Peabo Bryson ‘Stand for Love’ LP/CD (Perspective/Caroline) 3/5

With some considerable waiting on my behalf, for the arrival of the vinyl, it is clear the vast majority of you have been getting off on this superb modern soul album for some while having purchased the CD, so I am running a little behind, so to speak. So to the music. Side A has floored me with some superb dancers, opening up with the bass-heavy “All She Wants To Do Is Me”, which should have been rocking dance floors across the globe, as he sounds on fine form and as we have grown accustomed to hearing, with the title track being the big track for me; a string laden kitchen sink drama, a crossover monster which once again will cement the sales of this album as this is what soul radio and its devotees crave. The production duties have been carried by those legends, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, highlighted on the down-tempo tracks. Give “Love Like Yours and Mine” a blast as this could have appeared on a myriad of albums over the past ten years which shows he still has the vocal prowess of old, it’s timeless. The stripped down “Looking for Sadie” took a couple of plays but it was worth the commitment and the strolling “Goosebumps Never Lie”, finishes side one in fine form – a stunning return for Peobo since his “Missing You” album all those years back.

Flipping the vinyl over for Side B brings us in to ballad heaven, the best of which, “Here For You”, comes complete with gritty production. The album has some real ups and downs but the inclusion of a ‘live’ recorded medley of his previous hits, is completely off-kilter although I can understand why it’s on here with such a long gap in releases from Mr Bryson. Side A appears to be dominated with writing skills by James Harris III and there appears to be an array of players in on the act, at times bringing something to the table. Musically, at times, the album is a real treat, a recommended release with side A dominating, and a very worthy release to add to the output of a man who has given us an array of, simply, quite superb tuneage over the years. Just one gripe; the Digi-Card included within didn’t work for me – “the folder couldn’t be found”!

Brian Goucher

Tord Gustavsen Trio ‘The Other Side’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Pianist Tord Gustavsen returns with a reflective trio album that in the first half focuses on his own fully matured composer talents, while in the second half, he adapts J.S. Bach original pieces for a jazz context, and in the process offers something different to the long tried and tested Jacques Loussier approach. Bach is that most jazz-friendly of early classical composers and as such ripe for re-evaluation.

On the wonderful Gustavssen original, ‘Re-melt’, it is the simplicity of thought that is communicated and to this extent, comparisons with EST are inevitable (though as a whole unmerited), and the unity of the trio is commendable. However, Tord Gustavsen departs from anyone else on the other worldy track, ‘Duality’, which features a bowed double bass and piano centre stage, with a gentle drum roll and atmospheric cymbals. Electronics come into play subtly on ‘Taste and see’, with a repeated motif on piano and the sound of a violin conjured up with the use of contemporary instrumentation. By contrast, the leader’s adaptation of a Ludvig Mathias Lindemann piece, ‘Kirken, den er et gemmelt hus’, has a strong early music undercurrent. Influences extend beyond to modal music and Spanish-tinged percussion on the adaptation of the traditional, ‘Igen vinner frem til den evige ro’.

The second half of proceedings are dominated by Bach and a particular favourite adaptation is, ‘Schlafer bruder’, which receives a distinctly modern update on the opus with gorgeous blues inflections, while the more austere sounding medley, ‘Jesu, meine Freude/Jesu, det eneste’, is more faithful to the original intent of the composer. Recorded at the Rainbow studio in Oslo, the trio music comes across as though it were being communicated from the very same room which you are listening to the music in, and this resolutely calming influence is reinforced by the rustic orange inner and outer sleeve. A fine start to the autumn for ECM, then, and another quality recording from Tord Gustavsen in trio format, and arguably the one that best suits his natural musical inclinations.

