Robert Nighthawk ‘The Robert Nighthawk Collection 1937-1952’ 2CD (Acrobat Music) 5/5

Sometimes in music, a singer comes along whose influence and output far outweighs any degree of commercial success that s/he has gained during their own lifetime and that can certainly be said of Robert Nighthawk. Born in 1909 in Helena, Arkansas, on the west bank of the Mississippi Delta and just one of the many millions of African-Americans who made the long-term migration from south to north, Nighthawk is a pivotal figure in the evolution of the blues. He occupies a key role, a bridge if you will between the rural Delta blues that he grew up with and the urban blues of both Memphis and Chicago, the latter of which he made his home. His influence on other musicians of his own generation and of subsequent generations is incalculable, but that distinctive slide guitar technique undoubtedly influenced the musicians of the calibre of Muddy Waters. As with the other musicians showcased in this ongoing series, Acrobat have grouped together a variety of labels and this is especially useful in the blues idiom where 78s tended to be recorded for a multitude of independent labels, and it goes without saying that the original shellac is near impossible to find and the timing is extremely generous with over seventy minutes per side, equating to forty-eight songs in total. These include; Aristocrat, Bluebird, Chess, Decca and United. While, Acrobat have cleaned up the originals and both the instruments and voice sound clear, they have been careful not to take away the integrity of the music. As for the music, it spans three decades and does a mighty fine job of piecing together his recording life. Even that, however, raises a few intriguing questions, not least of which the following: what exactly was he doing in the period 1940-1948? That is one of the mysteries to Nighthawk’s life that will probably remain unanswered and it is in part his mystique that is such an attraction in the first place.

Nighthawk went under a variety of aliases, and Nighthawk itself was not his real life name. He was born Robert McCollum. The first song on the collection, ‘Prowling Night’, provided the inspiration for the first invented surname, but such were his storytelling qualities that he recorded under a panoply of other names ranging from Robert McCoy to Ramblin’ Bob, and not forgetting the intriguing Peetie’s boy. Later in his career, the expanded collective of musicians were known as Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band. What this writer retains above all from this outstanding musician and fascinating human being is the quality and universality of the lyrics and storytelling. In, ‘Lonesome World’, the lyrics demonstrate some very basic awareness that elsewhere on the planet, someone else was experiencing a different climate. Most probably, his extensive travelling inspired and informed his songwriting choices, but equally they afforded him the most basic knowledge base that humanity differed from one locality to another, even if that bank of knowledge was in reality focused within the confines of the United States, a big enough entity in its own right. Everyday concerns are tackled on, ‘I Have Spent My Bonus’, ‘Next Door Neighbor’, and travelling instincts on, ‘Freight Train Blues’. Possible reasons for his early demise are hinted at on, ‘Good Gambling’, and forsaken friendship and love appear to underpin a good deal of his lyrics as illustrated on, ‘You’re All I’ve Got To Live For’, ‘My Sweet Lovin’ Woman’, and, ‘My Friends Have Forsaken Me’. It is equally quite conceivable that Robert Nighthawk was also a keen observer of other humans and adept at conveying human emotions in song form.

This was a musician who lived life to the full (and, ultimately, that may have been his Achilles heal that curtailed his all to brief lifespan), but one whose command of his guitar and cool and composed vocal delivery earned the esteem of his contemporaries. So much so, that when he began to record, not as a solo performer, but with an extended line up of musicians, he was able to count on some of the very best musicians to accompany him. Regulars included some of the piano greats in Curtis Jones, Pinetop Perkins, Speckeld Red, Roosevelt Sykes, while harmonica virtuoso Sonny Boy Williamson and bassist Willie Dixon performed on his records, and that fact considerably adds to the listening pleasure. Ethel Mae joined him on vocals on several songs for a period from the late 1940s.

