Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine ‘The Poetry Of Jazz Volume Two’ CD (Origin) 5/5

In the last years of his life Pulitzer prize-winning former US Poet Laureate and jazz aficionado Philip Levine undertook a series of collaborations with saxophonist and band leader Benjamin Boone. Last year saw the posthumous release on Origin Records of the first volume with an all-star lineup, 2019 offers this second instalment.

Levine, the son of Jewish immigrant parents began his working life in the Detroit car industry in the 1930s as a manual worker. Around this time he also experienced antisemitism in the form of radio broadcasts by then mainstream radio priest Father Coughlin before Coughlin was forced off air at the end of the 1930s as a Nazi sympathiser. It was these early experiences which continued to inform his poetry long after he had broken free of the monotony of manual labour and established himself as a poet and academic. He explains that as a youngster he made the ‘foolish vow to speak for the voiceless working class of Detroit’. Levine describes his ideal poem in which ‘no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of… the people, the place’. It was these words of explanation which I felt offered a key to the poetry of Levine and the historical context in which he was operating as well as his profound scepticism regarding traditional American ideals.

Saxophonist and collaborator Boone crossed paths with Levine while they both worked at California State University. Boone describes his long-held fascination with the inherent musicality of the spoken word and how he drew inspiration from Levine’s wry and emotionally restrained style of delivery.

Appropriately enough The Poetry of Jazz Volume Two’s first track is called ‘Let Me Begin Again’. On hearing Levine’s voice it’s easy to understand what attracted Boone, as a listener one is drawn in with a rare and intimate immediacy. The poetry and music describe a watery rebirth or a second chance at life, ‘let me go back to land after a lifetime of going nowhere’, the poet imagines his arrival at Detroit Hospital ‘like a speck of dust traveling on the wings of a gull through oily waters’ presumably those of the once notoriously polluted Detroit River. Boone’s sax and an array of electronics add a mood of liquidity and atmosphere to this desire for a second chance at life while being wise to what was wrong with the first life.

Some instrumental tracks recorded after the death of Levine pay homage to his best known poems, most notably ‘The Simple Truth’. A piano part by David Aus echoes the phrase of the tune’s title. Soprano sax by Boone and a vocal part by Karen Marguth lend the piece an ethereal quality as the soprano soars and merges seamlessly with the vocal. On my first listen to the record I wasn’t sure how much these instrumentals add to the album other than to remind us of what a great instrument Levine’s own voice is.

Towards the end of the recording in ‘When the Shift Was Over’ the narrator contemplates his life and place in the wider universe recalling the sense of quiet following a shift where ‘metal is slamming metal’ as he ‘tastes nickel under the tongue’. He looks up at the night sky to see ominous black clouds. Remembering his younger self in Poland, he marvels at the energy his people had to make it to the US only to be ground numb by a seemingly endless factory shift. Questioning his belief in God he somehow finds the will to sing in a hoarse voice ‘older than his years’ as a cleansing ‘clear rain falls’.

The album is a vivid snapshot of an important piece of American history wonderfully captured on record with the foresight of Boone and Levine. We’d better make the most of it as there won’t be any more where this came from.

James Read

Read also:
Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine ‘The Poetry Of Jazz’ CD (Origin) 5/5

Kit Sebastian ‘Mantra Moderne’ LP/CD/Cassette (Mr Bongo) 3/5

“Mantra Moderne” is the debut album of London-based Anglo-Turkish duo, Kit Sebastian. A collaboration of Kit Martin, who plays the instruments and vocalist Merve Erdem. It is being described as fusing ‘Anatolian Psychedelia, Brazilian Tropicalia, 60’s European pop and American jazz’. Interesting!