Tim Stenhouse

Johnnie Taylor ‘Ear-ga-sm’ / ‘Rated Extraordinaire’ SACD (Vocalion) 4/5

Soul-blues is a largely southern American art form and one that singer Johnnie Taylor, born and raised in West Memphis, perfected with his initial work at Stax, culminating in the number one R & B and top five pop chart smash, ‘Who’s making love?’. This excellent paring of albums takes the story on several years to the mid-1970s when Taylor was now singed to Columbia records and is a smoother affair, though the subject matter remains the same, but with a classic mid-tempo Chicago soul feel. The first album hit big with the enjoyable, ‘Disco lady’, which is actually frequently compared with Marvin Gaye’s offering to the disco era,’ Got to give it up’, and is a mid-tempo number complete with Bob James style keyboards. The rest of the album is very much a continuation of what preceded at Stax, with classy soul-blues such as, ‘I’m gonna keep on loving you’. There is even a welcome touch of gospel on the laid back, Running out of lies’.
The follow-up, ‘Rated extraordinaire’, has a more varied line-up with strings arranged by Wade Marcus and produced by Don Davis. Moreover, it was recorded in Detroit and Muscles Shoals, Alabama. A lesser hit came in the form of, ‘Your love is rated X’, while for the strongest song on the album in terms of production and instrumental accompaniment, a clear contender is, ‘You’re the best in the world’, which comes with lovely flute and guitar. Northern soul fans will marvel equally at, It don’t hurt me like it used to’. A quality ballad is delivered in, ‘Pick up the pieces’ (not the Average White Band composition).

While Johnnie Taylor fared less well at the end of the disco era, he returned to top form with independent label Beverley Glenn and arguably his strongest interpretation of all, the magisterial, ‘Just ain’t good enough’, from 1982. Among his label mates at the time, were one Anita Baker and her former group, Chapter Eight.

Tim Stenhouse

Children of Zeus ‘Travel Light’ LP/CD/DIG (First Word) 4/5

As one of the UK’s most anticipated albums, ‘Travel Light’ is the long awaited full length 14-track LP by Manchester duo Children of Zeus, consisting of group members Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, who are both experienced contributors to the North West music scene over the last decade or so with this project placed on the ever consistent First Word Records. After the success of their singles and ‘The Story So Far’ (2017), an EP of previously released material compiled into one project, ‘Travel Light’ contains all new tracks of hip hop influenced contemporary soul music, and thus, it omits their now classic ‘Still Standing’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘Push On’.

The production has slightly moved away from the more sample heavy ideology of their older releases – which is a shame, as that was what for many helped garnish interest in their music; using 1970s soul and jazz grooves such as those by Billy Brooks, Grant Green and Ahmad Jamal, mixed with their modern approach to contemporary UK soul. Nonetheless, sonically, the album is still fundamentally based around soul/funk drum breaks, warm analogue synth sounds and electric piano voicings laced with Tyler’s rich soulful vocals.

The tempos are generally downtempo with ‘The Story So Far’ beginning where they mean to go on with its sparse but somewhat epic production mixed with the recollecting of memories and positive future possibilities. The slow jam-esque ‘The Heart Beat’ highlights previous emotional pain, and with its nod to lover’s rock, ‘Hard Work’ eludes to the difficulties in maintaining long-term relationships. My personal favourite is ‘Vibrations (Divine Signature)’, which at 116 BPM is the most uptempo piece of the set, with its chord structure reminiscent of Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, another UK soul outfit, and its ‘vibe, vibrations’ vocal hook in the chorus taken from James Brown’s ‘Mind Power’ (1973) and later ‘Stakes Is High’ by De La Soul (1997) with rim shot hits and deep sub bass patterns providing a perfect example of how soul music can also have a futuristic attitude. Confusingly, the album states that the duo produced the track yet on their Bandcamp webpage is identifies London producer K15.

I’ve probably played a Children of Zeus track every week during my DJ sets over the last year or so, and thus, I’m a considerable fan, but if I have a criticism it’s the added raps in some of their songs as I would argue that they don’t enhance the tracks in any way. The production is of a very high quality, the (sung) vocal performances are impeccable and perfectly compliment the strong production values, but the raps are not of the same quality and are quite basic. Konny Kon is a brilliant producer but an average MC, and so combined with Tyler’s fluid vocals (he also raps) there is an imbalance. My hip hop background does mean I’m usually quite critical of hip hop related material and elements after being spoiled by Organized Konfusion, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr and others, but the released clean version did help.