Robert Nighthawk led, by any definition of the term, a bohemian lifestyle. The great pity is that he passed away aged just forty-seven, and this after recording in 1964 a highly esteemed live recording that is now regarded by aficionados as one of the greatest live blues albums of all-time, and that is available elsewhere. The music contained within this anthology is both of its time, and like the greatest of all music, will never date and continue eternally to appeal to curious individuals who are interested in learning more about the human condition. A splendid sixteen page booklet authored by Paul Watts sets the scene as well as anyone could possibly do, and it is little wonder that Robert Nighthawk entered into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1983. If any musician deserved that accolade, Nighthawk certainly did. For those wishing to discover more about Robert Nighthawk’s life and career, there is a website by Jeff Harris that can be unreservedly recommended at: http://nighthawk.sundayblues.org/united.htm

Tim Stenhouse

Al Lindsey ‘Versatility’ CD/DIG (Private Press) 4/5

It’s a tough time to be a person of colour over the pond at the minute, the current keeper of the big chair is the most overtly racist individual to rise to that seat of power in my lifetime, it appears he’s taking the USA back to the days of the Klan, his dismantling of Obama’s legacy is most concerning. I can’t remember another politician anywhere in the western world who has openly displayed such hatred and total disdain of non white folks. Increasingly, black singers are utilising their releases to protest and so listening to the spoken monologue ‘Versatility’ really does get you thinking. He addresses Hatred, Mass Shootings, Deportation, Racism, Immigration, imploring us all to get back to caring and sharing for one another and celebrating diversity; very powerful stuff faced with the backdrop of a man who refuses to protect the young and innocent from being washed in their own blood because guns have more rights than people. Moving effortlessly into the beauty of the music in the shape, ‘Versatility’, a song preaching harmony and love with stunning sax and an insidious head nodding groove, there are three songs on here that could grace any soul album and hold their own, ‘Heavenly Thoughts’ and ‘Midsummer Dream’ both meander along going no-where any time soon, his voice is in fine form. He’s a southern soul man but has not gone over the top on the southern feel, it’s all very radio friendly, in fact soul radio has already been plundering this, ‘Changed’ the third in the highlighted trio is a wonderful gospel drenched vehicle and sits on here perfectly. If you want to dance then get your ears and feet around ‘Cotton Candy’ which is destined to be one of the dancers of the year – I was really surprised not to see this on the recent Luxury Soul album, as it would sit in that compilation beautifully with its sing a long chorus and insistent rhythm. Now Prince never sat well in my world, he most certainly was never soulful so listening to the Prince like ‘Exponentially’ isn’t an easy listen but I must admit it’s not as bad as it could have been, just, however there is a throwaway track on here and again it may just be me having listened too and collected Reggae all my life I have ever felt at ease when soul-men have a go, ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ is cringe worthy when someone shouts “Shabba Shabba”, I’m sorry I’ve skipped it twice now, a complete waste really as he’s asking Mr President all manner of questions, set in different clothes this might well have been a great listen. The album finishes with a real wailer entitled ‘Home’, which reveals what some have known over a number of his previous albums, that he is blessed with a serious voice, and when allowed to, he can wail with the best of them, this is a cracking album and one I most definitely recommend. CD Baby for the physical folks.

Brian Goucher

Ornette Coleman ‘The Road To Free Jazz – The Early Years 1958-61’ 2CD (Acrobat Music) 4/5

While a mammoth multi-volume CD box set has recently surfaced that sheds new light on the Atlantic years of Ornette Coleman, this double CD set caters for those on a more modest budget, who nevertheless are curious what all the fuss is about and would like an informed overview of the early part of the alto saxophonist’s career. This just also coincidentally happens to be his most accessible period too. Where this compilation comes into its own is in reaching across labels to both Contemporary, for whom Coleman recorded two albums, and Atlantic. Indeed Acrobat seems to be making a virtue more generally in its wider series, of bringing together the music of a single artist and that endeavour, while not altogether pioneering, is to be applauded, and, crucially, provides the listener with a more detailed chronological insight into how the musician was rapidly evolving over a relatively short period in time, here just a four year span.

For this writer, the two earliest albums showcased, ‘Something Else’ and ‘Tomorrow is the Question’, both originally on Contemporary, reveal the umbilical cord link that exists between Coleman and, on the one hand, Charlie Parker, and more generally, with the blues on the other. The lineup on these first two featured established musicians such as drummer Shelly Manne or Billy Higgins and bassist Percy Heath or Red Mitchell, and pianist Walter Norris (on the first album only), which gives the two albums collectively a far more conventional sound in retrospect than one might expect. Among the key numbers on the first, ‘The Blessing’, has remained a favourites among fans and musicians alike, regularly covered by others, while ‘Jayne’ is a personal dedication to Coleman’s wife.