The opening track is “Senden Başka”. Twangy guitar introduces the vocals restrained to a Gainsbourgian mumble doubled with guitar with unintrusive bass and organ support. The superb “Mantra Moderne” opens with a burst of distorted, reverberated saxophones introducing the motif, before launching into a swaggering descending melody line followed by smooth organ and chinking guitar. On “Tyranny 20”, spidery reverberated guitar crawls over the driving beat on an ambience of authentic sounding 60s guitar fuzz tones and organ. “Pangea”’s laid back samba-like percussion is the platform for the repetitive and slightly tedious melody line. However, there’s an effective instrumental passage and solo towards the end. “Kuytu” is lead by the chiming keyboard backed by fuzzy guitar which gives way to a swingy rhythm with a sparse vocal line. It’s the high point of the record and has a more confident structure than some of the other tracks here. “Yanimda Kal” successfully mixes the samba rhythm with Asian instrumentation without leaning too much into exotica. “Yürüdüm, Büyüdüm, Çürüdüm” is light and airy, apart from a proggy burst midway through, with guitar coiling around the repetitive breathy lyric. “With A Sense Of Grace” has a chiming keyboard motif and plays on the duet vocal lines reminiscent of Bardot and Gainsbourg collaborations. “Durma” closes the set with an urgent bass line which introduces jabbing horns, stroboscopic wah-wah guitar, serpentine melody lines and Erdem’s spoken word vocals.

It is clear that there has been a lot of care in creating the complex and opulent sonic textures of this music. That care has been worthwhile as it sounds beautiful and lush. You can also appreciate the ambition to merge differing styles and it is good listening. Often the sound references the 1960s without quite becoming pastiche. The album could be a soundtrack from a lost French new wave movie. Expect to hear snippets from this album on T.V. shows and trailers over the next few months or so! Some of the care towards the sound has come at a slight cost as a few of the tracks here feel a bit like fillers. Maybe it is because they are lacking that visual element which is probably intended for them. Overall though, it is an enjoyable album. An accomplished and exciting debut and promises much more to follow.

Kevin Ward

Marcos Valle ‘Sempre’ LP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

With a catalogue of over 30 albums, Marcos Valle has had a very productive and versatile career. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1943, Marcos has ridden the sometimes stormy seas of contemporary Brazilian music like no other. From Bossa to boogie, MPB to jazz, the singer, songwriter and musician has continually immersed himself within various creative musical forms, but all with a discerning Brazilian flavour.

Recorded in Brazil and featuring an assortment of highly respectable musicians including Azymuth bass player Alex Malheiros, Armando Marçal (aka Marçalzinho) on percussion and one time Tim Maia guitarist, Paulinho Guitarra, playing on 5 tracks. Production is handled by Daniel Maunick who also produced Ivan Conti’s ‘Poison Fruit’ album from earlier in 2019, and it’s co-produced by Marcos himself who also plays the majority of the keys.

Although recognised as the ‘Rio beach boy’, Marcos moved from a turbulent Brazil in the mid-1970s to LA and obviously soaked up that West Coast sound and those warm soulful grooves of the time in the US. This experience resulted in ‘Vontade De Rever Você’ (1981) and his self-titled album from 1983 when he returned home to record, now identified as some of his most revered and sought after work. Both are now seen as Brazilian soul classics, with half of ‘Vontade De Rever Você’ co-written by Marvin Gaye collaborator and celebrated vocalist in his own right, Leon Ware. The album spawned the classic ‘A Paraíba Não É Chicago’ (which Ware also covered on ‘Rockin’ You Eternally’, titled ‘Baby Don’t Stop Me’ also in 1981) – which is where ‘Sempre’ comes in.

This album is very much inspired by Valle’s more US-influenced ‘80s soulful work rather than his early bossa nova period, and thus, the record possesses a certain boogie quality. For example, ‘Distância’ is a drum machine and synth bass-heavy piece that could have been produced by Dâm-Funk. Other compositions such as ‘Vou Amanhã Saber’ stray into soulful disco territory with its catchy horn centred chorus, while the funky breakbeat soul of ‘Odisséia’ is pure beach music bliss – but here in a good way. ‘É Você’ utilises a piano melody as its main focus as the vocals (which are all entirely sung in Portuguese) maintain a certain pop quality, while ‘Alma’ features lush Fender Rhodes chords and rich guitar parts over a track that could have appeared on one of Marcos’ 1980s recordings. Additionally, an instrumental version is also featured, but this and another 3 tracks have been omitted from vinyl pressing.

