Caetano Veloso ‘Abraçaço’ (Universal) 4/5

Caetano Veloso_CD Abraçaço Luva

The Brazilian musical legend that is Caetano Veloso, who is the natural successor to Joao Gilberto and has carved out his own unique voice and sound over five decades, returns with an album that is brimming with vitality and he succeeds in bring thoroughly modern in approach, while retaining a classical underpinning that has been a hallmark of his highly eclectic career. Co-produced by son Moreno Veloso and Pedro Sa and with bassist and keyboardist Ricardo das Gomes a major contribnutor to the overall sound, the album has all the feel of a singer in his thirties rather than one about to enter into his seventh decade on the planet. Veloso Sr’s ability to combine retro and modern so effortlessly is illustrated on the repetitive chorus and pumping bassline of ‘Parabéns’. Subtlety in the fusing of genres and in the phrasing of lyrics has been a trait of Caetano Veloso’s work from the mid-1970s onwards and on the title track, he manages to weave in some gentle reggae rhythms in bass and drum without it ever sounding like a pastiche and the delivery is very understated. This is one of the most lyrical numbers on the album and a definite key song. Veloso has never been afraid of experimenting and throughout his career, his music has taken unusual twists and turns. The stripped down guitar and vocals that start off on ‘Quando a galo cantou’ typifies this and eventually the atmosphere changes with a dissonant guitar and percussion entering, the song thereafter evolves into something more experimental in nature while still maintaining its melodicism. In a more traditional vein, the gentle neo-bossa of ‘Vinco’ is delightful and here the singer is accompanaied by guitar and minimalist percussion. Eleswhere there are frequent shifts in mood and tempo on ‘A bossa nova é fodà’ and a staccato rhythm with Indian classical and indie rock on ‘Funk melódico’. Another highly enjoyable outing which indicates that Caetano Veloso is still finding challenging new avenues to explore. Tim Stenhouse

James Hunter Six ‘Minute by Minute’ (Decca) 4/5

Possessing a raspy vocal delivery in the classic 1950s and 1960s R ‘n’ B tradition, and with impressive songwriting credentials, James Hunter is the consumate performer and it is surprising that he is not known and appreciated by a wider audience. His music is immediately accessible, yet rooted in the soul-blues tradition with the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby Bland formative influences. This latest releases follows on from the excellent preceding albums, ‘People gonna talk’ from 2006 and ‘The hard way’ from 2008. While both were fine all round albums, arguably this new recording is the strongest thus far with the arrangements and instrumentation tighter and expertly executed by a band that has undergone a few changes in personnel over the last decade, but in essence the sound is unchanged. Matters kick off with a punch on the raucous hammond organ and bassline of ‘Chicken switch’ which features some lovely piano vamps. Quite possibly this writer’s favourite is the minor theme ‘Heartbreaker’ with an intoxicating rhythm guitar that ceases to disappear into the background and a soulful saxophone solo. Likewise the light ska-inflected drums and piano blues that permeate ‘Let the monkey ride’ are irresistable. Latin hues are in evidence on the number ”The gyspy’ with a underlying guitar riff that recalls ‘Tequila’ while the shuffling beat of ‘Goldmine’ typifies the professionalism of the musicianship on offer. James Hunter is probably best known for regularly opening as a live act for Van Morrison, but on this evidence he certainly merits a place in your multiple listening channels all on his own.