If anything, for many devotees, it is the second album, ‘Tomorrow is the Question’, that is the real debut insofar as it revealed for the first time on record Coleman’s preferred line up of alto, trumpet, bass and drums, dispensing altogether with the use of piano, and freeing up the sound for the use of harmonics, that was to prove to be both a major innovation and polemic, alienating some more mainstream jazz views, while thrilling those in search of something new. Now viewed with the benefit of sixty years or more hindsight, that progression appears both natural, logical and necessary for many of the progressive aspects of jazz that were to follow. Even hard bop practitioners such as Jackie McLean took on board the new approach of Coleman and incorporated it into their own work, thus freshening up their own sounds. In among the evolutionary, and some would say revolutionary sounds, there is music of great beauty and two of Coleman’s most endearing compositions are rightly included, ‘Lovely Woman’ and ‘A Muy Bonita’, the latter a real favourite of this writer.

Signing to Atlantic records under Nesuhi Ertegun, Coleman was joining a rapidly expanding roster of musicians on a label that had first made its name with pop and R&B flavoured artists. The Ertegun brothers were determined to include a larger number of jazz musicians both to promote the music which they genuinely believed in, and to provide intellectual credence to the label. That new line up would henceforth feature the long-term collaboration with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Ed Blackwell (Billy Higgins would perform with them also), and of course Don Cherry. Even now this music still has the capacity to shock and invariably parallels have been made between this perceived more avant-garde form of jazz (and some have questioned whether it even constitutes jazz in the first place) and abstract painting, with Jackson Pollock summoned up as the comparable artist. Four Atlantic albums are showcased here including: ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’; ‘Change of the Century’; ‘This is Our Music’; ‘Free Jazz’. The title track of the last album mentioned itself took up the whole side of the vinyl original and, as a whole, this is uncompromising music that stands the test of time and is profoundly modern in approach, though clearly to these ears still within the jazz tradition, but building new foundation blocks in the process. In sum the music here provides a useful introduction to the freer sounds that Coleman and associates would personalise on Atlantic and other labels such as Impulse and even Blue Note, and if any neophyte jazz fan wanted to start anyway to better understand the music of Ornette Coleman, then here would be an ideal starting point.

Tim Stenhouse

Lester Young ‘The Lester Young Collection 1936-47’ CD (Acrobat Music) 4/5

When smaller jazz formations emerged out of the swing big band era, two key leader saxophonists would dominate as soloists: Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Both enjoyed their own set of fans and it is the latter who is the subject of an early career re-evaluation here. As with other musicians in the same series, Acrobat have seen fit to incorporate the work of Young on a variety of labels, with Aladdin, Brunswick, Savoy and Vocalon among the most prestigious, and consequently this enables the listener to better understand how the musician progressed over time. Lester Young is an interesting musicians to study, partly because of his bohemian lifestyle, like that of his close friend and collaborator, Billie Holiday, but also because his career has been viewed as inconsistent, with the early part of his career regarded as the most coherent. While this writer retains a great admiration for the latter work for the Verve label, it is true to state that Young was especially innovative and creative in his work from the mid-1930s and throughout the 1940s. Some of his strongest compositions date from this era and on this well served compilation, we hear near definitive versions of ‘Lester Leapin’ (1938) and ‘Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie’ (1939), and it is the smaller group combos, such as the Count Basie Kansas City Seven that we hear here, with the likes of Buck Clayton, Freddie Green and Jo Jones among others, all in their youthful prime, as well as some orchestral sides. Three songs feature the voice of Billie Holiday, with ‘The Very Thought of You’ and ‘When You’re Smiling’, the pick of the bunch. A fine introduction to the early years, but do not overlook the mature Lester Young sound of the 1950s on Verve.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Disques Debs International Vol.1 – An Island Story: Biguine, Afro Latin and Musique Antillaise 1960-1972’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Strut) 5/5

Take off: Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. Destination: Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. This musical journey into the Tropics goes counter to the French Republican tradition of the ‘one and indivisible’ Republic. Officially, all part of what constitutes the French Republic(metropolitan and the Dom-Tom, or overseas territories) is one and the same. In practice, that means sending a post card from Marseilles to Paris costs the same as from Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre and even school exams are supposed to be identical (which social media has rendered problematic). The reality, however, is altogether different. Guadeloupe is situated not in Europe, but in the Caribbean and is surrounded by English, Spanish and French speakers from neighbouring islands such as Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts, Martinique and the Dominican Republic, who are former colonies of European and North American nations. Linguistically, French is the official language, but Creole patois is the everyday vernacular which has a lyrical lit and incorporates French with Caribbean and African influences, just like the cuisine and cultural mores (women carrying a basket full of produce on their head for example).

