Bombay Dub Orchestra ‘3 Cities’ (Six Degrees) 4/5

World roots fusion music is a rapidly expanding sub-genre and keyboardist and programmer Garry Hughes and pianist Andrew Mackay have come up with a bold and fascinating East-West musical cross-pollination that successfully combines the orchestral side of Indian classical with the contemporary beats of electronica. Less jazzy than say Shakti, but using the layered strings as effectively as Alice Coltrane did in the early 1970s, this project is truly twenty-first century in its conception with Indian musicians in three cities, Mumbai, Chennai and London, adding their contributions and the sound as a whole being mixed in Wales. The modal bass line on ‘Strange constellations’ serves as the backbeat for the sensitive combination of keyboards and strings. On the repetitive jazz guitar riff of ‘Man at dusk’ inventive keyboards and Indian bansuri swing in unison. Perhaps, the musical experiments of Bill Laswell have proved inspirational for Hughes and Mackay and this is no more evident than on ‘Journey’ where dub and percusssion fuse with the haunting bansuri over a composition that has an epic cinematic quality to it. Indeed one wonders whether the pair would be usefully employed on a film score at some future recording. Vocals and strings come together effectively on ‘Junaan’. Only on a few tracks does the electronica side take over to the detriment of the traditional Indian one. Overall a supremely confident and well executed project that brings music from the Indian sub-continent into the new millenium while respecting its centuries old tradition.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith and Idrens vol. 2’ (Makasound/Inna de yard) 4/5

Way back in the 1970s it was the tradition for aspiring singers and groups in Jamaica to preview songs in front of a producer in the open air back yards of Kingston. Makasound hit upon the idea of reviving this practice, introducing a series of artists with minimalist instrumentation and showcasing some of roots reggae’s greatest practitioners. Volume two provides highlights of the aforementioned and includes Congo member Cedric Myton, Junior Murvin and Linval Thompson as well as groups of the calibre of the Mighty Diamonds and the Viceroys. Indeed it is some of the lesser known musicians that impress most with Kiddus I supplying a superb performance of his classic ‘Graduation in Zion’ with sparse instrumentation giving this cut a dubby feel that original producer Lee Perry would have appreciated. Of course the major names come up trumps with Chinna radically reworking Junior Byles’ ‘Fade away’ as a ballad and the Viceroys delivering an excellent ‘Yahoo’. Perhaps the most interesting finds are the new artists such as Matthew McAnuff (son of Winston?) with his delicious ‘Be careful’ and Barry Ford of long forgotten English roots group Merger and a lovely guitar/melodica take on ‘Rebel’. As ever the sound quality is excellent and the extra unreleased items make this one for the long, lazy summer days and evenings ahead.

Tim Stenhouse

Baaba Maal ‘On The Road’ (Palm)

A retrospective of his acoustic live shows taken from gigs over the past ten years. Listen to the beautiful kora playing of the late Kaouding Cissoko, or Koni featuring Ernest and then drift into Baaba’s divine vocals and find yourself in a very special place, he’s a genius and please can we have a new CD soon.

Graham Radley

Dexter Gordon ‘Best of’ 3CD (Blue Note France) 4/5

In his early twenties Dexter Gordon was one of the most promising tenor saxophonists alongside Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards on the West coast jazz scene. However, his much heralded first albums gave way to a serious drug addiction during the early to mid 1950s and by the time he had sorted himself out he was hitting the big 40. This is where the collaboration with Blue Note begins and it was a new mature sounding Gordon that emerged to execute a series of immaculate albums for the label. These vary in format from the classic quartet to quintet including trumpet and even quintet with vibes. Six key albums released at the time are previewed alongside two later issues and all cover the period 1961-1965. Most of the favourites are here such as ‘Love for Sale’ and ‘Cheesecake’ from the seminal ‘Go’, the Latinesque hues of ‘Soy Califa’ from ‘Swingin’ Affair’ and even the summery sound of ‘Le Coiffeur’ from ‘Gettin’ Around’. Gordon recorded two albums in Europe for Blue Note and from ‘Our Man in Paris’, ‘Night in Tunisia’ features Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke in an all-star cast. None of the sessions from the film ‘Round Midnight’ in which Gordon starred and earned a grammy nomination are featured, nor are the live sessions from the mid-1960s that Blue Note Denmark issued. A 1965 date with Freddie Hubbard, ‘Clubhouse’ is showcased. The timing overall is generous with even an eighteen minute plus track included in the digipak format. Bizarrely the inner sleeve features Roland Kirk who plays no part in proceedings. Recording dates are indicated, but no notes. This compliation serves as an excellent introduction to the craft of one of jazz’s greatest exponent of the tenor saxophone.

