Ry Cooder ‘Election special’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

As US presidential election night looms, musical personalities of the calibre of Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen have lent their support to candidates and previously in the world of rock Neil Young has been just one of many musicians to wear his political convictions on his musical sleeve. World and American roots pioneer Ry Cooder has decided to devote an entire album to various aspects of the political process and the result is a qualified success. Of direct interest to the current contest, Cooder sets out in the opener his own preference on ‘Mutt Romney blues’ which, it is safe to say, has not been played repeatedly on the Republican candidate’s tour bus. This album works best with the rootsier numbers where Ry Cooder’s genius for simple melodies is all too apparent. Thus ‘Goin’ to Tampa’ with Sarah Palin as its principal subject matter has all the feel of a dustbowl blues while equally folksy is the father-child discussion of politics on ‘The 90 and the 9’. Arguably the most melodic song of all is ‘Brother is gone which has a fictional meeting with Satan’ and featuring some neat banjo licks. Where the album falls down slightly is in the overuse of rock-tinged songs that are really a pretext for Cooder to express his views which might just as easily have been conveyed in printed or web form. Of these probably the most convincing and universal in message is ‘Take your hands off it’. The dissonant guitar soloing à la Marc Ribot on ‘Kool aid’ impresses and the accompanying instrumentation, particularly the heavy bassline, is downright moody. More songs in this vein would have enhanced the album as a whole significantly. It is left to the outright rocker ‘The Wall Street part of town’ (Steve Earle would have been in his element here and maybe a potential duet between the two will possible in the future. Tim Stenhouse

Cedar Walton ‘Animation’/’Soundscapes’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Keyboardist Cedar Walton made his name in the early to mid 1960s as part of the classic Jazz Messengers line up on Blue Note. He was an integral part of that formation and contributed with memorable compositions and outstanding pianistic performances to seminal albums such as the driving ‘Free for All’, the superlative ‘Indestructible’ and, arguably best of all, the epic ‘Mosaic’. By the end of the 1960s Cedar Walton was leading his own band, recording for Prestige and then made a series of albums in the mid-late 1970s, first of all for RCA and then for Columbia. The double pairing of albums contained within this CD are examples of the latter tenure and provide a fine contrast between, on the one hand his acoustic playing, and that in a fusion idiom. The first of these is the more straight ahead in jazz terms and probably more expansive for devotees of Walton’s pianistic talents. With a strong line up of Freddie Hubbard (reprising their Jazz Messengers partnership) on trumpet, Steve Turré on trombone and concha shell(s), a young Bob Berg on reeds and Al Foster on drums, this is an album with a distinct purpose. One of the strongest pieces is the bassline driven ‘Jacob’s ladder’ while lovers of acoustic jazz are sure to be enthralled by ‘Charmed circle’ with its Latin feel in percussion and in its use of unison horns that is reminiscent of the McCoy Tyner big band. The title track takes a leaf out of Herbie Hancock’s keyboard soloing from his mid 1970s period and it is clear that Walton was sensitive to new trends in jazz and eager to take them on board in his own manner. The second album, however, is by far the better known of the two on offer and this is largely due to the club track ‘Latin America’ which has long been a fusion favourite and rightly so. There is, though, a good deal of subtlelty in several of the compositions with ‘Sixth Avenue sounding like Walton was listening to the groove piano of Jorge Dalto while ‘Warm to the touch’ features the inestimable vocals of one Leon Thomas. Perhaps the slow burner on the album is the mid-tempo groover ‘The early generation’. At eighty minutes and with all the original album cover details, this CD pacakge represents outstanding value for money and is an accurate reflection of where Cedar Walton was at in the mid-1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Tom Brock ‘I love you more and more’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Barry White the producer is sometimes overlooked and underplayed in relation to his singer-songwriting talents. However, he did fantastic production duties for Gloria Scott and Love Unlimited, one of whose member’s was his wife. What is less known is that he did produce another male singer, Tom Brock, and London-based label/specialist music shop Soul Brother have unearthed a lesser known gem in this album that dates from 1974 when White was at the peak of his creative forces. Tom Brock is no Barry White soundalike, though, and is much closer in vocal approach to Leon Ware, or even Marvin Gaye, particularly from the ‘I want you’ era and this album is a precursor to that 1976 classic. What is surprising is that at a time when Barry White could have done no wrong, this album should have largely escaped the attention of the music press and not enjoyed any significant chart success. This is a great pity for there are some excellent songs on offer, some of which were co-written between Brock and White while others have the immediate White classy signature sound attached to them. One song especially, the mid-tempo ‘There’s nothing in this world’, has become more famous as a result of being sampled by Jay Z on ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ while the uptempo ‘Naked as the day I was born’ is arguably the best cut of all. Brock’s high-pitched falsetto vocals at various times remind one of Marvin during his ‘What’s going’ on’ album and that is recomendation enough. A fascinating one-off album which is nicely balanced with some fine balladry, and one wonders what ever happened to Tom Brock since.