I think the decision by Far Out to only release the album on single vinyl, and thus, requiring the removal of these four tracks from vinyl copies due to running length issues to be a poor one. Releasing the album on a double vinyl would have allowed all 11 compositions to be included. For such as vinyl entrenched record label to revert to tactics that were commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s does seem quite bizarre, especially as customers would be more than willing to pay a bit more to have the entire album on a double in the current climate.

Nevertheless, ‘Sempre’ (translated as ‘ever’) deserves its place among Marcos Valle’s deep and expansive discography and will be seen as a worthy inclusion to many music collectors of Brazilian based music.

Damian Wilkes

Louis Hayes / Junior Cook Quintet ‘At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall / Hamburg 1976’ 2LP/2CD (Jazzline) 4/5

This is a reissue from a March 1976 gig at Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall in Hamburg – from a series of live recordings. I guess you would call this hard bop but where that came from is openly flagged by the intro of the first number, ‘All the Things You Are’ being a quote from the head of Charlie Parker’s 1947 version of ‘Bird of Paradise’ which is based on the changes of ‘All The Things’ and it pops up again in the coda.

Jointly billed as leaders are saxophonist Junior Cook and drummer Louis Hayes and the band is completed by Woody Shaw on trumpet, Stafford James on bass and Ronnie Matthews on piano. To these ears, live gigs are great live but don’t always stand up to repeated listening on record. But this is an exception, although the players stretch out (‘All the Things’ is nearly 23 minutes alone) the playing is tight and strong – it’s clear the band were well used to playing together.

Next up is a ballad, ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’ which features Junior Cook making a strong statement from the outset using the full range of the tenor and takes the lead for half the running length of the tune. This song was the subject of a plagiarism case in the 80s (nothing to do with these players) which set a precedent for fair use of quoted music in another context.

‘Moontrane’ is a Woody Shaw tune which first surfaced on Larry Young’s classic ‘Unity’ recording for Blue Note – memorable not only for the tunes playing but for one of the very best of the iconic cover designs by Reid Miles. As you might expect Shaw features heavily on this fast-paced version.

It’s back to a ballad with Thelonious Monk’s ‘Pannonica’ being treated with due reverence by Cook in his initial statement which again stretches out impressively until Matthews gets a chance to show.

‘Ichi-Ban’ became the title track when the band recorded more abbreviated versions of some of these tunes in a studio session in May 1976, back in New York for the Dutch Timeless label run by Wim Wigt, who also organised European jazz tours including the one for the Hayes/Cook quintet. It’s another quick based tune kicked off this time by Shaw underpinned by choppy chords from Matthews. Shaw later took over the co-leader role when Cook stepped back. This tune is by Matthews and the way the lead is rotated points to a certain shared democracy in the band’s voices.

‘Moment to Moment’ is a slower builder led first by Cook which then switches into a funkier feel which becomes the background for Cook to stretch further out. Matthews is also prominent with another lyrical and suitably funky solo.

‘Four For Nothing’ brings the gig to a close – apparently the band could have carried on but Harriet Maué, the bartender, called time. Matthews again excels and James contributes a swinging bass solo. Co-leader Hayes provides strong drumming throughout but seems keen to promote the overall music and sound – but here he does give us a cracking solo in the middle of this final track.

Only seven tracks but a running time of nigh on two hours, no wonder it’s a double album! The crowd loved it from the bits of response you can hear. For a live recording, it was taped for the German station NDR, of that time the quality is pretty good. Overall a very good insight into a hard-working band.

Brian Homer

Dadisi Komolafe ‘Hassan’s Walk’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Originally released in 1983 on the famed Nimbus West Records, here reissued in all its 180g vinyl glory we have the gem that is Dadisi Komolafe’s ‘Hassan’s Walk’.

