his own form of fusion jazz (and has been heavily sampled by rappers in the process) and thankfully these cuts are best avoided with Al Jarreau lending some much needed variation on ‘Since I fell for you’. In general one might question whether this anothology fully reflects the more eclectic approach and diversity of styles adopted by Sanborn in recent years and the answr, perhaps, lies in record companies happy for him to retain his loyalty base. A live recording of his more adventurous material is thus in order. In the meantime this anthology provides a pretty accurate overview of his career to date. Tim Stenhouse

Diana Krall ‘Glad rag doll’ (Verve) 4/5

Pianist-singer Diana Krall has attempted various stylistic changes over the years and this rootsier retro feel is an inspired choice that actually sounds authentic and convincing. Bringing on board roots producer T-Bone Bennett was a step in the right direction and a crack band that includes among others guitarist Marc Ribot lends a cohesive air to the album more generally. Krall has gone back into the jazz tradition, but has added folksier elements that make this recording sound both contemporary and classic at the same time. The opener ‘We just couldn’t say goodbye’ features some delicious barrelhouse blues piano playing that suits Krall to perfection and provides plenty of scope for her to improvise. The singer excels on the slower material such as the delicate ballad with guitar intro that is ‘Just like a butterfly that’s caught in the rain’, or on the vocal and acoustic guitar duet on the title track that is a
lovely departure from the rest. Arguably one of the album’s most compelling songs is the haunting tune ‘Prairie lullaby’ while ‘I used to love but it’s all over now’ is deeply melodic. That is not to say, however, that the band cannot produce music in an uptempo groove and the foot-stomping ‘I’m a little mixed up’ is testimony to their talents in this respect. Fine all round performances allied to the old time feel make for a strong album overall that has been performed with conviction. This is a welcome addition to an ever expanding repertoire for Diana Krall. Tim Stenhouse

Ry Cooder ‘Election special’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

As US presidential election night looms, musical personalities of the calibre of Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen have lent their support to candidates and previously in the world of rock Neil Young has been just one of many musicians to wear his political convictions on his musical sleeve. World and American roots pioneer Ry Cooder has decided to devote an entire album to various aspects of the political process and the result is a qualified success. Of direct interest to the current contest, Cooder sets out in the opener his own preference on ‘Mutt Romney blues’ which, it is safe to say, has not been played repeatedly on the Republican candidate’s tour bus. This album works best with the rootsier numbers where Ry Cooder’s genius for simple melodies is all too apparent. Thus ‘Goin’ to Tampa’ with Sarah Palin as its principal subject matter has all the feel of a dustbowl blues while equally folksy is the father-child discussion of politics on ‘The 90 and the 9’. Arguably the most melodic song of all is ‘Brother is gone which has a fictional meeting with Satan’ and featuring some neat banjo licks. Where the album falls down slightly is in the overuse of rock-tinged songs that are really a pretext for Cooder to express his views which might just as easily have been conveyed in printed or web form. Of these probably the most convincing and universal in message is ‘Take your hands off it’. The dissonant guitar soloing à la Marc Ribot on ‘Kool aid’ impresses and the accompanying instrumentation, particularly the heavy bassline, is downright moody. More songs in this vein would have enhanced the album as a whole significantly. It is left to the outright rocker ‘The Wall Street part of town’ (Steve Earle would have been in his element here and maybe a potential duet between the two will possible in the future. Tim Stenhouse