Tim Stenhouse

Astor Piazzolla ‘Piazzolla O no?’ / ‘PIazzolla interpreta a Piazzolla’ (Jackpot) 4/5

Here is an interesting new label that has had the foresight to re-issue two of the early 1960s classic albums by Argentine bandoneon legend Astor Piazzolla on one CD, LPs that were originally on the Columbia label in Argentina. These have until recently been unavailable and then were poorly mastered, taken direct from the original vinyl. Now properly restored to their original glory and here with their striking covers and lovingly translated cover notes, this will hopefully be the first in a series of Piazzolla’s seminal period where major innovations in tango were being orchestrated by the maestro. The first of the albums is the more conventional of the two and Piazzolla was clearly treading carefully here. This explains the large number of covers and the relatively short time of the pieces. In contrast the second album features an early version of the now signature tune composition ‘Adios nonino’ with ‘Lo que vendra’ and ‘Tanguismo’ other highlights of a significantly more confident muisician in the studio. At seventy-nine minutes this CD represents unbeatable value for money and one looks forward to hearing the sextet and octet recordings on the same label.

Tim Stenhouse

Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset ‘Neck of the woods’ (Edition) 3/5

The unusual setting of a saxophone and tuba due recording, even by the eclectic standards of the jazz idiom, is given an interesting twist here by the inclusion on several numbers of a vocal choir. It is certainly not the first time, though, in jazz history that this has been achieved. Donald Byrd famously conceived an entire album around this concept on his majestic 1964 Blue Note album ‘A new perspective’. Quite possibly in the case of Herskedal and Neset the addition of a third instrument, in particular a bass or even piano, would have enhanced matters. Nonetheless there is a good deal on offer to hearten the soul as exemplified by instantly catchy ‘Ara’s dance’, on which both co-leaders are outstanding, and with a notable Garbarekian influence discernable from Neset. Vocal layers help embellish ‘The Christmas song’ which is melodic and melancholic in equal measure while the uptempo piece ‘Lutra Lutra’ has a decidely Balkan flavour to it. On the opener ‘Neck of the woods’ the choir plays the surrogate role of keyboards and strings and this is a very effective way in which to start the album. More esoteric echoes are to be found on ‘Eger Framand’ where the sound of the tuba is akin to that of a Mongolian throat singer. Quite extraordinary! The one standard, Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The wedding’ is quite unrecognisable here with an approach similar to a traditional Scandanavian folk song. All in all a promising future for this most inventive of duos and, perhaps, a trio format might elevate them to even greater heights.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Spiritual Jazz 3’ 2LP/CD (Jazzman) 4/5

No sooner has ‘Spiritual Jazz 2’ been on our listening posts for several months than a third instalment of the ever exploratory anthology comes our way. If anything, this is more clearly focused than volume two and has the added bonus of examining in some detail the jazzy delights that la belle France has to offer. As ever the latest volume is supremely well researched by Francis Gooding and Gerald Short, beautifully packaged and it goes without saying that the tunes on offer are genuinely as rare as hen’s teeth. French keyboardist Jef Gilson has recently been treated to a well-deserved anthology of his work and here a previously unreleased and untiled piece opens up proceedings. Suffice it to say that it fits in perfectly with the overall spiritual feel to the album as a whole. One of the most compelling francophone efforts is by a little known group headed by blind multi-reedist Michel Roques with the piece ‘Le temps’. Before the leader sets off on an intense tenor excursion (comparisons with Roland Kirk are valid), the percussive intro leads into some French spoken dialogue. Another winner is the full-flowing ‘Pro forma’ by Belgian bassist Babs Robert that is simply one of the strongest cuts on the album with the drumming truly outstanding. Big band Scandinavian jazz is well represented with Danish trumpeter and bandleader Palle Mikkelborg heading the Radiojazzgruppen on an exotic musical journey to ‘Mongolia’. Norwegian group That’s Why were quite unique in blending jazz with a Christian religious approach and a brand new Jazzman anthology (to be reviewed shortly on these pages) will cover their work in greater detail. Here ‘Udoyeleg’/’Immortal’ does an excellent job of highlighting their vocal meets instrumental repertoire. Other delights include compositions featuring the cream of European jazz musicians from Danish saxophonist John Tchicai (when will there be an anthology of his work – he famously on a 1960s Impulse album by John Coltrane), Yugoslav trumpeter Dusko Goykovich while German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorf is always capable of turning in a terrific tune. It is left to yet another unknown French formation, the Full Moon Ensemble with the delicious flute-led piece ‘Samba miaou’ with vocals by Sarah to round off a lovely homage to European jazz.