Musically, the islands are a vibrant hotch-potch of inter-weaving influences (what the French term a métissage) and that is what gives Guadeloupe’s music scene at once a wonderful cosmopolitan and at the same time deliciously rustic touch in the sense of a respectful tradition. Ask a metropolitan Frenchman or woman what they know about the music of Guadeloupe and you will most like receive a non-plussed Gallic shrug. Ask them, though, if they like Henri Salvador, and they might well smile and evoke his crooner image mixed with the exotic instrumentation. The fact of the matter is that the rich musical tradition of Guadeloupe is virtually unheard of in France outside of the French Caribbean community, largely resident in parts of Paris, and this is why this new and, to these ears, first anthology by a British record label is so important; it sheds vital light on a part of the world that France has chosen to ignore.

Strut has contacted one of the key labels on the island, Disque Debs, which was founded at the end of the 1950s by the late Henri Debs, who operated from a shop in the capital, Pointe-à-Pitre. This is in fact intended as the first of three volumes and focuses on the period between 1960 and 1972. The names are as mood evoking as the music itself and, interestingly includes the label owner who also doubled up as a musician with both a quintet and sextet plus singer. French and Spanish names are interchangeable on the stunning beautiful tones of the duet of Georges Tinedor and Manuela Pioche, with ‘Collié Et Zanno’. It is the storytelling and down to earth quality of many of the songs that is so endearing to this writer, but Cyril Diaz et son Orchestre leave us in no doubt with ‘Feeling Happy’, and why not when the grooves are this compelling. Folkloric African roots predominate on ‘You You Matayango’, by Sydney Lérémon Et Ses Amis Du Calvaire Baie-Mahault, with a group name that opens up a Pandora’s box of possible meanings. Several numbers have a strong Cuban underpinning, whether that be the use of Afro-Cuban percussion, or just a stunning piano vamp. A Cuban guajiro is conjured up on ‘Lan Misè’ by Geno Exilie, but the sudden change of tempo is a delight to behold, while it is the sound of the trumpet that soars on ‘A Mon Ami Lucien Jolibois’ by the inventive voice of Raymond Cicault et son Orchestre Volcan, and her the Calypsonian influence makes its presence subtly felt. Elsewhere, the merengue of the Dominican Republic exerts its influence on the distinctly echo chamber sound of ‘Travail Z’enfants! Chantez Après!’, and more obviously on Rémy Mondey’s ‘Merengue Mondey’. As far as leader Henri Guédon is concerned he clearly was a devotee of Latin jazz, with George Shearing and Cal Tjader likely influences and that is reflected on the vibes plus Latin rhythm section present on the Afro-Cuban flavoured ‘Van Van’. No less than two personal contributions are made by owner Henri Debs’ own participation, including the vocals of Paul Blamar on ‘Moin ÇÉ on Maléré’, which is a gem of a tune and a linguists delight for discovering how French Creole functions. Twenty-one carefully selected numbers in total, and all beautifully concise.

Extensive liner notes rightly place the music in its historical and socio-political context. With another two volumes still to come in due course, this is an exciting time to be discovering the musical roots of Guadeloupe. One of the year’s most enjoyable discoveries and likely to see even an old cynic into a hedonistic tropical mode.