While the Los Angeles jazz scene continues to captivate audiences even today through music by Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and Alpha Pup/World Galaxy Records, it was Nimbus West Records that carried that torch through a series of stunning releases in the 1980s. Born Arthur Wells, Komolafe was a flautist and saxophonist who found himself under the tutelage of the revered pianist and composer, Horace Tapscott. Tapscott founded the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra in 1961 and the inception of Nimbus West Records was very much a result of Tapscott and his ideology and doctrine that he freely passed over to musicians that he mentored and nurtured. Dadisi Komlafe was one such prodigal talent who, through his connection to Tapscott, found himself recording with members of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra as well as appearing on releases by pianist Nate Morgan’s ‘Journey into Nigritia’, vibraphonist Rickey Kelly’s ‘Limited Stops Only’ and Tapscott’s ‘The Call’.

Despite this being a reissue of an album released over 35 years ago, you’d be forgiven for assuming ‘Hassan’s Walk’ would actually be the product of a much older time period like the 1970s or even the 1960s – comparing it to the stunning works of the original flag wavers and icons of what is now known as “spiritual jazz” like Pharoah Sanders’s or Alice Coltrane’s seminal Impulse! Records years or the epic catalogue of music from Sun Ra amassed over those decades.

Featuring thrilling reinterpretations of Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ as well as Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil’, the latter of which displaying such infectious energy that it would surely rank as the album’s highlight. But the album also features Komolafe’s own compositions including the fifteen-minute opener and title track, ‘Hassan’s Walk’.

Fellow Nimbus recording artists complete the band line-up, including bassist Roberto Miranda (Vinny Golia, Linda Hill), drummer Sonship Theus (Michał Urbaniak, Charles Lloyd), pianist Eric Tillman (Potter & Tillman) and vibraphonist Rickey Kelly (Greg Adams, Adele Sebastian). Production is tackled by Tom Albach, who founded Nimbus West in Santa Barbara in 1979 and also produced an incredible amount of Nimbus’ stunning catalogue.

Even at Nimbus’ most productive years, the lesser-known label’s releases lay as treasures for the true die-hards but there’s the hope that their recent run of reissues and Bandcamp re-releases will open those treasures up to new audiences and generations alike. The Los Angeles jazz scene has always been held in high regard, not just for being home to the aforementioned jazz icons, but being home to a progressive and free-thinking approach to jazz music. ‘Hassan’s Walk’ – and Nimbus West – absolutely warrant their places within the lineage of Los Angeles’ jazz landscape and this one and only record by Dadisi Komolafe is a joyous place to start.

Imran Mirza

Szabolcs Oláh Quintet ‘Crystal Book’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Hungarian guitarist/composer Szabolcs Oláh‘s latest release is an album of free-flowing, exquisite and thoughtful contemporary jazz. The key to his music is melody. Dream-like moods intertwine with charismatic energy to create a set of ten stylistic and original tunes.

There’s a uniquely beguiling essence to Oláh’s music. A natural feeling of reflectiveness and expression is captured perfectly by the quintet. Joining Oláh on guitar are János Ávéd on saxophone, Gábor Cseke on piano, Ádám Bögöthy on bass, and László Csízi on drums. The gorgeous melodies that form the basis for all of the tunes are further enhanced by the instinctive and lyrical playing of all five musicians, making this an album that will appeal to many types of listener, not just those focused on jazz.

Switching from violin to guitar in his mid-teens, Oláh went on to graduate from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in 2005. After forming his own quintet, he became one of the founding members of the Modern Art Orchestra, one of Hungary’s most unique bands. Along with various other projects, Oláh’s quintet have released three previous albums between 2013 and 2017, building a solid reputation for crafting music that combines a contemplative serenity with a confident sense of freedom of expression.

The musical dialogue between the musicians, especially guitarist Oláh and saxophonist Ávéd, is at times spellbinding. As I listen to these wonderful tunes I am reminded of artists such as saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Joshua Redman, pianists Marcin Wasilewski and Esbjörn Svensson, and guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny. The common thread is the ability that all of these musicians share in successfully producing characterful, melodic music, in a focussed style. Their tunes can often sound deceptively simple, where the intelligent writing allows for many layers of individual breathing all combining to gift the listener with an exulted exhalation of breath that surges from the soul deep within.