Tim Stenhouse

Boris Midney ‘Disco Recharge: ‘Companion’/’Double Discovery’ 2 CD (Harmless) 4/5

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Russian born producer, arranger and jazz trumpeter Boris Midney is one of the more unusual converts to the disco idiom. He was conservatory trained in his native country with both parents being professional musicians. However, he did not want to remain under Communist rule with its restrictions on individual freedom and instead defected to the USA via Tokyo. Thereafter he made his name as one of the principal musical architects of what has come to be called symphonic disco. This was typified by the USA-European Connection sound which hits the dancefloors in the mid-1970s. This latest re-issue in the truly excellent and pioneering Disco Recharge series takes us five years forward to 1981 when disco was officially dead with the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign having succeeded in taking the genre off the main pop charts. Those in the know knew better, however, and so captivating a music form simply changed its name into a plethora of sub-genres and went underground where it has thrived ever since. This is where the album ‘Companion’ comes into the equation. Originally released on the French Barclay label in 1981 and now a rare original on vinyl, it featured some of the trademark Midney classy arrangements, but given an early 1980s makeover with a synth undercurrent that is not unlike that found on the Gary’s Gang singles. Key numbers include ‘There’s a way’ which has a pared down feel and is in fact a reworking of a song from the second USA-European Connection album, ‘There’s a way into my heart’. The 12″ take on ‘Living up to love’ is included with its lengthy piano intro as is the extended version of ‘Step on out’. Some might argue convincingly that this form of disco lacked in soulfulness and in comparison to artists on the Prelude label such as Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and Double Exposure maybe they have a case, but then Midney was carving out his own distinctive sound.

The second CD brings together the disparate elements of the various projects that Boris Midney was involved in at the time and crucially features one of his most endearing and beloved disco anthems, ‘D-D-D-Dance’ by Double Discovery available here in five separate versions. For something slightly different, the mid-paced ‘Thanks for loving me’ has become a rare groove collectable and is as soulful as Midney ever got. Three takes on ‘Can’t he find another one’ make CD2 a DJ’s delight. Excellent inner sleeve notes by disco musicologist Alan Jones and as ever immaculate presentation both visually and in terms of essential vinyl details.

Tim Stenhouse

THP Orchestra ‘Disco Recharge: ‘Early Riser’/’Two Hot for Love’ 2CD (Harmless) 4/5

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Disco had its all-time classic anthems and one of the biggest underground hits to go public was the THP Orchestra and the fifteen and a half minute extended version of ‘Two hot for love’. This magnificent opus to dancefloor mania is included here along with no less than five other versions, with two 12″ takes including a Pete Waterman nine minute plus edit and the original UK disco which weighed in at just under seven minutes. The original divides up into four parts, possibly modeled in this respect alone on John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ album with climax and resolution seeing the lengthy song out. The number features an elongated percussive intro that sets the scene for what is to follow and some tasty brass and flute that Canadian producers Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison tastefully put together.

The first CD focuses on the ‘Early Riser’ album and there are echoes of the ‘Shaft’ main theme in ‘Theme from S.W.A.T.’ which is end of era blaxpolitation movie sound material. In Canada 60,000 copies of the single were sold in the first week alone. More jazz-inflected grooves abound on the flute led instrumental ‘Dawn Patrol’ while ‘Crazy, Crazy’ is something aking to the underlying rhythm to ‘Car Wash’ theme meets the Stax horn section head-on. One feature of the disco era was the ability and willingness of producers to rework seemingly alien music to the dancefloor into an altogether groovier setting and the Archies ‘Sugar, Sugar’ was an obvious example. Here the innocent children’s song is given a complete makeover complete with vibes and collective female vocals. Even more unlikely a contender for dancefloor action is the Brazilian bossa nova number ‘Shadow of your smile’ which has a false ballad intro that immediately leads into classic disco terrain led by rhythm guitar. A plethora of 7″ and 12″ variations stretch out the original album tracks.

The second CD is dominated by the aforementioned anthemic ‘Two hot for love’, but elsewhere a revisiting of another Brazilian classic, ‘Black Orpheus’ receives the uptempo treatment as does a slightly more discofied ‘Manhã de Carnaval’. Authenticity was the key to the very best of disco and the album cover typified the hedonistic era with a diva dressed in lycra in front of a 1970s New York-style red bus with mist rising up from the ground. The detailed inner sleeve notes also include vinyl covers of the 12″ alternatives and back album cover. Tim Stenhouse