Tim Stenhouse

Lakeside ‘Shot Of Love’ / ‘Rough Riders’ / ‘Fantastic Voyage’ 2CD (Robinsong) 3/5

The Sound of Solar records was a Los Angeles based company co-founded by Dick Griffey and Leon Sylvers (more of the latter in a future review) that came about during the end of the disco era, combining elements of that genre with soulful collective harmonies. In the case of Dayton, Ohio, band Lakeside, however, that groove had a tougher funk-tinged edge and it is their sound between 1978 and 1980 that is the focus of this mini retrospective of the band’s output over a three year period. The group were founded back in 1968 and were called the Ohio Lakeside Express which was quite a mouthful. That name was truncated to Lakeside Express when they signed to Motown in 1975. Unfortunately for the band, they were signed at the same time as the Dynamic Superiors who comfortably fitted into the expanded Motown sound of the 1970s and Motown simply did not know what to do with the Ohio band. Thankfully, Solar records did and the name was reduced further to simply Lakeside. They debuted with ‘All The Way Live’ (1978) and it was the heavy funk bass line meets space invaders sounds, couple with chanted harmonies that first attracted attention, and on the title track this resulted in an immediate impact, the single climbing all the way into the top five of the R&B chart. That said, the band were fully capable of a more soulful output and, ‘Hold On Tight’, is a lovely mid-tempo number that borrows from the Earth, Wind and Fire sound prevalent at the time. Groups such as the Ohio Players were adaptable to dance and ballad numbers and this made eminent sense when they were performing live, even if funk fans wanted only the grittier songs. Close vocal harmonies are also a feature of ‘One Minute After Midnight’, which acted as a first statement of intent from a self-contained group that did not really conform to what became known as the Solar sound. That the group were listening carefully across the R & B spectrum is indicated further in the ballad, ‘Give In To Love’, which to these ears owes a large debt to Barry White.

Less immediate than its predecessor, ‘Rough rider’ (1979), was in retrospect too hastily recorded to follow up on the success of, ‘All the way live’, and there was no obvious contender for a chart entry. At least one number had a dose of the funk about it, though, hinting at Rick James, and, ‘Pull my strings’, became a second top ten R&B hit for Lakeside. A final recording on this selection, ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1980) pulled together the soulfulness of the first album and still managed to come up with an uptempo funk number in the title track. The single went straight to the number one spot in the R&B chart, while the album crossed over into the top twenty of the Billboard pop chart and it could easily feature on any best of funk cuts from the 1970s or 1980s, with a highly distinctive bass line growl that caught on with pop fans. As a whole, this is the strongest album for dance material, even if nothing matches ‘Fantastic Voyage’ itself, and the soul ballads are still up to par with ‘I Need You’ and ‘I Love Everything You Do’, the pick of the bunch. Historical notes on the band come courtesy of the pen of Christian John Wikane and there is a plethora of bonus 7″ cuts of the singles, with the 12″ funk tracks being the album ones. Lakeside followed in the tradition of other like-minded groups such as Cameo, Con Funk Shun and even The Gap Band, though it would be the former and the latter that would enjoy the biggest success with a pop audience, especially in the UK.

Tim Stenhouse

Jean Carne ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head: The Anthology’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 5/5

Singer Jean Carne occupies a special place in the hearts of UK vocal jazz and soul devotees alike. For the former, her vocals on the Black Jazz albums by Doug Carn were an introduction for many to a more spiritually oriented form of jazz and on an independent label that barely registered among older mainstream jazz fans in the 1970s. For soul and jazz fans, the Philadelphia International recordings blended the smoother instrumentation of that label’s collective of musicians while adding some soulful lyrics from the top songwriters of the day. The result was both a critical and commercial success and something about the sheer vulnerability and range of that voice endeared fans and that devotion to her music has continued ever since. Street Sounds brought out a wonderful two LP set of her work in the 1980s, but bizarrely this is the first UK overarching anthology on CD that covers three labels, even though some of the Philly International, TSOP and Motown albums have been re-issued on various labels in the States.