Tunes such as the exhilarating “Pearls” and the uber-cool “Return to the Park” leave me totally mesmerised. The melodies, the chord sequences, the soloing, it’s all played with such feel and understanding that as a listener you just can’t help but smile with contented pleasure. Reflective pieces like the title track and “Lunar Muse” are ethereal and other-worldly in a sensitive kind of way, allowing the listener to lose themselves in their enchanting, melancholic beauty. I could sing my praises for all ten tunes on this album. This music leaves me feeling calm, satisfied and uplifted.

Szabolcs Oláh’s music benefits from what one might now call a quintessentially European sound, and certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a label such as ECM or ACT. The compositions are delightful and the performances first rate, and I very much look forward to hearing more from this quintet in the future.

Mike Gates

Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’ LP/CD (tak:til) 5/5

I enjoy the idea that the person who first invented that section in music shops that says “world” was just a deeply indecisive individual rather than someone violently trying to stick two fingers up at the “others”. After all, the “world” is against you, and the “world” is at large, and the “world” is a cold and lonely place. It really, utterly, truly is you against the “world”. A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse could be one of those “world” albums that people lump together for convenience (or to uphold the aforementioned “otherness”). But this fascinating, though it could be considered part of folk or world or fusion or traditional, it certainly is not from the lineages of those genres in a normative sense.

The wailing of the opening track is a haunting start, bewilderingly titled ‘A Washed out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack’. Because of course, it is. It feels like the sound of Riddley Walker running through the woods, flanked by packs of wild dogs in the dark. There is an uncanniness to Širom’s album that feels very much like the similar-but-different world of Hoban’s masterpiece. Or perhaps the cries of the population encased in trees in Rodoreda’s surreal Death In Spring. These are the sorts of atmospheres to expect.

This is an album of rude shifting. For a second after the groaning of the opening, the banjo of ‘Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key’ feels like a shock of normality. Or the alternate universe’s title music for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But! Do not be too hasty, Eagles fans, the meat of the album, after the aperitif, is not commonly trodden ground.

Širom consists of three members playing a wide variety of instruments. Hurdy-gurdy, banjo, gamelan, flute, qeychak (had to look this one up), lyre, tank drum and all manner of other items, sit next to the abstractly declared “various objects” on the sleeve. Indeed, a quick look on the internet for videos will show the varied arsenal the trio use.

A Universe is also an album of phasing. Sometimes it is brazen and pokey, other times it slips into hypnotic cycles. It is hard to pin down the melodies, which wriggle and course in unexpected ways across the main four tracks. Clocking in between seven-ish minutes and fifteen, they seem to me to be as long as they need to be. But then, they never feel exhausted, like a weird procession that turns up in your town and you stare at it as it passes the window of your nasty little flat.

In direct comparison, I was reminded of Stephen Micas and Polish folk-subverters Mosaik. Outside of that, the revolving threads of picking, striking and winding lines, is at once familiar and alien. Conceptually, however, I am none-the-wiser. Usually, I am able to at least clumsily apply meaning onto an album, like that lady did with clay in that Lionel Richie video, to make something that at least looks vaguely normal, but I can’t grab it. I don’t know if this is a lament, a soundtrack to a rite, the lazy humming of a protozoa on a distant moon, or a really badly pitched relaxation CD, but it’s kind of all of them at once. And it’s brilliant. A Universe acts as one of those albums that doesn’t really mind if you’re there or not because it exists musically for its own sake. Switching between modes constantly, but never feeling irritating, hinting at moods but never settling on one thing, it feels like an impulsive and magnetic new acquaintance. This is deeply enjoyable music that refuses to be anything but itself and is joyful because of it.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Søren Bebe Trio ‘Echoes’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Nordic people have a reputation for shyness – a product, perhaps, of a Calvinist Protestant tradition that shunned brazenness and ostentation, the freezing temperatures that necessitated taciturnity when outdoors, and the ethnic homogeneity which meant that shared experiences and feelings needed only to be implied rather than said out loud. This natural reticence, nursed in the cold dark winters, seems to permeate much of the jazz produced in Northern Europe.