Tim Stenhouse

Don Cherry ‘Organic music society’ (Caprice, Sweden) 4/5

Trumpeter Don Cherry’s contribution to the evolution of jazz history while part of the Ornette Coleman band is legendary and his mid-late 1960s sides for Blue Note are equally well feted. However, by the 1970s jazz was no longer flavour of the month and musicians were beginning to explore new world roots influenced sounds and did so on tiny independent labels. This is why the re-issue of ‘Organic music society’, which dates from 1973, is such an important one. It documents a period in Cherry’s career that few save a tiny minority were in the know about at the time and the music sheds vital light on the subsequent world-oriented recordings that the trumpeter would record as part of Codona for ECM. Brazilian percussive sounds predominate on the opener ‘North Brazilian ceremonial hymn’ which, at twelve and a half minutes, is a mighty homage to that country’s tradition and Nana Vasconceles is on hand to provide authentic accompaniment. Of equal interest is the re-working of Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas’ classic ‘The creator has a master plan’. African roots and Indian classical music were clearly on Cherry’s mind and turntable at the time and this is reflected in the inclusion of ‘Relativity suite parts 1 and 2’ for the former, and especially on ‘Mamisha raga kamboji’ for the latter. Minimalist influences meanwhile are present on the Terry Riley composition ‘Terry’s tune’ while a famous Dollar Brand tune, ‘Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro’, receives a faithful rendition. An array of Scandinavian musicians plus Turkish drummer Okay Tomiz imbue this album with a truly cosmopolitan feel and the recordings themselves range between various studio and even a school performance. This is arguably Don Cherry’s finest moment from the 1970s and an important precursor to the ECM recordings of the 1980s. The gloriously resplendent cover (check the Soul Jazz book on ‘Spiritual Jazz’ for the full size design) has been lovingly reproduced on a deluxe gatefold sleeve with extensive inner sleeve notes. This must surely be one of the contenders for re-issue of the year from the small enterprising Swedish label Caprice and one hopes they may just be able to unearth another golden nugget from the vastly underrated archives of jazz recorded in Sweden. Tim Stenhouse

Soul Jazz Orchestra ‘Solidarity’ (Strut) 4/5

Following on from the excellent 2010 release ‘Rising sun’, the Soul Jazz Orchestra have returned with a sumptuous effort that is, if anything, even more eclectic in approach than before with a fine balance of styles that will appeal to a broad audience from dance devotees to world music enthusiasts. An Afro-Latin flavour permeates ‘Ya basta’ which could easily have come off an Etoile de Dakar or No.1 album from Senegal in the mid-1970s while Afro-Brazilian bloc percussion is a predominant feature of ‘Cartao’ which is a slow burner of a tune with lead and chanted ensemble vocals. Afrobeat is the order of the day on ‘Swe and protect’ which takes a leaf out of Antibalas’ take on the Fela sound. Previously the band was happy to cover acid jazz and retro soul terrain, but now the Soul Jaz Orchestra are more confident in their own ablities, a distinctive sound is emerging, yet one that is varied at the same time. There is even some respectable roots reggae thrown in for good measure on ‘Jericho’ with gorgeous dubbed horns that Yabby You would have bene proud of and the themed ‘Kingpin’. The lead vocals of Senegalese musician El Hadji M’Baye add a real touch of authenticity to proceedings as does the great cover which is right out of the ‘authenticity’ period of West and Central African music from the 1970s captures the mood on the album to perfection. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Out of many. 50 years of reggae music’ 3CD (VP) 4/5