Similar to Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne’s career straddled different if complementary genres in jazz and soul, yet unlike Hyman, record companies were more comfortable in allowing Carne to exert her judgement in fusing the two. Maybe, it was simply that in the case of Philadelphia International, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had a built-in admiration for jazz and incorporated elements of both genres into their music. Certainly, members of MFSB were all jazz devotees to the core and saw no ambiguity whatsoever in recording on dancefloor albums as well as more sedate and soulful or jazzy affairs. That is reflected in the varying tempos of this selection and the one common denominator is the quality of the music that never ever diminishes. Thus, the soul-dance anthems still retain a deeply jazz-inflected quality with ‘Free Love’, ‘If You Wanna Go Now’ and especially ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head’, all outstanding and definitive examples of how jazz and soul can combine effortlessly when in the right hands, and make no mistake about it, Jean Carne fully comprehended both and was totally at ease in either idiom. A stunningly sophisticated cut in, ‘My Love Don’t Come Easy’, has become one of several soul-boy classics here, while for modern soul fans, it may just be the duet with Glenn Jones, ‘Sweet and Wonderful’, that just wins the day. For this writer of all the dance-oriented numbers, one nevertheless stands out and that is the immortal, ‘Was That All It Was’, which fittingly here is heard in all its 12″ glory. That beats a close contender in second position and still an all-time modern soul classic, ‘I’m Back For More’, duetting this time round with Al Johnson.

Quality soul ballads are not short in number either, with ‘Time Waits For No One’, and a real favourite of this writer in the socio-politically tinged, ‘A Lonely Girl In A Cold, Cold World’, while The O’Jays’ ‘Love Don’t Love Nobody’ deserves the highest praise and Jean Carne could always count on the very best songwriters from Gamble and Huff to McFadden and Whitehead, through to Cynthia Biggs and Dexter Wansel.

There is, however, another side to Jean Carne that cannot be ignored and that is her jazz side. The second CD rightly focuses on some of her collaborative work, guesting with other musicians. With Norman Connors, a stunning laid back rendition of the Jobim classic, ‘Dindi’, here receives the sparsest interpretation one could possibly imagine and yet still manages to capture the very essence of the song’s meaning, while with the same drummer as leader, Carne recorded another classy jazz number in, ‘Valentine Love’. A personal favourite is the reprise as a medley of two songs Jean Carne cut at Black Jazz records. As a young singer with then husband Doug, Carne would take a jazz instrumental and add lyrics to it. While not reaching quite the spiritual heights of the original ‘Revelation’/’Infant Eyes’, the latter a Wayne Shorter Blue Note original, still has the ability to move one’s soul. Factor in elsewhere her later work from the mid-1980s and early 1990s with Roy Ayers and Dexter Wansel respectively and you have a supremely rounded overview of the singer. This project was clearly a labour of love for anthology compiler and sleeve notes writer, David Nathan, who interviewed her on many occasions and became a good personal friend. If you have longed for your absolute must have Jean Carne songs in one place with no filler whatsoever, then this is now your first port of call. That said, the original albums are so strong, you will undoubtedly want them too.

Tim Stenhouse

Norman Connors ‘Love From the Sun’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Considered by some as one of the holy grails of 1970s jazz, this album, originally on the Buddah label, is most definitely one of the lesser known and harder to find albums by drummer Norman Connors, whose jazz output is better known with recordings such as the debut as a leader, ‘Dance of Magic’ (Cobblestone, 1973) and in the same year, ‘Dark of Light’ (Buddah, 1973). While recent anthologies have focused more attention on his work with soul singers, Connors was at heart a jazz musician, albeit one with the open-minded attitude and commercial nous to realise that collaborating with soul musicians would do his career no harm at all. In the early 1970s, Connors was gaining invaluable experience working with one of the spiritual prince of the jazz scene in Pharoah Sanders. Indeed, the drummer is to be found on both of the Impulse albums that Sanders recorded in 1973, the wonderful ‘Live at the East Village’, and in the studio, ‘Village of the Pharoahs’. On this outstanding re-issue album in pristine 180g vinyl and with the original cover sleeve, that also dates from 1973, Norman Connors displayed for the very first time his ability to showcase a new vocal talent in a jazz milieu, in this case, the immensely talented voice of Dee Dee Bridgewater. It was a skill that he would repeat on his later 1970s albums with the likes of Jean Carne, Phyllis Hyman as well as soulful singers of the calibre of Michael Henderson, Glenn Jones and not forgetting the Jones Girls. On this occasion, however, Connors was surrounded by the who’s who of jazz musicians at a time when the more experimental and spiritual side of independent jazz labels was being promoted at grass roots level (i.e. other than on the majors) and his considerable sidemen duties meant that he had an impressive roster of musical friends from which to select. Keyboardist and leader in his own right, Herbie Hancock, thus shares multi-layered keyboard duties with Onaje Allan Gumbs, while bassist Buster Williams and percussionists Kenneth Nash and Bill Summers complete the extended the rhythm section. Williams and Summers were in fact regular contributors to the recordings of Hancock, the former in his more straight ahead jazz albums, while Summers was an integral member of the seminal Headhunters jazz-funk band. Eddie Henderson was one of the key figures of 1970s jazz and operates here on cornet, flugelhorn and trumpet, while Carlos Garnett was omnipresent as a leader for the Muse label (and his own albums as a leader have rightly been re-issued) and here he performs on both soprano and tenor saxophones. For a touch of subtlety in the use of layered textures, flautist Hubert Laws and violinist and cellist Nathan Rubin and Terry Adams were called upon to help create a more orchestral sound, and this is a technique that McCoy Tyner deployed at the time on his groundbreaking Milestone albums and was truly pioneering at the time. It is equally, and revealingly, a sound that now in 2018 is being revisited once more by Kamasi Washington. Rounding off the extended band formation was the then young and debutant vocalist, Dee Dee Bridgewater, with soul musician Skip Drinkwater producing the album. The music is uncompromising and, since several of the musicians were themselves leaders making their way, Connors wisely facilitated their own compositions to be aired, though he did offer up a slice of pan-Afro-Latin grooves on, ‘Drums Around the World’. in the 1950s jazz drummers such as Art Blakey and Max Roach became interested in exploring how the communicative sound of the drum was translated in both African and Latin rhythms, and Connors as a creative and curious musician, was no different in seeking answers to some fundamental musical questions.