The current Scandinavian jazz scene seems somewhat overpopulated with piano trios. Most who read this will be aware of the music of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) and Tord Gustavsen. There are many others too, of course. However, one pianist who stands out in this crowded field is Søren Bebe.

This is the sixth release from this Danish piano trio and it follows a slightly more melodic path than that of some of their earlier releases which were a little more abstract and impressionistic. The opening, title track, has a folk-like stately feel. Not only do we get to hear the leader’s piano in all its glory but also the double bass of Anders Mogensen and the gently brushed percussion of Kasper Tagel. The deceptive simplicity of the theme statement draws the listener in.

‘Waltz for Steve’ follows and is a sheer delight. A highlight is the feature for double bass, the acoustic instrument adding great depth to the music than the bass guitar which featured on at least one of the groups earlier releases.

Whilst Bebe would agree that there is a specific ‘Nordic sound’ he considers there are many contributing factors, one being the influence of shared folk traditions and the shared landscape of sea and mountains. Bebe states that a lot of care for the details of the music and the sounds that each instrument produces goes into each new release. The famed ECM label started by reflecting the Nordic scene and this influence continues in the music of the Søren Bebe Trio.

Much of the music is introspective and clearly much thought has gone into the individual performances. The album is a slow burner which gradually reveals its beauty and simply gets better with repeated listening. One potential difficulty with this type of understated music is that it may struggle to keep the attention of the listener. However, the music here contains just sufficient fire to hold attention.

In addition to his jazz work, Bebe has amassed a recorded portfolio of music for ballet classes. This project too is well worth investigating. Furthermore, Bebe is a keen student of classical music and also listens to a lot of singer-songwriters and this also infuses his music.

The pianist names Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett as influences and interestingly trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Much of the music has the kind of yearning intensity that characterised Wheeler’s own music. There are several pieces here which one could almost imagine Wheeler playing. The lyrical nature of Bebe’s playing has echoes of the music of Bill Evans. Indeed, one-time Evans bassist Marc Johnson is featured on an earlier trio album.

The ultimate highlight of the album is the trio’s reading of ‘Sospiri, Op.70’ written by Edward Elgar.

Bebe has led his trio for almost twelve years and the musical telepathy of the trio members is clear to hear, almost breathing as one entity. The emphasis is clearly on melody and this is music which is accessible to all, not just a specialised jazz audience.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Søren Bebe Trio ‘Home’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

A Different Sound ‘Eclectic’ (Chamber Nickel) 5/5

Storming out of Paducah, Kentucky Chamber Nickel Records delivers this wonderful nine-track album that could quite easily end up in a great many top ten charts of 2019. A simply stunning soul album with many highlights fighting for ear space it really is difficult to know what order to prioritise the playlist. Consisting Ernie Burton Jnr., also known as ‘E-Flat’, on saxophone and vocals; Gareth ‘Mr Brick’ Roberts on drums and vocals; Donovan ‘Teddy Bear’ Woods on keyboards and vocals; CT Shackleford on Bass, and Adam “Duck” Duckwyler on trumpet and guitar and Reggie May on guitar, bass, drums and vocals.

First thing to highlight is Donovan’s voice, which is a mighty thing of beauty, and somewhat reminiscent of The Dell’s lead singer, Marvin Junior, if not the mighty L.V. Johnson – yes it’s that good, and if you need evidence then head straight for the scintillating dancers, ‘Miss The One You Love’ before rolling straight into ‘You Give Good Lovin’. Then, like me, you’ll be shaking your head in total disbelief at what you are listening too; a wonderful voice, top musicianship, and great songs perfect for the UK soul lovers over here.