June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren ‘Quercus’ (ECM) 5/5

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Back in 2005 the trio of Iain Ballamy, June Tabor and Huw Warren was formed and together they recorded a well received studio album ‘At the wood’s heart’ under Tabor’s name for the prestigious historic folk label Topic. What was little known at the time is that when the trio went on a UK tour in 2006, live recordings were made of the proceedings. Manfred Eicher went back to Munich and mastered these in the studio and the results are now before us in this new album which has taken over six years to surface and, though a live recording in theory, in practice has all the feel of the ECM studio sound and is devoid of any audience participation. Musically the album brings together classic material from the folk repertoire such as poetry and arrangements of traditional songs with a jazz sensibility on piano and saxophone and this fusion works incredibly well, and, in addition, it manages to succeed in respecting both traditions while alienating neither. A good deal of credit is down to the musicians themselves. Pianist Huw Warren has performed in a variety of contexts including new music and avant-garde jazz and his essentially minimalist approach to playing the piano here is totally appropriate and provides the ideal counterfoil to Tabor’s vocal delivery. Saxophonist Iain Ballamy has sufficient space to engage in interplay with the pianist while at the same time playing a supportive role to Tabor. A sumptuous interpretation of Robert Bruns’ ‘Lassie lie near me’ is unquestionably an album highlight and it is beautifully arranged with a fine vocal intro by Tabor and a lingering saxophone solo from Ballamy that ends off a truly memorable piece. Arguably thwe finest ballad on the set is ‘The lads in their hundreds’ which is deeply melodic and a hook of a chorus that Tabor delivers effortlessly while piano and saxohpone have the opportuntiy to stretch out. There are shades of fellow label musician Charles Lloyd in Ballamy’s lyrical sound on the delicious ‘Near but far away’ and he sounds as though he has been listening to Miles Davis circa ‘Sketches of Spain’ on ‘Come away death’ where piano and saxophone combine to perfection. June Tabor has attempted a variety of styles throughout her career and these have ranged from the balladry of Kurt Weill during the Weimar era through to collaborations with the Oysterband that has been righlty praised by the folk cognescenti. This latest departure is a total triumph and dmeonstrates that folk and jazz can be very complimentary bedfellows as Joni Mitchell and Oregon have demonstrated in the past. One of the year’s most revelatory recordings. The trio will be touring in mid-April in England.

Tim Stenhouse

Madeleine Peyroux ‘The Blue Room’ (Decca) Limited Edition CD + DVD 4/5

Way back at the the beginning of the 1960s, Ray Charles recorded two sides of music that represented a radical departure from his usual repertoire and, given the heightened tensions over race issues at the time, this was a brave attempt to attract new white audiences and ones that may have been potentially hostile to a black singer encroaching upon what was perceived as traditonally ‘white only’ music. These classic albums were titled ‘Modern Sounds of Country and Western Music’ and with the benefit of time have rightly become regarded as among Charles’ most loved sides, winning over even the most dieheard of country fans. It was as a tribute to these recordings, that producer Larry Klein and singer Madeleine Peyroux set about recapturing that essence, but in a modern day setting. Rather than reworking the songs contained on those two albums, more contemporary ones were used with just a few of the originals remaining. One of these was ‘I can’t stop loving you’ and is an atmospheric take that sticks close to the original, but adds an acoustic soulful input that lends a lovely gospel edge ot proceedings, especially with some tasty licks on the organ from keyboardist Larry Goldings. As with the original, strings have been added, but these are both sparingly and subtly used by jazz arranger Vince Mendoza and there is ample space for other instrumentalist to shine. A contender for most compelling cover is the gorgeous rendition of the Everley Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’ which is taken at a decidely slower tempo than per usual and is given the Muscle Shoals treatment on electric piano while there is an organic country-blues feel to ‘Guilty’. Another winner is ‘You don’t know me’ which features a
lovely trumpet solo by John ‘Scrapper’ Sneider and in her use of phrasing here Peyroux sounds most like Billie Holiday. It is a superb interpretation and a definite album highlight. For gentle ballad artistry, the take on Don Gibson’s ‘I can’t stop loving you’ is a delicious rendition and this downtempo version with Peyroux’s natural blues-infused voice makes for a listening experience that lingers long in the mind and soul.

