Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou ‘The Voodoo Effect’

Covering 1973-1975 this is funk & sato from Benin’s obscure labels often recorded in the most basic of ways. This is music for the people, people who want to dance to this raw mix of horns, guitar, organ on a driving bedrock of bass and drums. It’s amazing where all this brilliant music keeps coming from but you end up wondering how you’ve not come across it before. Thanks AnalogAfrica – keep them coming.

Graham Radley

Until recently Benin was a relatively unknown country from a musical perspective and our knowledge was restricted to present day diva Angelique Kidjo. However, during the 1970s independent labels released some sumptuous music and the first volume of a two-part series by enterprising UK label Analog Africa is devoted to one of the key bands of the era in Benin, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Myriad influences come to play in this intoxicating mix, but elements of Nigerian juju and Afro-Beat, US funk and soul and Latin rhythms are all evident. However, the distinctive sound of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is due to the voudous religious component in the form of the indigenous sato drums and the disonnant guitar riffs that are omnipresent on these recordings. Key tracks include the brass-laden ‘Se we non nan’, the juju-influenced ‘Assibari’ and the funk riffs on ‘Aho ba ho’. Weighing in at seventy-five minutes, this is an excellent value compilation of one of Africa’s least known bands.

Tim Stenhouse

Empty Boat ‘Waitless’ (Poo) 3/5

This release highlights the very worthy cause of the chronic lack of sanitation in Africa. This UK-based project is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dean Brodrick and the music inspired by a trip to Mozambique. Calling in a number of guest musicians including Brazilian vocalist Monica Vasconcelos, themes are based around the concept of water. From a musical perspective the instrumentation is in large part Latin-tinged (though vocals are in Portugese) with the 1950s big band Cuban style of ‘Agua pura’ impressing. Jazzy mambo sounds permeate ‘Eu vivo neste mundo’ (’I live in this world’)while catchy accordion playing is a highlight of ‘Drinking water’. Clearly this is not exclusively a music project and its main purpose is to highlight the daily needs of millions of Africans. For every CD sold, one pound is donated to the campaign and equates to a lifetimes santation for an African citizen. Tim Stenhouse

Mohawks ‘The Champ’ 2LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 4/5

The late 1960s in Britain witnessed musical and fashion fragmentation into two opposite camps: mods and rockers. The former worshipped the soul-jazz sounds coming out of America, notably the hammond organ of artists such as Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff that would invariably be heard on jukeboxes in condensed 45 format. Added to this influence was the gritty southern soul of independent labels like Stax in Memphis and the newly emerging sound of reggae from Jamaica. British studio arranger and keyboardist Alan Hawkshaw was soaking up all these influences and offered his own take on the new sound in 1968 with the project contained herein. The resulting album ‘The Champ’ and especially its title track would compare most favourably with music recorded across the Atlantic and in turn would be sampled two decades later by US hip-hop artists. Hawkshaw is best known for his arrangements of music for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and later for his jingles and theme tunes on British television.

As leader, however, his finest moment came with ‘The Champ’, a series of tightly arranged and perfectly executed slices of jazz-inflected organ. Alongside the devastating title track, the Mohawks take on Wilson Pickett’s ‘Funky Broadway’ impresses. Little wonder, then, that another hammond organist, Reuben Wilson, should record the number for Blue Note around the same period. Otis Redding was arguably the most respected soul singer at the time and his ‘Sweet soul music’ is interpreted in fine soul-jazz fashion. Heavy bass and organ combine wonderfully on ‘Dr. Jekyl and Hyde Park’ while Hawkshaw stretches out on hammond on ‘Beat me til’ I’m blue’ which in many ways is a precursor to the sound he created for Serge Gainsbourg. Six bonus cuts are added of which the percussion heavy ‘Pepsi’ and New Orleans-inspired ‘Ride your pony’ stand out. Impressive gatefold sleeve and notes on Hawkshaw’s career round out a timeless classic that is finally available in both CD and vinyl formats. Tim Stenhouse

