Sun Ra Arkestra ‘Live from Kalisz 1986’ 2LP (Lanquidity) 3/5

Recorded in 1986 in the city of Kalisz, Poland, this essential addition of Sun Ra material comes courtesy of the appropriately named Languidity Records; an independent label dedicated towards the discovery and release of important music which is predominantly within the sphere of avant-garde.
The concert comes five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, featuring many long-time serving members who have recorded, dwelled, practised and toured with Sun Ra under strict guidelines for many years, all dedicated to the afro futuristic artistic approach and the mystical forces surrounding the music and performance. This album is an important addition to the collection of great music from Sun Ra’s recorded history and one where the audience are relishing the more swinging side of the Arkestra’s music along with the signature improvised pieces which are always refreshing and full of great tone and mystique.

The music begins in true Sun Ra fashion with a 14 minute setting of the sound vibrations and frequencies full of signature sounds and almost chaotic wails from the saxophone speaking in otherworldly tones and shapes, almost cleansing the air and healing the fractures within the space.

‘Improvised 1’ feels like a kind of nod to Poland’s great classical composers with a typical Sun Ra twist. His music crosses many boundaries and you can imagine the audience fully acknowledging the brilliance of his music on this solo effort. It’s only a five-minute track but it’s melancholy and powerful as though relating to a message of hope and a brighter future.
‘Yeah Man’ was written by the highly esteemed African-American bandleader, Noble Sissie, and the track really swings in a similar vein to what you might expect from Charlie Mingus, although it’s reflective of much earlier times around the heyday of the writer’s career. The clarinet of John Gilmore adds an almost Eastern feel.
‘Untitled Blues’ really captures the audience with its swinging straight ahead uptempo sound with the whole band bringing an energy to the piece before Sun Ra swings on his own accord bringing the track to a close and the audience to fully appreciative applause.
‘I’ll Never Be The Same’ is given an uptempo jump start and it’s very different from Billy Holiday and Lester Young’s 1937 recording; a moment in jazz history that seems to propel the composition into the stratosphere from where Sun Ra turned it into something completely different. The saxophone of John Gilmore strides forward on this piece and the percussive sound of Sun Ra’s piano perfectly balances with the weaving weight of the tenor.
Duke Ellington’s 1938 ballad, ‘Prelude To A Kiss’, is given a lift and accented with a more dreamy big-band edge as well as a heavy saxophone sound akin more to Archie Shepp than with Duke Ellington. The addition of the synthesizer is also a nice touch.

The 13-minute rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’ is a nice finale to the evening, and one that sees the whole band and audience participation, bringing back memories of the legendary performance at the great Newport Festival by Duke Ellington and his band. The Louis Armstrong sounding vocals of Tyrone Hill and the rapturous evening showcase a joyous evening and one that symbolises a lifting of the more oppressive times for the country. It’s a fitting set and one appreciated most definitely.
Even those in the audience who may have expected more of the challenging material associated with Sun Ra and his arrangements would have enjoyed this great set from a man who was 72 years old and still performing with a visionary approach and that otherworldly spark which clearly resonated throughout the whole band and audience.

Featured alongside Sun Ra on this live performance are long-serving members John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen, James Jackson and Danny Ray Thompson. Joining the main core of the band are Tyler Mitchell on bass – check him on the Paris Smith’s ‘Thought Seeds’ album. On Alto Saxophone, Alto and Bass Clarinet is Leroy Taylor who joined the Sun Ra camp in 1970. Saxophonist Ronald Wilson is an established musician who played flute and oboe on Lorez Alexandria’s album ‘This Is Lorez’, amongst other notable albums before joining Sun Ra & co. On trombone is Tyrone Hill who also contributes with his voice on ‘Mack The Knife’. Drummer Earl ‘Buster’ Smith had played alongside many of the greats including Eric Dolphy, John Lewis and Oscar Pettiford before joining the Arkestra late on in the 1980s. Carl LeBlanc joined the famous New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, dedicated to the art form associated with New Orleans jazz before bringing his blues guitar style to the band in the 1980s.