Madeleine Peyroux possesses a deeply blues-inflected voice that does sometimes recalls Billie Holiday, though she is certainly no soundalike. Both Peyroux and Klein are to be applauded for the time and effort spent to craft this latest album and it definitely shows. For those purchasing the limited edition CD + DVD, there is the added bonus of a ‘Making of’ documentary that for once departs from the predictable and instead provides a truly in-depth look into the creative process of recording and how the two aforementioned musicians were able to collaborate in spite of having contrasting visions of what was required. Peyroux, in particular, desrves credit for sticking to her guns and stamping her own individual imprint on the project which is anything but a rehashing of Charles’ original and it is all the better for that. Madeleine Peyroux has steadily built up a series of acclaimed albums and this is the fourth in a row under the supervision of Klein and it is a musical marriage that should be continued for some time to come.

Tim Stenhouse

Liane Carroll ‘Ballads’ (Quiet Money) 4/5

London born, but Hastings resident vocalist Liane Carroll once more hooks up with producer James McMillan for a stunning and essentially stripped down take on the ballad repertoire. This is indeed a fine follow up to the the critically acclaimed 2011 CD ‘Up and Down’. Within the limitations of the ballad format, McMillan and Carroll have provided a good deal of variety in the different types of accompaniment and deserve great credit for the amount of thought and attention to detail that has gone into this recording. This is illustrated on the song ‘Here’s to life’ which was famously interpreted by Shirley Horn. Here the very essence of the song is conjured up by Carroll with a memorable delivery that includes accompaniment from muted harmon trumpet, acoustic guitar and vibes. This contrasts beautifully elsewhere with lush brass orchestrations on ‘Only the lonely’ that could very easily have been arranged by one Gil Evans. On ‘Goodbye’ there is the tasteful use of strings with delicate drumming and piano accompaniment while on ‘Mad about the boy’ rather than embellishing the song with strings as Dinah Washington memorably did in the latter part of her career, instead the song is pared down to a piano introduction from guest musicican Gwilym Simcock and a wonderful duet between pianist and vocalist thus ensues. In general pianistic duties are performed with aplomb by Mark Edwards and he is on hand for the collaboration with Carroll on ‘Two lovely people’ which was such a wonderful duet first time round for Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. Perhaps among all the songs performed here, pride of place should go to the gorgeous rendition of ‘My one and only love’ where the deliberate phrasing by Carroll works wonders in transforming the piece and her vocal range is well and truly showcased here, which in fact has never sounded better. For a left-field take, the Todd Rundgren composition ‘Pretending to car’ is a surprise inclusion that features some fine bass clarinet playing from Julian Siegal. While Sarah Vaughan and Dee Dee Bridgewater will remain formative influences on her work, Liane Carroll has her own distinctive voice and it is this which impresses most here. Liane Carroll will perform at selective venues in London during April.

Tim Stenhouse

Los Chinches ‘Fongo’ (Movimientos) 4/5

Los_ChinchesLondon-based group Los Chinches are a multi-national collective comprising three Peruvians, one Columbian , three Brits and a Frenchman. They perform in the retro Chincha style of which fuses the music of the Peruvian Amazon with Columbian cumbia. In pratice this means that psychadelic and surfer guitar influences are incorporated into an essentially traditional Latin rhythm section which bubbles along throughout. Formed in 2009, this is their debut album and they have already performed live at prestigious festivals such as La Linea (the London Latin music festival soon to commence its 2013 edition), Glastonbury and Womad. Overall the music is quirky enough to immediately atttract the listener’s attention and hold it for some time afterwards. The tropical rhythms are uplifting and not in any sense cheesy. These are typified by the catchy intro that leads into ‘Señorita, can you tell?’, or the folksy Tex-Mex sounding ‘Be still my beating Corazon’. There are even hints of Santana in his prime on the driving guitar-led instrumental of the title track, with licks from band leader and guitarist Gareth Finnigan, and only here is there any sense of a cheesy input which is quite deliberate from the 1970s-style keyboards. Surfer guitar sounds are most evident on the instrumental ‘El Longing’ while there are hints of Manu Chao minus the rock element with instead psychadelic guitar (reflected in the stunning cover art) and heavier percussion on ‘Guiro Mero’. Another winner of a song is ‘Mueve Calor’ with an underlying rhythm pattern that recalls ‘Jingo’ and collective vocals in Spanish. In general a feature of this album is that vocals alternate between English and Spanish, sometimes even within the same song. Los Chinches are three-quarters of their way through a UK tour which will continue until mid-May. Catch them live if you can.