Attempting to condense fifty years of music onto three CDs is a difficult task at the best of times, but VP have in general done a sterling job of choosing some of the most significant recordings from their extensive back catalogue to tie in with the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Jamaica. The first CD commences with the ska era and the Skatalites were the foremost exponents of this genre so the inclusion of the epic instrumental ‘Malcolm X’ is most welcome. The brief period of rock steady where the tempo slowed down and vocals were emphasized to a greater extent is highlighted by fine selections from the likes of Lord Creator with ‘Such is life’, groups such as the Galylads and Jamicans, and Hopeton Lewis’ seminal ‘Take it easy’. Early reggae is well represented with Ken Boothe’s ‘Everything I own’, Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry oh baby’ and Nicky Thomas’ Love of the common people’ a trio of classic songs as well as one choice inclusion from the crown prince himself, Dennis Brown who offers the irresistable ‘Westbound train’. Onto the roots era and there are, perhaps, there a some surprising omissions. For example the Wailing Souls might have been worthy of place (they are supremely well documented elswehere on single compilations) and Michael Prophet might have featured also. That being said, no one could the validity of Junior Byles’ inclusion with the epic ‘Fade away’ and Maria Aitken’s reworking of the classic Alton Ellis tune ‘I’m so in love’ surely inspired Anthea and Donna to re-invent the tune once more. The UK’s very own Capital Letters ‘Smokin’ ganja’ is included to represent reggae in the UK and Culture are always worth of a place with the epochal ‘Two sevens clash’ while Freddie mcgregor and Johnny Osbourne both straddled the roots and dancehall eras with aplomb.

CD2 focuses on when Greensleeves truly came into its own during the 1980s with the advent of dancehall as a distinct genre (as opposed to dancehall the physical location and social scene which has been a staple feature of Jamaican popular culture going way back to the 1950s, and quite possibly before). UK artists are included such as JC Lodge who scored a minor hit with ‘Telephone love’ and some of the dancehall legends such as Barrington Levy (soon to be anthologised and rightly so) with ‘Here I come’. Beres Hammond is featured on no less than three songs of which ‘Can’t stop a man’ is a prime example of his craft. Enjoying a new lease of life in his sometimes turbulent career Gregory Isaacs scored one of his greatest successes with ‘Rumours’ which was in many ways the perfect bridge between the roots era and the upcoming digital one. An early dancehall pioneer was slack DJ Yellowman whose early work at least was characterised by witicisms and an ability to mock his own condition which earned him a great deal of respect and he offers two songs on the anthology. Elsewhere on CDs 2 and 3 the likes of Lady Saw, Beenie Man Shabba Ranks (‘Mr. loverman’) and Sizzla among many others are present and deservedly so. Matters are finally brought bang up to date by the incoporation of a duet between Peetah Morgan and Hollie Cook from 2012, the aptly titled ‘Indepedence Jamaica’ whihc loops the lopp so to speak with the first song on CD 1 of the same title. Rounding things off nicely, there is a terrific front cover graphic that should be put into competition as one of the most creative and dazzling covers of the year. An ideal way, then, to view the gargantuan legacy that Jamaican musicians have left us and continue to contribute to. Tim Stenhouse

Culture ‘Natty dread taking over’ (VP) 2CD + DVD 5/5

As Jamaican dcvotees the world over celebrate this year as the fiftieth anniversary of the country’s independence, comes this anthology which chronicles arguably the finest roots reggae group of them all. The impecable selectinon of songs, all the classic and then some, is matched by the stylish presentation in a handy digipak plus inner sleeve photos. John Peel was a massive fan of the group and regularly invited them onto his show when they were touring the UK for a session. It is fitting, then, that one of the very best of these from 1982 should be included here in full, previously only available on vinyl. For those who are just discovering the band, this is now the first port of call and what a treat you will have in store. The compilation neatly cuts across the various producers so that Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson (aka the Mighty Two) are included alongside Sonia Pottinger, Joesph Hill himself and, later on in the group’s career, Junjo Lawes and King Jammy among others. CD 1 gets down to business with a host of classic numbers such as ‘Love shines brighter’, the title track, ‘I’m not ashamed’ and of course the seminal ‘Two sevens clash’. Onto the second CD and the quality is just as high with ‘Lion rock’, ‘Cumbolo’ and ‘Natty never get weary’ a trio of stunning songs. Where this anthology wins hands down in relation to thers that have gone before it is by going that bit further to incorporate much later pieces such as the fine tribute to one Robert Marley on ‘Psalms of Bob Marley’ and ‘Why am I a rastaman?’ Social concerns are covered throughout in the songs, a feature of the group ethos, and ‘Poor people hungry’ typifies their empathy for other less fortunate human beings. To top matters off, a well put together DVD of their 2003 UK tour is included and you can judge for yourself why this group were so highly regarded by reggae and rock critics alike. As an indication of Jamaican popular culture in the second half of the twentieth century, simply indispensable.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993