As someone who has visited, bought records and DJ’d in Manchester numerous times since the 1980s, Children of Zeus remind one of the lineage of Manchester’s deep black music culture and history, including the late night soul blues parties in Moss Side, The Gallery on Saturday nights with Soul Control sound system and the PSV Club in Hulme. Children of Zeus are essentially an extension of the Manchester street soul scene that stretches back to 52nd Street and beyond and their popularity will undoubtedly increase with the release of ‘Travel Light’, helped by an audience hungry for modern UK soul music.

Live tour continues…

Sep 22 Finsbury Park London
Oct 13 The Wardrobe Leeds
Nov 02 O2 Academy 2 Oxford
Nov 23 Band on the Wall Manchester
Nov 26 The Bodega Social Club Nottingham
Nov 27 Hare & Hounds Birmingham
Nov 28 Rough Trade Bristol
Nov 29 Ghost Notes London
And many more…

Damian Wilkes

Erroll Garner ‘Nightconcert’ CD (Mack Avenue) 5/5

Unreleased live recordings can sometimes be poorly recorded and of strictly limited historical interest only, but this is a gem of a recording. Clear and vibrant recording quality from a November 1964 live concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and almost eighty minutes of sheer musical bliss. The trio are in terrific form, with long-time bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, and Erroll Garner demonstrates why he is second only to Art Tatum in terms of virtuoso technique, and with the ability to make the piano sing. A quintessentially classic repertoire that borrows predominantly from the great American songbook is enhanced by a trio of Garner originals. The one-off, ‘Amsterdam swing’, is precisely that: a storming stroll through pianistic jazz swing, but Garner’s versatility is further demonstrated on the gorgeous balladry work of, ‘Theme from a new kind of love’. Indeed, some of the introductory motifs give no clue whatsoever as to what is about to follow and Erroll Garner marvelled at leaving the audience in suspense until the very last moment. This is the case of, ‘Green Dolphin Street, which starts off slow and then moves up into another gear or two, with a delicate passage part way through. At various places throughout, Kelly Martin on drums excels with his own distinctive and thrilling brand of latinized hi-hat drum rolls, and Erroll Garner was a fervent admirer of Latin music. For some blues inflections, ‘Night and day’, fits the bill admirably. The trio work wonderfully in tandem at all times and that is one of the many joys of this live album, with, Easy to love’, just one major highlight of a stunning set, and the unobtrusive audience applause leaves little doubt as to their considerable listening pleasure of proceedings.

A beautifully illustrated inner sleeve with black and white photos of the concert venue and colour photos of the pianist is rounded off by lengthy and informative notes by Dr. Robin D. G. Kelley. A worthy addition to the outstanding re-issues/unreleased material from the Sony Columbia label archives. Full marks to Mack Avenue for uncovering this masterful recording.

Tim Stenhouse

Stanley Clarke ‘The Message’ CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5

Bassist, composer and producer Stanley Clarke is a musician of many talents and first came to international prominence in the 1970s with fusion bands (Return to Forever) and a host of other jazz musicians. Major success followed later in the early-mid 1980s as part of the Clarke-Duke Project and then as a producer for younger musicians/singers, but in recent years Clarke has returned to leader duties. This latest album is a summation of his multi-faceted career, and that means the good, bad, and indifferent. On the plus side, the quartet he currently works with operates best when in acoustic mode as on the uplifting and straight ahead ‘The Legend Of The Abbas And The Sacred Talisman’. Here acoustic piano (the excellent pianist Beha Gochiasvili) and bass combine wonderfully on a melodic number, and the same could be said of ‘Alternative Facts’. The only pity is that the rest of the album veers off in too many directions, some of which are wholly unappealing. Why incorporate rock guitar on ‘The Rugged Truth’, or deploy synths on the potentially interesting Indo-Jazz fusion of ‘After The Cosmic Rain/Dance Of The Planetary Prince’. Tablas and drone are by the 1980s style synth sound and that is a great pity because the idea of bringing together acoustic jazz and Indian classical is a praiseworthy one. Why not go the whole hog and devote more time to this? This is a critique that is equally valid of Stanley Clarke’s all too brief foray into western classical on the album. Lovely performance of a ‘Bach Cello Suite 1 (prelude)’, but why just one piece and how does that fit into the album as a whole? Again, a separate album devoted to Bach interpretations would have made more sense.