As with every Sun Ra recording, there is never a dull moment. The Arkestra’s treatment of sound within standards and the more improvisational pieces are always refreshing and surprising with the usual meticulous playing and dedication to the art form.

Mark Jones

Donna McGhee ‘Make It Last Forever’ LP/CD (WeWantSounds) 5/5

Recorded in 1979, Donna McGhee’s only solo album, ‘Make It Last Forever’, is one of the all-time soul classics, sitting just outside the disco arena and yet knocking at the door with a soulful edge that is mellow with a touch of funk. After singing with The Fatback Band, The Universal Robot Band and Phreek; a disco project set up by Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael and Leroy Burgess, Brooklyn based Donna McGhee went solo incorporating the aforementioned collective sound into the album with great success. Each of the five tracks on the album stands up on its own accord and Donna McGhee’s music has featured on many noted album compilations and mixes over the years with names including Danny Krivit, Theo Parrish. Mr Scruff, Ashley Beedle and more paying tribute to the understated soulful groove that came packaged with that distinctive sound that Patrick Adams and co. brought to the music world and particularly the dancefloor. Whereas Roy Ayers embellished his soulful jazz sound with the vocals of say Sylvia Striplin and Ethel Beatty, Patrick Adams and Leroy Burgess’ position and direction saw vocalists including Donna McGhee and Jocelyn Brown become an important contributor for their idiosyncratic appeal.

‘Mr Blindman’ was included on ‘London Jazz Classics 3’, a collection of sounds that were mid ’90s underground classics in many of the decent clubs around the country, The track sits well amongst the varied jazz and Brazillian set of recordings that Soul Jazz Records chose to include on the compilation leaning towards a more rare groove feel. It’s one of those tracks that never seem to have dated.

The title track, ‘Make It Last Forever’, is another highlight track from the album and became widely known on the NYC disco circuit, helped in part by another version by the Inner Life project, which elevated Jocelyn Brown’s powerful distinctive voice to much wider acclaim. The Inner Life version was an instant Paradise Garage hit when Larry Levan first dropped his own extended remix of the track, stretching the song from 8 minutes to over 12 minutes, with the sheer weight of Jocelyn Brown’s voice, the idiosyncratic produced string sounds and a slow-burning solid groove making for a timeless classic. Donna McGhee’s voice may not be as powerful as Jocelyn Brown but the track is a brilliant track in its own right and one that benefits from the production sounds that the collective brought to the table, with an instantly recognizable sound that served Patrick Adams and co. well.

Personal Touch had earlier in 1976 recorded Patrick Adams’ production of ‘It Ain’t No Big Thing’ and in 1981 Fonda Rae sang with the group Rainbow Brown on another version that was hugely popular, but it was this version by Donna McGhee that was in every way the definitive version of the song and another highlight from the album. To many, ‘It Ain’t No Big Thing’ is the main track from the album, with Danny Krivit’s edit of the song bolstered that claim when he enhanced the original. Its more likely the albums catchiest song with strong lyrics and a soulful boogie feel that seems perfect for sets by DJs such as Norman Jay and DJ Spinna.

Although ‘Do I Do’ is a little over the top in a sensual Donna Summer kind of way, it’s still a solid track that has featured on lists and compilations around the world. The Harmless label included the track on their 2010 compilation, Disco Boogie, alongside seminal tracks by Al McCall ‘Hard Times’, Sybil Thomas ‘Rescue Me’ and other tracks synonymous with labels like West End and Prelude.

Every track on the album is worthy of a mention, and over the years since its release in 1979 the album has built up a cult following, aired in the same vein as artists like Ethel Beatty, Syreeta and Sylvia Striplin and other more soprano soul singers of that style. The album was released in the same year as recordings including Jean Carn ‘Was That All It Was’, Patrice Rushen ‘Haven’t You Heard’ and Ashford and Simpson ‘Stay Free’. Thanks to the WeWantSounds label who were also responsible for Alice Clark’s soul-jazz classic LP, Donna McGhee’s long-time favourite album for many, is once again available.