‘Arms of a Stranger’ will floor you the first time you hear it, with, I suspect, the repeat button clicked before it ends. The silky smooth lead on this is delivered by Reggie May and just about as sweet as it can get; a lilting crooner of the highest quality. For me ‘the’ track off the album just has to be ‘Never Again’ which is something of a shuffling groove-laden opus; all very restrained, with Donovan ‘Teddy Bear’ Woods doing battle over subtle horns. I’m not sure if the lead changes, but he fights to hold onto the higher notes as he tells us “she has to go” – stunning, absolutely stunning. I truly believe we have discovered one of the great black voices of the modern era on this release.

Track 3 comes in after the two aforementioned cracking dancers by Donovan, different in sound and tempo, more sparse with double tapped rim and sax this time with a change in Ernie taking over vocal duties, fitting perfectly with the sound, all very smooth and effortless. ‘Night On The Town’ opens with a keyboard intro and then in comes Donovan once more, it morphs into a ballad of real intensity, mocking horns behind his vocals add to the deeper feel, with further grandeur in the name of ‘Honesty’, which wraps up the album in truly fine style. A plaintive ballad full of melody with a and slight increase in tempo, but not too much, earning its place as probably my favourite of the two. The other tracks just compliment this magnificent album. I must thank Gareth for answering my questions and providing information, I’ve gently nudged him into the possibility of a small vinyl run for us vinyl mad Brits, and I am lead to believe “he’s working on it”. As for the album, it is available on all the popular download sites. As for airplay? Well, Starpoint Radio is championing the release on Mark Merry’s ‘Soul Sermon’ show, supporting the band and heartfelt statement that we just might have discovered the next big soul group. Thank you A Different Sound, you have made this ageing soul man very happy.

Brian Goucher

Kongo Dia Ntotila ‘360°’ 2LP/CD (Pussyfoot) 4/5

Kongo Dia Ntotila is a London based 6 piece afro-fusion group. The music on 360°, the second album, is described by the group as ‘Afro-joy’. It’s a pretty accurate description of this mix of numerous African influences, jazz and contemporary styles.

The album opens with “Kongo”. The drum roll flows into rhythmic stabs, a question and answer passage between vocals and the rest of the group. The band is tight and the rhythm section, in particular, has an exuberant drive, lifting this from standard mundane world-fusion fodder. The rhythmic assault continues with “Agbwaya”, a slick uptempo track with the motif led by the mini brass section consisting of saxophone and trumpet. The closing section is a bed of beautiful interlocking of bass, drums and guitars under a layer of repetitive vocal exchanges. The intensity subsides a little with the breezy and tuneful “Mbongo”. The instrumental “360°” follows and is a direct descendant of fusion workouts from the 1970s. The hard-driving repetition of “Faux Boss” flowers into colourful arpeggio guitars and is a humorous revenge on folks who have exploited them in the past. “Kinshasa Makambo”s horn-based introduction quickly locks into a liquid groove by the rhythm section and guitars. The platform for the tuneful horns to shine. The dual guitar provides the substance to the straight forward reggae of “Naleli” where there’s a neat bass guitar solo. “Feti”, which apparently means party, is led by the arpeggiated guitars for once giving the track a lighter and more melodic feel. The percussive introduction to “Koupe Dekale” gives way to flowing guitars, a galloping rhythm and rapid fire horn bursts. “Mutwashi” is the smooth and satisfying closer to the release with grand vocal lines and Latin horns. The performances are impressive in their complexity and intensity and although I’ve yet to see them in concert, I expect the live show is an exciting experience.

Kongo Dia Ntotila has chosen to associate itself with the current jazz scene in the UK capital and I can understand why. There is joy and excitement in encompassing different styles and making them their own which is common to much of the great music recently emerging from there. This album is a significant progression from the first, ‘Seben Steps To Heaven’, with a grittier, fuller sound. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of the UK ska revivalists in the late 70s with their more direct and uptempo spin of the Jamaican original. This album is clearly influenced and informed by the UK urban experience and is a celebration of London as much as it is of Kinshasa.

Kevin Ward

Astral Travelling Since 1993