To confuse matters further, beat box and other voicings appear at various points. Of the former, Doug E. Fresh offers up some inventive sounds on ‘And Ya Know We’re Missing You’, but once again does this really make for a cohesive whole? In short, too eclectic by far and a frustrating hit and miss listening experience of an album.

Tim Stenhouse

L.T.D ‘Something to Love’ / ‘Togetherness’ / ‘Devotion’ / ‘Shine On’ 2CD (Robinsong) 3/5

Jeffrey Osbourne became a household name in the soul and pop charts in the early-mid 1980s with the hit single, ‘On the wings of love’, and scored some memorable dancefloor hits as well as quality ballads. This four album set goes back in time to his period as lead singer with LTD and it is in truth a mixed bag. The group struggled to find an identity to begin with and that is reflected in the first two albums here with songs that can come across as a pastiche of the more successful soul and funk groups of the 1970s such as the Commodores and the Isley Brothers among others. By 1979, however, LTD had started to attract more attention for their own talents, especially with a vocalist as strong and distinctive as Osbourne now at the helm. This is typified by the album, ‘Devotion’, with the jazzy tinged mid-tempo number, ‘Sometimes’, and particularly the modern soul favourite, ‘Promise you’ll stay’. It has to be said that some of the attempts at funk now sound dated, with, ‘Stand up’, a blatant take on Parliament’s superior, ‘Flashlight’. Nonetheless, the ballads are generally strong with, ‘Share my love’ and, ‘Stranger’, precursors to what would follow for Osbourne as a solo artist. Best of all, the joyous uptempo groove of, ‘Feel it’. The follow up from 1980, ‘Shine on’, witnessed Jeffrey Osbourne as an increasingly dominant figure in the band, as co-writer as well as continuing as lead. In this respect, one can, in retrospect sees parallels, between the band and Osbourne, with Lionel Richie and the Commodores and thus a split was inevitable. Before that took place, the last album with Osbourne was duly delivered and the catchy, ‘You gave me love’, with a repetitive guitar riff that lingers long on the mind. A quality ballad comes in the shape of, ‘Where did we go wrong’, with something of a Philly International feel. Interestingly, some of the soul-disco numbers now sound most contemporary and these include the syndrum-aided, ‘Lovers everywhere’, and the uptempo synth bass sound of, ‘Don’t cha’ know’. Excellent Fender Rhodes accompaniment comes from the talented brother of Jeffrey, Billy Osbourne. With Jeffrey Osbourne’s departure, the group soon lost a good deal of its impetus and folded up just a few years later in 1983, just as Osbourne’s solo success with reaching its zenith. Informative sleeve notes are from Charles Waring. Of note, ‘Love to the world’, one of LTD’s more popular songs, is not included here.

Tim Stenhouse

Sara Colman ‘What We’re Made Of’ CD (Stoney Lane) 5/5

They say good things come to those who wait. For Bristol-born singer, songwriter, pianist and composer Sara Colman, this would appear to be especially true. Her new album “What we’re made of” is released this month on Stoney Lane Records, proving once and for all that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Ten years have passed since Colman’s last album “Ready”, with another ten years dating back to her 1998 debut “Spellbound”. Let’s hope she breaks this pattern sooner rather than later…

Unlike Colman’s previous releases which were largely standards and covers, “What we’re made of” is largely originals and co-written material. Audiences familiar with her musical path, whether that be via her vocal performances up and down the land in jazz clubs and other music venues, or through her work with the likes of Laura Mvula, Liane Carroll and Mahalia, may have shared at one point or another, the same thought. That thought being that her genuine natural warmth, passion and charisma shining out from her live performances has, for whatever reason, never really been captured on a studio album. Until now that is.