Mark Jones

Harish Raghavan ‘Calls For Action’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Since arriving to New York from Illinois by way of California in 2007, double bassist Harish Raghavan has recorded and toured with numerous artists including Ambrose Akinmusire, Kurt Elling, Taylor Eigsti, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd, Walter Smith, Logan Richardson and Eric Harland. “Calls For Action” is his debut album as leader, and this impressive quintet recording is full of spark, vibrancy and originality. Over recent years Raghavan has seized the opportunity to work with an influx of bright new stars, resulting in this markedly lithe quintet with alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Micah Thomas, vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Kweku Sumbry.
“I had been wanting to record for quite some time when I met the guys through working on Joel Ross’ album”, explains Raghavan. “They had such a great rapport with each other and myself, it felt like a match. Then we had the luxury of playing together for a year to develop and build the repertoire.” There certainly seems to be a natural connection between all five musicians, with a shared collaborative spirit helping to make the bassist’s original compositions shine.

There’s an earthiness, a grounded feel to this recording that I really like. From the solo bass of the opening intro, it’s like a deep-rooted century-old tree taking sustenance from the earth, from the water and soil beneath, before waking to the world and stretching out its branches in a renewed spritely fashion. Like jazz itself, its history and traditions are still respected and totally genuine, but the new life that reaches out gives something new, something reinvented, with charisma, strength and purpose. “Newe” is just like that, showing the listener what this band have to offer, introducing us to who they are and what they’re about. There’s an almost impatient feel to this tune, as if the musicians themselves can’t wait to get up and at it, driving forward with a clear sense of purpose. If this tune feels a little over-eager, then the opposite can be said of the stunning “Los Angeles”. This is a wonderful piece of music. Unhurried, cool, beautiful and compelling. It reminds me a little of something you’d hear from Mark Guiliana’s Jazz Quartet. It took me a while to get to the rest of the album due to listening to this track so many times. The music is highly evocative throughout, with spellbinding melodies and intuitive soloing featuring heavily on tunes such as “Sangeet”, with its refreshing flair and uncompromising spirit. “I’ll go and I’ll come back” has an endearing simplicity to it that pulls the listener in, the piano and vibes picking up the melodies and running with them like long lost friends reunited. Raghavan’s driving bass leads us into the adventurous “Seaminer”, a breathless piece showcasing the quintet’s undoubted skill in all its glory. There’s some soloing of epic proportions here, especially from the dynamic Immanuel Wilkins. “The Meters” lets us relax a little, it’s subtleties and gentle nuances enriched by an underlying edginess that works its way into much of Raghavan’s music. “4560 Roundtop” is a playful, energetic piece that gives way to the quirkier “Shift”. This tune has that late-night jazz club vibe that benefits from searing bass lines and accomplished riffs and motifs, with the band taking no prisoners. I love the slightly uneasy feel of “Lunatico”, its dark, strangely compelling melody benefitting from a depth of soul and sincerity that the band pick up on as the tune develops. “Junior” allows drummer Kweku Sumbry to shine, but it’s the way the bass, drums, vibes and sax all combine so well that is especially impressive. The title track captures the imagination, its full-steam-ahead pace making the change mid-stream all the more impressive. Raghavan’s walking bass-line is greeted by some explosive drumming on “Seven”, before the ever-impressive piano of Micah Thomas and sax of Immanuel Wilkins take the centre stage. And as if we needed any extra icing on the cake, Joel Ross’s vibes hit the sweet spot once more. The album closes as it opened, with Raghavan’s endearingly woody bass walking us down a slowly winding path, taking in the surroundings with time once more to breathe.

“Calls For Action” is a strong, powerful debut from Raghavan. The quintet fully explore the bassist’s compositions with style, exuberance and panache. Original and daring, there’s so much promise from this quintet that one can only hope it’s not too long before they get back into the studio to build on what they’ve started.

Mike Gates

Gary Bias ‘East 101’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 3/5

Nimbus and Nimbus West are pretty much the same label operated by Tom Albach out of the West Coast USA. Many of the current crop of spiritualized jazz musicians on the West Coast still owe a debt of gratitude to the label and the influences it brought to the overall scene.
As with many Nimbus recordings of the period, this 5 track album by saxophonist Gary Bias has been long out of print and this much-needed re-mastered reissue comes at a good time.