Hugh Masekela ‘Home is where the music is’ (Verve) 4/5

Formerly on the collectable Blue Thumb label, this long deleted re-isssue captures Hugh Masekela in excellent form on what was originally a double LP from 1972 recorded in London. Co-produced by Crusaders producer Stewart Levine and composer/musician Caiphus Semenya, Masekela was forced to record in exile because of the political situation in South Africa throughout the 1970s. This album assembles a stellar group of American-based and exiled South African musicians. The former include bassist Eddie Gomez and pianist Larry Willis. Extended numbers predominate on this CD which is great value at almost eighty minutes. Among key tunes are the Willis composition ‘Inner crisis’ which has a Headhunters feel with Willis playing electric piano while Masekela’s ‘Maseru’ has something of a Latin feel to it and trumpet playing that recalls early Freddie Hubbard. Political themes were never far from Masekela’s repertoire and ‘Blues for Huey’ is a tribute one of the principal figures in the black consciousness movement in the States. A more reflective side to the ensemble is found on ‘The Big Apple’ with Larry Willis demonstrating the kind of keyboard skills on acoustic piano that would later be an integral feature of Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band. Hugh Masekela recorded for numerous labels and it is heartening to know that one of his most coherent albums is now available once again to a wider public. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Pacifico Colombiano’ (Otrabanda)4/5

Colombia is a country of music aficionados whose indigenous rhythms serve as the base for multiple musical styles that are largely unrecognised outside of its borders. This compilation is thus a handy thermometre of the genres that have dominated in the decade between 1998 and 2007. On the Pacific coatline of Colombia one finds influences as diverse as west African highlife and Palm Wine, Cumbia and even Dixieland-style. A perfect illustration of the heady fusion of sounds is Grupo Bahia who, ithin a song such as ‘Cantare’, change tempi and rhythm several times. Key to the overall sound is the use of an African percussion instrument the malimba along with jazzy horns and a guitar solo Carlos Santana would be proud of.

In contrast the rapid currulao rhythm is exemplified by the best known artists on the compliation, Peregoyo y su Combo Vacana with ‘La Iguana’. For a long time Afro-Colombian rhythms were deingrated in the country and considered inferior to commercial salsa. However, in the late 1990s attitudes changed and a plethora of artists were encouraged to record. An outstanding example is the catchy ‘La Oya’ by La Revuelta that begins as a jazz-inflected intro, but quickly transforms into an infectous Afro-Colombian piece with chanted horns. With excellent recording quality and informative and detailed bi-lingual notes, mark this down as one of the year’s most enlightening discoveries. The CD fills an important gap in the Latin music market and one hopes there will be more music of this calibre to follow. Tim Stenhouse

Omara Portunondo ‘Gracias’ (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) 3/5

One of the off shoots of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, Omara Portuondo has in fact led a parallel career since the 1970s and recorded regularly in Cuba before and after the worldwide success of Cuban traditional music. This latest album sees Omara return to the classic Cuban repertoire with a number of guest musicians and singers. Portuondo had tended to shift between styles from bolero to feelin’ and has tended to stick to a more laid back from of Cuban music. Melancholic ballads sung in Spanish are acceptable up to a point provided there is variety elsewhere to compensate. On this album Portuondo invites a number of guest ranging from Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes, one of the pioneers of the nueva trova sound, to Camerounian singer and guitarist Richard Bona. By far the catchiest numbers on this album are the uptempo ones, particularly the pared down reworking of a Brazilian classic, ‘’O que sera’ in collaboration with its original composer and singer Chico Buarque. A reworking of Silvio Rodriguez’s ‘Rabo de Nube’ remains faithful to the original and the most impressive ballad is ‘Lo que me queda por vivir’.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Powerhouse Selector’s Choice (George Phang)’ Vol 1 & 2 Separate 2CDs (VP) 3/5

Amid the mid-1980s digital revolution a number of new producers emerged and of these George Phang was among the most consistent. The first two volumes on offer testify to the calibre of singers and DJs who recorded under Phang. Volume one features dancehall favourite Barrington Levy with two cuts while Frankie Paul who was a pivotal figure in the digital era offers another brace of tasty numbers. Other younger singers would emerge from the mid-1908s onwards and of these Little John has stood the test of time extremely well. While DJs were less prominent from 1984, Phang still believed in their prowess and consequently Josie Wales and Yellowman are both featured here. Volume two adds quality singers such as Frankie Jones, Michael Palmer and Admiral Bailey. George Phang stuck to a similar format with his production chores and it certainly paid dividends in the dancehall. Another two volumes will follow. Tim Stenhouse

Beres Hammond ‘A moment in time’ (VP) 3/5

Following on from the catchy 45 ‘I feel good’ comes the album from Beres which is actually the first he has recorded in some four years. Hammond has always prided himself on his soulful vocals and indeed cut an album early in his career that is now considered a modern masterpiece with soul fans. During the mid-late 1970s he was an integral member of the Zap Pow band that cut some classic roots songs, but Beres has long since departed from that genre. Here he opts for a pop-reggae approach possibly aimed at the US market and this is a qualified success. Key songs include the theme driven ‘Dark clouds’ and ‘Talking Africa’ while his best vocal performance is reserved for ‘I’ll live again’. Sometimes the songs are just a little too sugar sweet for mainstream reggae fans and by offering fewer songs Hammond would have made the album more cohesive as a whole. Nonetheless Beres Hammond’s vocal credentials are impeccable and for long-term fans there will be something to cater for their tastes. Tim Stenhouse