Tim Stenhouse

Arturo Sandoval ‘Dear Diz (every day I think of you) (Concord) 4/5

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Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval pays tribute to his musical alma mater Dizzie Gillespie here with an all-star line up that includes vibist Gary Burton, tenorist Bob Mintzer and hammond organist Joey deFrancesco among others. Tight arrangements and warm sound characterise the elegant big band be-bop sound with Afro-Cuban elements never far from the surface and actor/musician Andy Garcia performing competently on bongos. A storming big-band take on ‘Be Bop’ gains in intensity as the number develops and Sandoval pitches in with his trademark high-pitched tone. Afro-Cuban flavours emerge on the reworking of ‘Salt Peanuts(Mani salado)’ which features delightful shifts in time signature and some fine piano playing from Shelly Berg with, in addition, collective chanting that is reminscent of the orginal Gillespie version. Sandoval is very much in his comfort zone in be-bop territory and especially when there is a Spanish tinge in the use of percussion. It is refreshing to hear Burton here in his role of sideman and he is of course a fine soloist in his own right. There is a change of style entirely with a string quartet accompanying Sandoval on ‘Con Alma (with soul)’ and the cello accompaniment of trumpet which is a highlight with this pared down version working extremely well. Arguably the strongest piece on the album is the understated minor theme take on ‘Fiesta Mojo’ which has some lovely orchestrations with a shuffling beat undercurrent and the clarinet of Eddie Daniels. The mid-tempo and Brazilian-flavoured ‘And then she stopped’ remains faithful to the original and Sandoval performs on muted harmon in tandem with deFrancecso to good effect. Brass and flute combine beautifully on ‘Tin Tin Deo’ while another Afro-Cuban jazz standard, ‘A Night in Tunisia’ is suitably dramatic in approach. Nothing revolutionary in the music on offer here, but very tastefully put together and excellent musicianship all round. Tim Stenhouse

Joyce Moreno ‘Tudo’ (Far Out) 4/5

Joyce

Brazilian chanteuse extraordinaire Joyce returns with her first album in ten years of her own compositions and it is a breath of fresh air with some delightful compositions that demonstrate her ability to master a variety of Brazilian sub-genres and using interesting choral variations with male and female backing vocals as well as a larger choral ensemble. Of course samba-jazz is one of her major strengths and there are plenty of examples of this on the new set. The breezy opener and fast-paced hard bossa of ‘Quero ouvir João’ is an excellent song that features an extended piano solo from Helio Alves while the floating mid-paced ‘Dor de amor é ãgua’ include some lovely call and response vocals by Joyce. Joyce is well known for he scatting technique and deploys this to great effect both on the intro to ‘Puro ouro’ and on the atmospheric and percussive ‘Tringuelingue’ which is a fast hard bossa tune.

For something slightly more left field, the lovely acoustic guitar led number ‘Boiou’ is a minor theme piece with jazzy piano in the background that slowly but surely creeps into the subconscious. Equally subtle is the song ‘Claude et Maurice’ which has a waltz-like quality to it and, despite the French title, is sung entirely in Portugese. Mauricio Maestro doubles up on background vocals here for the chorus. Choro is one of Brazil’s oldest musical styles and, with its use of ragtime jazz, is argued by some musicologists to have actually pre-dated the origins of jazz. One of its principal exponents was the multi-reedist Pixinguinha and Joyce makes an excellent attempt at recreating this style in a thoroughly modern context with ‘Choro de anjo’ which features unexpected and unusual rhythms and melodies, but is held together by the fine vocal delivery of the singer. Of the slower material, the jazz-influenced MPB ballad ‘Estrado de graça’ impresses with its delicate use of percussion by Tutti Moreno and the mid-paced ‘Domingo de manhã’ showcases some lovely interplay between guitar and piano. A European tour is already underway and includes three concerts in the UK in mid-April with dates in Manchester, Belfast and London respectively. Not to be missed.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993