The first track on the album is the standout cut ‘Asiki’ which is a laidback but classy affair featuring Bias on soprano accompanied by label stablemate Rickey Kelly on the vibes and featuring a stunning solo by David Tillman (of Potter and Tillman fame) on piano. The production on this track alone just sounds so classy.
‘Dear Violet’ – a song Bias dedicated to his late grandmother feels very spiritual in its approach with just saxophone and bass in the style of Pharoah Sanders but you feel the track ends after over 6 mins promising more. You always feel like you were waiting for the song to get going but it never really does.
‘Arthur’s Vamp’ with its memorable melodic bass hook rounds the first side out. Bias has a similar tone to Arthur Blythe (whom the track is dedicated to) when he picks up the alto. The band all put in good solos here and it’s a contrast to how the album’s initial chilled classy starter.
The title track kicks off side 2 and is a jaunty, boppy affair that ebbs and flows in which the band take their respective solos. And we end with the light but jazzy ‘As Children Play’ where we hear the sax man playing a little flute. It is a playground type theme set up in a jazz waltz signature highlighting David Tillman’s prowess on the piano once more, Bias himself on soprano saxophone and a solo by bass man Roberto Miranda.

Whilst East 101 isn’t Nimbus records most rare and sort after album, it is still worth having in your collection – if not for the ‘Asiki’ track alone.

Sammy Goulbourne

Gülistan ‘Oriental Groove’ LP (Hot Mule) 4/5

Subtitled “Jazz meets the Orient”, this new reissue was the first and only album from Viennese fusioneers, Gülistan, originally released in 1986. The group, all Austrians on this album apart from a newly arrived Kurdish immigrant, was the brainchild of flautist/saxophonist Josef Olt, who nurtured an interest of things Middle Eastern during a holiday in Turkey. A project to bring Balkan and Turkish musical styles to the band’s electric jazz influences, the songs are mainly derived from traditional tunes though there are a couple of originals. The self-financed album was mainly sold at their gigs and not long afterwards the group disbanded, apparently acrimoniously.

“Nazmiye”, begins with a salvo of percussion, the flute and bass take the melody to the middle section, which is essentially 1970s fusion tied to the subtle Middle Eastern rhythm and the ever-present darbuka. The flute and violin are the dominant instruments on all the tracks here and there’s a pleasing light tone when they’re in harmony. On the slower “Plajda – On The Beach”, the Jaco-esque fretless bass is a reminder of the core band style. An original tune, “Deli Horoz – The Crazy Cock” locks into a busy repetitive rhythm for solos incorporating exotic scales. “Ahtarma Meni – Don’t Search Me”, mixes jaunty flute/violin melody lines with cascading keyboard chords which adds a slight Latin edge. The balladic “Ayrılık – Separation” follows which is a little too easy listening for me. Slippy fretless bass introduces “Cano, Cano – Darling, Darling”, the epic highpoint of the album and the most seamless mix of East and West. The closer, “Kervan – Caravan” is probably more recognisable to Western ears as “Misirlou”, particularly the deranged surf rock version by Dick Dale. Obviously, it doesn’t hit the energy levels of that but is a pleasant floaty conclusion to the set.

The album can still be seen as an exciting experiment. The tunes have the glitter of Middle Eastern glamour and underneath there’s substantial groovy jazz fusion, well performed by proficient musicians with a vision. Obviously, these days, the concept of co-opting jazz and ethnic music is not so unusual and the music is very much of its time but that’s fine with me. With thirty-odd years hindsight, there is a slight novelty feel to this album especially apparent with the original packaging and the odd fez here and there! However, it is successful as the simple clean folky melodies and the pyrotechnics of jazz fusion do actually sit very well together. It is also evocative of the time when less esoteric listeners in the West began to dip their toe into what became known as World Music.

The album is well worthy of the Hot Mule reissue and the new liner notes are excellent, recording the reunion of the band members and letting them tell their story. I especially enjoyed the tale of the promotional scam on a local radio station involving an imaginary Turkish truck driver!

Kevin Ward