Tim Stenhouse

Laurence Hobgood ‘When the Heart Dances’ (Naim) 4/5

Long-time arranger for Kurt Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood has released an album that highlights his own talents and in the intimate setting of bassist Charlie Haden and the occasional vocals of close collaborator Elling. Stylistically influenced by the romantic tradition of piano jazz playing perfected by Bill Evans, it is the apparent simplicity in style that immeidately impresses. However, in leaving space and playing the right notes lies the real skill and this is one of the album’s strengths. Of the three original compositions, ‘When the heart dances’ stands out and ‘Leatherwood’ reveals the refined side to Hobgood’s writing skills. Otherwise it is an immaculate selection of the American songbook with a reflective and even mournful take on ‘Que sera sera’. Meanwhile Haden supplies his own composition on ‘First song’ on which he takes a lovely bass solo and, as ever, Hobgood is very willing to share musical space. Elling excels on ‘Stairway to the stars’ which is an ideal ballad vehicle while Hobgood stretches out on an extended solo before Haden joins in on ‘New Orleans’. While not possessing a highly individual sound, Hobgood is a truly gifted arranger and accompanyist, and on this recording for hi-fi specialist label Naim has delivered a varied album in a minimalist setting and one which provides great pleasure with repeated listening.

Tim Stenhouse

Ojos de Brujo ‘Oacana’ (Warner Brothers Spain) 4/5

The follow up to the excellent ‘Techari’ from 2006 and a subsequent triumphant tour, Ojos de Brujo return with ‘Oacana’ (gipsy term for ‘now’)that is every bit as good as its predecessor and once again demonstrates the diverse take on traditional Catalan rumba and flamenco influences. Over a series of albums Ojos de Brujo have created a distinctive sound and identity, and now on a major label the rootsy indie feel to their music remains undiminished. Dancefloor action is guaranteed on ‘Rumba del adios’ that successfully fuses Catalan rumba with old school salsa horns. An even more interesting collaboration is that of inviting members of legendary Cuban band Los Van Van, including ace pianist Roberto Carcasses, on the riff laden ‘Busca la bueno’ with piano vamps and percussion added in for good measure. For a slice of authentic flamenco given a modern twist ‘Correveidible’ is simply irresistible and features a piano solo that shows the Cuban guests elsewhere have made their mark on the evolving Ojos sound. The maturity in Ojos’ repertoire is illustrated in the subtle groove that is ‘Baraka’ where rumba and bolero meet (an example in Spanish of ‘iba y vuelta’ or ‘coming and going’ flamenco where influences from outside the Iberian peninsular are incorporated before returning in a revitalised form of the genre) while Indian classical flavours are in evidence on ‘Tantas flores’. Fetching cartoon graphics on the cover and a lavish gatefold sleeve with bilingual lyrics complete an extremely well rounded set. Catch them if you can at a very limited number of concerts ending in Liverpool at the beginning of May.

Tim Stenhouse

Miles Davis ‘Collectors Items’ (Prestige Rudy Van Gelder edition) 3/5

Two separate 1950s sessions are grouped together on this album including an earlier 1953 set that unites Miles Davis with the great Charlie Parker under a pseudonym and a 1956 date with Sonny Rollins and members of the line up that would record the seminal ‘Saxophone Colossus’ in the same year. The former is not in fact an original Rudy Van Gelder recording, but is fascinating for its pairing of a young Miles with an end of career Parker alongside tenorist Sonny Rollins and piainst Walter Bishop. On the now jazz standard ‘Round Midnight’, Davis states the theme with elan and is followed by solos from Rollins and Parker. The composition clearly made an impression on the young trumpeter for he would revisit it at various stages of his career subsequently. Evidently the telepathy between band members is more apparent on the second date with Flanagan and Rollins understanding each other wonderfully as on ‘No line’. In fact there is relatively little playing by Miles. While not essential Miles Davis, this provides compelling evidence of how his sound developed and and as such will make enjoyable listening for the jazz and Miles Davis aficionado alike.