Given the fact that the album encompasses such a thoughtful and evocative set of tunes, I asked Colman if she had been encouraged to make a record that she loves, rather than worrying about what a label or general public might expect from a ‘jazz singer/composer’; “Yes, yes and yes!” was her reply. “I had a conversation with two musician friends and I was saying ‘Oh maybe I’ll make a duo album or just sit at the piano and sing…’ One replied well why don’t you go big instead!? So in the first instance I stopped putting limitations on myself before I had even started. I was talking with another musician friend about pleasing your audience and I asked her about the music she wrote and how she felt about it. She basically said that she wrote music that she wanted to play and it didn’t really matter to her whether anyone liked it as long as she did. What a revelation! That stayed with me for a long time and is my mantra before I start a writing session. It was something I needed to hear but didn’t realise until I heard it- so simple yet so true. I had forgotten how to get to the heart of my own creative musical self maybe? It’s also true that Sam at Stoney Lane stood right back and encouraged me to just make beautiful music- he trusted me and waited a long time for this album. It gives you confidence when someone else has confidence in you.”

Colman’s confidence certainly bears fruit on this recording. Inspired by her love of classic song-writing and instinctive improvisational energy, her musical journey brings her jazz sensibility into roots music territory, her poignant originals sitting comfortably alongside the folk-tinged worlds of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, to the contemporary jazz, folk and Americana of Bill Frisell.

There are also some key collaborators on this session, combining wonderfully with Colman to give an unprecedented warmth and intuitive balance to the finished tunes. Jonathan Silk’s contribution cannot be underestimated. His drumming is always sensitive to the nature of the music itself, but it is his string arrangements that really stand out for special mention. Many singer-songwriters fall into the trap of using string arrangements that are so over-used and clichéd that I find them bordering on embarrassing. Silk’s exquisite arrangements however, are fresh and inspiring, reminding me a little of the first time I listened to Nick Drake’s classic album Five Leaves Left, a breath of fresh air. Percy Pursglove sparkles on trumpet and flugelhorn. His playing quite simply exudes class. Guitarist Steve Banks co-writes some of the tunes with Colman, bringing a refreshing lilt to the singer’s writing style. In fact, all of the musicians perform in a way that is sensitive to, and enhances the music being made. With Rebecca Nash on piano and Rhodes, Ben Markland and Jules Jackson on bass, Adriano Adewale on percussion, the Carducci Quartet (strings) and the backing vocals of Emila Martensson and Anthony Marsden, the togetherness of the musicians is very apparent throughout the whole recording.

There is an integrity and inventiveness to Colman’s writing that shows a maturity and balance of thought. Great story-telling is a fine art, perhaps one that flows more naturally with more experience in life. “I guess I’ve been collecting snippets of stories for a little while, little character studies.” Colman told me. “As my experiences and my perspectives have changed, so those stories have become a little more fully formed- so I’ve been a bit more able to write from the perspective of someone else. I think what happens as you get a bit further down your own path is that you are less inside the drama of your own life.”

“What we’re made of” features eleven tunes, with the album’s exquisite opener “It Begins” featuring the captivating string arrangements of Silk, combining perfectly with Colman’s evocative vocal and Pursglove’s contemplative trumpet. It’s a beautiful piece of music. The title track has a poise to it that allows the tune to develop as it brings in subtle Brazilian vibes and textures featuring the percussion of Adewale. One of the most intriguing tracks on the album is “Strange Meeting”, originally a Bill Frisell instrumental. Whereas Frisell’s original sounds like it could have been taken from a Tom Waits ‘Swordfishtrombone’ era session, Colman’s thoughtful reworking of this now places it in Tom Waits ‘Blue Valentine’ territory. Colman’s lyrics trace a story of regret played out by a man who lost a woman who shone too brightly for him. Central is the lyric ‘Seren Haf’, ‘summer star’ in Welsh- the idea being that she would be eternally summer in her life and in his eyes, whilst he would go on to the autumn and winter of his own life. Captivating and enthralling story-telling. “Echoes” is a reflective piece, featuring Rebecca Nash on piano, with some emotive and poignant lyrics from Colman as she explains: “As the building was being demolished, my friend William died. We made a lot of music together in that building and each time another piece of it came away I imagined the echoes that had been absorbed into the walls flying out into the air with the dust.” The Colman/Banks collaboration “Heartsafe” works especially well; an immediately identifiable favourite. And isn’t it wonderful when a musician takes a well-known song and reinterprets it in a fresh and inspiring way. Such is the case here with the Paul Simon classic “Still crazy after all these years”.