Jorge Ben ‘Jorge Ben (1969) (Dusty Groove) 4/5

In this the fiftieth anniversary of the advent of bossa nova, it is, perhaps, pertinent to reflect on what followed directly afterwards. Bossa nova took elements of US jazz and refined (some would say watered down)traditional samba. Younger artists such as Jorge Ben had taken on board this fusion in earlier works, most notably ‘Mas que nada’, but were eager to explore and combine new American rhythms and associated closely with soul (and later funk). It is in this light that one should view ‘Jorge Ben (1969)’ as an album that marks the transition from the imitation of a prevailing musical trend (bossa nova)to the work of an innovator who would pioneeer what became known as samba rock and one that has long been a rare collectors item. By 1969 Ben had gained notoriety as a composer with ‘Cade Tereza’ featuring on a traditional samba album by ‘Os Originais do Samba’ (released on CD in recent years in Brazil)and with ‘Pais Tropical’ which became a hit for Wilson Simonal.

For ‘Jorge Ben’ the singer-songwriter enlisted the backing of Trio Macoto and this would be the first of a series of recordings together during which time Ben found his distinctive sound. Arrangements came courtesy of Rogerio Duprat, synonymous with the tropicalia movement, but here never over-intrusive and allowing plenty of space for Ben and Trio Macoto to stretch out. Evidently Ben had come under the influence of the then emerging black consciousness movement in the States and this is reflected in the ‘black is beautiful’ message behind ‘Criola’ and in the lyrics to ‘Take it easy my Brother Charles’, both instantly catchy songs. Perhaps the album’s highlight, however, is the stirring ‘Bebete Vaobora’ with solo guitar intro, impassioned vocals and sparse brass combining to wonderful effect. The signature tunes ‘Pais Tropical’ and Cade Tereza’ are faithfully reproduced whereas ‘Que Pena’ differs from the later 1980s hit duet between Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso in that it is taken a decidedly quicker tempo. For this re-issue excellent graphics with the original (and legendary)front and back cover are supplemented by detailed notes on the recording. By the time ‘Jorge Ben’ had been released, Ben had left his early works such as ‘Mas que nada’ behind and was intent on creating something closer to the roots of samba, but that at the same time would appeal to a younger audience. He would fully achieve his goal five years or so later with the release of ‘Africa, Brasil’. Tim Stenhouse

Herbie Hancock ‘Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock’ (Verve) 3/5

From early beginnings at the Blue Note label, through the apprenticeship in Miles Davis’ seminal groups, and on to electronic wizzardry as part of the Headhunters, Herbie Hancock has condensed a great deal of diverse and vituosic music into a long career spanning five decades. While a single CD of his work can never truly claim to be comprehensive (even a double CD would only barely touch the surface), this CD does provide an overview to the multiple facets of his musical talents. The classic Blue Note sides are represented here by two pieces that illustrate the impressionistic lyricism of his compositions with ‘Maiden Voyage’ betraying the influence of Debussy and Ravel, while ‘Cantaloupe Island’ with its hypnotic repetition has become one of Hancock’s most sampled pieces and is the choice cut from ‘Empyrean Isles’. Chronologically the compilation skips almost a decade, taking in ‘Wiggle Waggle’, before focusing on the jazz-fusion sound of ‘Chameleon’ when Hancock was in his element exploring the outer limits of the synthesizer within improvised music.
The 1980s witnessed a two-pronged approach from the pianist. One the one hand he acted and performed in a retrospecitve of his earlier period in the film ‘Around Midnight’ and from this ‘Chan’s Song’, written by Jean Hancock, is featured. On the other Hancock fused hip-hop rhythms with jazz on ‘Rock it’ which became a sizeable chart hit and is included here with a live version. Of the last fifteen years ‘The New Standard’ is strangely omitted as is the duet album with Wayne Shorter. However, the recent tribute to Joni Mitchell is represented by two versions of ‘River’, the former a duet with Corinne Bailey Rae, and the second a live rendition including the vocals of the composer herself. Herbie Hancock has always strived to avoid being pigeon-holed into playing one type of music, incurring the wrath of so-called jazz purists in the process, and has featured on countless soul/pop albums including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. Wonder repays the compliment with vocals on ‘St. Louis Blues’. The imminent UK tour promises to be a much anticipated revisiting of the pianist’s vast and eclectic repertoire. Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993