Cedar Walton ‘Animation’/’Soundscapes’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Keyboardist Cedar Walton made his name in the early to mid 1960s as part of the classic Jazz Messengers line up on Blue Note. He was an integral part of that formation and contributed with memorable compositions and outstanding pianistic performances to seminal albums such as the driving ‘Free for All’, the superlative ‘Indestructible’ and, arguably best of all, the epic ‘Mosaic’. By the end of the 1960s Cedar Walton was leading his own band, recording for Prestige and then made a series of albums in the mid-late 1970s, first of all for RCA and then for Columbia. The double pairing of albums contained within this CD are examples of the latter tenure and provide a fine contrast between, on the one hand his acoustic playing, and that in a fusion idiom. The first of these is the more straight ahead in jazz terms and probably more expansive for devotees of Walton’s pianistic talents. With a strong line up of Freddie Hubbard (reprising their Jazz Messengers partnership) on trumpet, Steve Turré on trombone and concha shell(s), a young Bob Berg on reeds and Al Foster on drums, this is an album with a distinct purpose. One of the strongest pieces is the bassline driven ‘Jacob’s ladder’ while lovers of acoustic jazz are sure to be enthralled by ‘Charmed circle’ with its Latin feel in percussion and in its use of unison horns that is reminiscent of the McCoy Tyner big band. The title track takes a leaf out of Herbie Hancock’s keyboard soloing from his mid 1970s period and it is clear that Walton was sensitive to new trends in jazz and eager to take them on board in his own manner. The second album, however, is by far the better known of the two on offer and this is largely due to the club track ‘Latin America’ which has long been a fusion favourite and rightly so. There is, though, a good deal of subtlelty in several of the compositions with ‘Sixth Avenue sounding like Walton was listening to the groove piano of Jorge Dalto while ‘Warm to the touch’ features the inestimable vocals of one Leon Thomas. Perhaps the slow burner on the album is the mid-tempo groover ‘The early generation’. At eighty minutes and with all the original album cover details, this CD pacakge represents outstanding value for money and is an accurate reflection of where Cedar Walton was at in the mid-1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Tom Brock ‘I love you more and more’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Barry White the producer is sometimes overlooked and underplayed in relation to his singer-songwriting talents. However, he did fantastic production duties for Gloria Scott and Love Unlimited, one of whose member’s was his wife. What is less known is that he did produce another male singer, Tom Brock, and London-based label/specialist music shop Soul Brother have unearthed a lesser known gem in this album that dates from 1974 when White was at the peak of his creative forces. Tom Brock is no Barry White soundalike, though, and is much closer in vocal approach to Leon Ware, or even Marvin Gaye, particularly from the ‘I want you’ era and this album is a precursor to that 1976 classic. What is surprising is that at a time when Barry White could have done no wrong, this album should have largely escaped the attention of the music press and not enjoyed any significant chart success. This is a great pity for there are some excellent songs on offer, some of which were co-written between Brock and White while others have the immediate White classy signature sound attached to them. One song especially, the mid-tempo ‘There’s nothing in this world’, has become more famous as a result of being sampled by Jay Z on ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ while the uptempo ‘Naked as the day I was born’ is arguably the best cut of all. Brock’s high-pitched falsetto vocals at various times remind one of Marvin during his ‘What’s going’ on’ album and that is recomendation enough. A fascinating one-off album which is nicely balanced with some fine balladry, and one wonders what ever happened to Tom Brock since.

Tim Stenhouse

Astor Piazzolla ‘Piazzolla O no?’ / ‘PIazzolla interpreta a Piazzolla’ (Jackpot) 4/5

Here is an interesting new label that has had the foresight to re-issue two of the early 1960s classic albums by Argentine bandoneon legend Astor Piazzolla on one CD, LPs that were originally on the Columbia label in Argentina. These have until recently been unavailable and then were poorly mastered, taken direct from the original vinyl. Now properly restored to their original glory and here with their striking covers and lovingly translated cover notes, this will hopefully be the first in a series of Piazzolla’s seminal period where major innovations in tango were being orchestrated by the maestro. The first of the albums is the more conventional of the two and Piazzolla was clearly treading carefully here. This explains the large number of covers and the relatively short time of the pieces. In contrast the second album features an early version of the now signature tune composition ‘Adios nonino’ with ‘Lo que vendra’ and ‘Tanguismo’ other highlights of a significantly more confident muisician in the studio. At seventy-nine minutes this CD represents unbeatable value for money and one looks forward to hearing the sextet and octet recordings on the same label.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993