Tim Stenhouse

John Coltrane ‘Standard Coltrane’ (Prestige Rudy Van Gelder edition) 4/5

This 1958 session predates the epic ‘Kind of Blue’ by one year and features half of that classic line up. In many ways the recording is a precursor to the Coltrane ‘Ballads Album’ with the notable difference that ‘Standard Coltrane’ showcases four extended standards on a superior blowing date, and as such enables the listener to enjoy the sheer beauty of ‘Trane’s playing with sensitive accompaniment on piano arriving in the shape of Red Garland and trumpeter Wilbur Harden. In fact the album was originally issued four years after the recording date to cash in on Coltrane’s new found success. Taken at a slower tempo than per usual and meandering for over ten minutes, ‘Invitation’ is transformed into a leisurely blues with lovely bass soloing from Paul Chambers. Trumpeter Harden is featured at length on the Rodgers and Hart composition ‘Spring is here’, playing in unison with Coltrane. Perhaps the jewel in the crown is the ballad ‘Don’t take your love from me’ with a beautifully restrained solo from Garland. Clearly the pianist had a natural empathy with the tenor saxophonist. New sleeve notes from jazz writer Ashley Kahn shed new light on the historical importance of the session and the re-mastering by original engineer Rudy Van Gelder is clear. No extra tracks.

Tim Stenhouse

Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics ‘Inspiration Information’ LP/CD (Strut) 4/5

mulatu-astatke-heliocentricsLegendary Ethiopian keyboardist Mulatu Astatke came to the attention of a wider audience via the musical soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s film ‘Broken flowers’. This new recording on the Strut dance label, part of a collaborative series, intriguingly pairs him with band the Heliocentrics and on the whole it is a collaboration that works surprisingly well, and one that respects the vast Ethiopian tradition. It is the Latin-influenced ‘Cha Cha’ that immediately impresses with a heavy rhythm section, distinctive Ethiopan-sounding horns, and relentless grooves. 
Equally hypnotic and gaining in intensity as the track progresses from a leisurely intro is ‘Dewel’ with a nice saxophone solo into the bargain. 
Contrast that with the oriental flavour of ‘Phantom of the panther’ featuring a lovely keyboard solo from Astatke. Far from oriental in approach is ‘Chinese New Year’ which can be best described as an off-key jazz trip hop of a groove. Another highlight is the mid-tempo riff laden ‘Eskete dance’ with subtle use of horns. Not all the tracks have an Ethiopian influence and ‘Blue Nile’ is a drum heavy groove that will appeal to long-time fans of the Heliocentrics. This could prove to be one of those slow burner albums that ends up providing the soundtrack to early summer.

Tim Stenhouse

Madeleine Peyroux ‘Bare Bones’ (Rounder) 4/5

madeleine-peyrouxFollowing on from ‘Half the prefect world’, released some two years ago, Madeleine Peyroux returns to form with a melancholic yet gently uplifting album and one that showcases her excellent songwriting talents. One again production chores are down to regular band member Larry Klein who first came on board with the second album. The opener ‘Instead’ is an obvious candidate for a single and the pared down instrumentation sets the scene for the album as whole which borders on old-time jazz, blues and folk among other influences. One again keyboardist Larry Golding excels, particularly on the blues-inflected hues of the title track, one of the album’s most immediate songs. Highlighting the variety of songs on offer is the mid-tempo ‘To love you all over again’, which could easily have been penned during the early 1970s folk-rock boom. Ballads are equally in evidence and ‘Love and treachery’ works most effectively with a lovely wurlitzer piano solo. The extraordinary musical career of Madeleine Peyroux, which has taken in busking on the streets of Paris, now seems on a more conventional trajectory and this latest offering will appeal to a wide audience beyond the confines of jazz and to all fans of quality Americana.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993