This writer had not previously heard the Hancock piece that opens up the album in, ‘Revelation’, which is an impressive number with wordless vocals from Bridgewater who excels throughout and regularly takes centre stage. A real highlight is the title track sung by Dee Dee Bridgewater, and it is no coincidence that she was just about to unleash her own debut as a leader the following year in Japan which would include her stunning take on, ‘Afro Blue’. That is richly deserving of a re-issue on vinyl since, originally, it only came out in Asia and is now highly prized, and even the Japanese CD re-issue is hard to find. If uptempo virtuosity is your nirvana, then satisfaction is likely to be guaranteed on ‘Kumakucha ‘(the sun has risen’) with a rapid piano solo from Hancock, propelled by a dazzling collective of rhythm section and percussion. Another element of the album to savour is the participation of Carlos Garnett who delivers some stunning solos, as illustrated on his own ‘Carlos II’ and on the final opus, ‘Holy Waters’, when he enjoys a fruitful duet with Bridgewater.

Norman Connors would branch out into more soulful territory as the 1970s unfolded and become better known as a producer of others and even as soloist he would veer away from harder edged jazz to distinctly smoother tones, but before he did, he made one last attempt at a more spiritual shade of jazz on the 1978 Arista album, ‘Love Will Find a Way’, where his former Impulse leader, Pharoah Sanders, was now featured as guest saxophonist.

Tim Stenhouse

Martin Speake ‘Intention’ CD/DIG (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

When a locally based jazz scene suddenly becomes vibrant and attracts the attention of the wider non-specialist broadsheet press, as is the case at present with the London jazz scene, sometimes some of the most interesting and individual voices can consequently get lost in the media rush to discover the young Turks, and in the case of alto saxophonist, composer and educator, Martin Speake, that would be a great shame. For those not familiar with his work, a good decade ago, Speake had already progressed to the ECM label where he recorded an album in 2006, ‘Change Of Heart, with Bobo Stenson in the main pianist role and that collaboration is reprised here. That experience with the venerable German label has clearly served him well and on his latest album, ‘Intention’, with the creative Ubuntu label that prides itself on the quality of its musicians, he has both a long-term friend and collaborator, pianist Ethen Iverson, on board. The quartet is completed by bassist Fred Thomas and drummer James Madden. All bar one of the compositions are originals and the album itself is self-produced. The one standard, ‘Dancing In The Dark’, receives a respectful and tasteful reading, with alto in gentle mode.