One of the things I look for in a singer-songwriter is for their personality to reflect and shine through their music. The warmth that Colman exudes as a person resonates in her voice and character in the music and the lyrics that live and breath on this recording. I’ve listened to this album a few times now and I feel in some ways that I’m still getting to know it. Some of the tracks take a little longer than others to fully appreciate and I have a feeling that this is one of those albums that will definitely stand the test of time. A very accomplished album indeed. Full credit must also go out to Stoney Lane Records for providing the platform for Sara Colman to truly show what she’s made of.

Mike Gates

Sara Colman Key Autumn Dates:
November 10th – CBSO Centre, Birmingham. BOOK HERE
November 14th – The Pheasantry, Chelsea, London.

Steve Tibbetts ‘Life Of’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Does ECM do esoteric? Of course they do and when an album is as engaging and as enjoyable a listening pleasure as this album unquestionably is, any doubts one might ever have had on the sometimes quirky selections of artists made rapidly evaporate. Guitarist and pianist Steve Tibbetts excels on this superlative journey into folk and improvisational territory. Is it folk, jazz, or minimalist? If so, who cares when the musicians effortlessly weave together the disparate strands and come up with an album replete with contrasting emotional moods. Ten of the pieces revolve around the theme, ‘Life of… plus’ and invariably they segue into one other, conveying a continuum of music that is at once admirable and leaves the listener with a floating feeling of deep satisfaction. Several stand out, with the percussive, ‘Life of Lowell’, the delicate, ‘Life of Dot’, and the Metheny-esque, ‘Life of someone’, topping a truly outstanding offering. Aiding Tibbetts along the way are handpan player and general percussionist, Marc Anderson, and cellist and drone practitioner, Michelle Kinney. These intimate and refined pieces are book ended by the introductory, ‘Bloodwork’, with minimalist musings on guitar and piano and an earthy, organic beginning to the album as a whole, and by the strong folk-blues feel to both, ‘End again and, ‘Start again’. A candidate for album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse

The Whispers ‘One For The Money’ / ‘Open Up Your Love’ / ‘Headlights’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

Far less well known to more general soul fans, this trio of albums are among the jewels in the crown of the Whispers back catalogue and feature a modern soul classic that is regularly showcased by none other than DJ extraordinaire, Mr. Richard Searling. First off is the 1976 offering, ‘One for the money’. This is produced by none other than Norman Harris and has The Philadelphia International imprint all over it. It is interesting to reflect that had the Whispers continued in this vein, they could have given The O’Jays a late run for their money. The title track is one lovely tune and with all the trademark Philly classy production of strings and brass. Something of a northern soul feel permeates, ‘Got a feeling’, while the ballad, Living together (in sin)’ bears a strong resemblance to, ‘The closer I get to you’. What is clear is that at this early juncture, the Whispers had yet to establish their own distinctive identity. A year later and a change of sound with co-producers, Dick Griffin and Don Cornelius. A remake of the pop hit, ‘Make it with you’, is embellished with some gorgeous horn arrangements over a propelling disco beat. Why was this never a major hit first time round? Ripe for a revival. Corny piccolo sounds cannot take away from what morphs into a delicious mid-tempo groove on, ‘Love is a dream’, while an entirely different side to the band is displayed on the soul-blues influenced, ‘Open up to your love’, with the lead vocalist definitely sounding akin to the late great Johnnie Taylor. However, the best is reserved for last, and, ‘Headlines’ from 1978 is a candidate for the greatest Whispers album ever made. The classy mid-tempo, ‘(Olivia) lost and turned out’, is equalled by the epic group harmonies of, ‘Let’s go all the way’, a bona fide modern soul classic, complete with bongos, strings and terrific vocal ad-libs. A third wonderful slice of soul comes in, ‘The planets of life’, which is another favourite of this writer. Informative sleeve notes courtesy of Christian John Wikane. This is most definitely a re-issue connoisseurs of modern soul should not miss out on.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993