As with distinctively individual voices, the musical influences tend to be outside their own instrument and here those influences include John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano, with the Frisell/Lovano/Motian trio albums key in informing the intimacy of the quartet sound. That said, there are shades of Ornette Coleman on both the melodic, ‘Spring Dance’, with some deft percussive accompaniment on drums, and the piano out at times, and, ‘Charlie’s wig’, which in tone harks back to those early Contemporary albums of Coleman. A stunning duet between Iverson and Speake on ‘The Heron’, is a real highlight, recalling in part the wonderful work of Hank Jones and Joe Lovano. That musical relationship between Ethan Iverson and Martin Speake goes all the way back to 1990, when they met a local arts centre in Canada, while studying with no less than Steve Coleman with his M-Base work an undercurrent of influence for a good few of the younger generation of British jazz musicians.

Musicians of the quality of Martin Speake should not be overlooked in the current plethora of British jazz recordings coming out. They make a vital contribution to the movement as a whole and are fully deserving of our attention. A real grower of an album.

Tim Stenhouse

Charles Lloyd and The Marvels + Lucinda Williams ‘Vanished Gardens’ LP/CD (Blue Note) 4/5

Multi-reedist Charles Lloyd is now perceived as a doyen of the US music tradition and the ambition here clearly is to portray him as an elder statesman of US roots music, bringing together disparate elements of the scene, with blues and jazz legitimate and logical bedfellows, but with the added inclusion of folk-blues-rock singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. In actual fact, that collaboration is no mere manufactured meeting of minds, but rather partly comes out of their common southern States roots, and partly also in practical terms from Lloyd hearing an album by Williams, ‘Car wheels on a gravel road’, which he enjoyed, then catching up with the singer at a Marvels concert in Santa Barbara. That in turn led to Williams inviting Lloyd to one of her concerts, an invitation that was returned in kind by Lloyd. For the latest recording, Charles Lloyd is once again accompanied by the Marvels, with the ever excellent Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on double bass and Eric Harland on drums

The album is noteworthy equally in that this year represents the eightieth year of Charles Lloyd on this planet and it is a career that has witnessed a meteoric rise to fame in the mid-late 1960s before a prolonged and self-enforced retirement ensued in the late 1960s and pretty much throughout the 1970s. Then a chance encounter with French pianist Michel Petrucciani encouraged Lloyd to gradually return to recording and in 1989 commenced a lengthy and triumphant resurrection of that same career with a whole new audience on the ECM label. Fast forward to the present and Charles Lloyd is now enjoying a new career on Blue Note. On ‘Blues For Langston and La Rue’, Charles Lloyd on flute and Bill Frisell on guitar operate in tandem on a lovely, relaxed number and it is lovely to hear Lloyd for once just on the flute and he is a fine exponent. The music works best when Lloyd and Frisell play together off one another as on the intimate cover of ‘Monk’s Mood’, and this is really a showcase for the guitarist to shine and it is a full two minutes before Frisell even states the theme. Lloyd then enters the fray on warm tenor. Ideally, a duet album between the two would make for a scintillating recording at some point. Lucinda Williams has an interesting background in that her father was a literature professor and thus she inhabited an environment where creative writing was positively encouraged. Little wonder, then, that she should choose to adapt a poem by Miller Williams for the tribute to him, ‘Dust’, which has also been recorded previously on her 2016 album, ‘The Ghosts of Highway 20’. It is indeed her gravelly delivery that permeates, ‘Angel’, and in some respects she is a not dissimilar voice from a feminine perspective of that of Bob Dylan. Indeed, one wonders whether a Dylan-Lloyd collaboration might be on the cards given Dylan’s more recent tribute album to the music of Frank Sinatra. Both Frisell and Lloyd are the most sensitive of accompanists to Lucinda Williams, but it has to be said that the combination does take a little time to seep into the subconsciousness, especially given the very different accompaniment on her recent albums with a strong blues-rock element. That said, Lloyd has previously played alongside singers, with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones guesting on one of his most recent Blue Note albums, and a wonderful pairing of the reedist with Greek singer, Maria Farantouri, on a live ‘Athens Concert’ in 2011 on ECM. Lucinda Williams started her career covering classic folk-blues so the meeting of musical minds is not that great a gap to bridge, if at all. What this new studio recording marks is the next phase in the collaborative process between Charles Lloyd and both the Marvels and Lucinda Williams, and a such it can be recommended without hesitation.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993