22nd Feb2017

Graham Central Station ‘Now Do U Wanta Dance’ / ‘My Radio Sounds Good to Me’ / ‘Star Walk’ 2CD (Soul Music) 3/5

by ukvibe

Heavily influenced by the music of Sly and the Family Stone when for a brief period funk and rock seemingly met in perfect harmony as did the existence of a truly multi-racial band, Graham Central Station was created by bassist Larry Graham in 1974 and made a self-tilted debut for Warner that year. This latest collection of three albums on two CDs takes the story that little bit further to 1977 when funk was facing a major challenge to its throne with disco in the ascendency.
The first album is notable for two covers that demonstrated Graham’s ability to ire-interpret and indeed stretch out a famous original. Attempting Al Green’s anthemic opus, ‘Love and happiness’, was no easy task, but the bassline is a whole lot funkier and the music grittier than the lushness and warmth of the textured original. A fine alternative reading, then. Equally, Bobby Bland had cut, ‘Lead me on’ as a southern soul-blues number, but Graham sought to create a more laid back version with hammond organ incorporated. Both covers were minor hits. Where Graham really got himself caught in a musical spider’s web is with a track such as, ‘Earthquake’. There was certainly no doubting the virtuosity of the bass playing, or of the instrumentation in general, but something was simply being lost in the musicality with far too great an emphasis on rock-tinged guitar.

A 1978 produced album by jazz veteran Benny Golson provided a new path for Graham with, ‘Is it love?’, a ballad with a guitar intro straight out of the Isley Brothers repertoire and this again scored minor chart success. However, even here, the non-distinctive pop-rock of ‘Have faith in me’ was simply out of tune with the times. On the other hand. ‘Saving my love for you’ could just as easily be an early Prince song and it is clear that Prince was influenced by the high falsetto harmonies on evidence here and these are reminiscent of the early 1980s work of the sadly departed Purple One. In fact, even some of the titles come across as Prince-like, with ‘Now-do-u-wanna dance?’ a perfect illustration.

By 1979, Graham was clearly struggling to re-invent himself and a new album, ‘Star walk’, was co-produced by the Philly International musicians Bobby Martin and Ron Kersey. From this the disco hit, ‘(You’re a) foxy lady’, was a short-term solution, but both disco and Graham could not survive on this alone. As a whole, funk-rock was already in the mid-late 1970s starting to sound dated and adding disco into the equation (the very last Parliament album being a prime example) was a hazardous enterprise at the best of times. While this offering represents value for money in terms of time, the music itself does not represent either Larry Graham, or his band at their best. The voice in particular sounds warbled in places, though Graham was clearly making progress and would have the last laugh when he scored a major soul and pop hit with the 1980 love ballad, ‘One in a million you’.

Tim Stenhouse

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21st Feb2017

Wingfield / Reuter / Stavi / Sirkis ‘The Stone House’ (MoonJune) 2/5

by ukvibe

“The Stone House” features two of today’s most original, risk-taking guitarists; the UK’s Mark Wingfield and Germany’s Markus Reuter. They are joined for this session by Israeli born UK transplants, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Asaf Sirkis.
The concept behind this recording was to incorporate many of the elements which have drawn listeners to progressive music for decades, embracing a whole host of genre leaping influences, from free jazz, rock, ambient, psychedelic, trance, fusion and much more besides. The music on the album was completely improvised with none of the music written down or rehearsed. An ambitious project then, and one that when looking at the musicians involved really does whet the appetite.

Having listened to the album several times, whilst I can fully appreciate the undoubted skill of the musicians involved, I have to say I’m left a little cold by the resulting sound that courses it’s way through my ears and brain. A simplified explanation or summary of genre that forces its way from my lips, is ‘Stoner-Jazz’. Don’t get me wrong, there are some high points to the album, most notably Sirkis’ incredible drumming which makes the album worth a listen to in its own right. And the undoubted quality of the two electric guitarists, with sounds shifting effortlessly and effects ranging from harsh to even harsher to metal to grunge to ambient to vitriolic shape-shifting and back again, is very impressive. But overall, as much as it grieves me to say this, it just sounds soulless.

Perhaps in the grand theatre of invention, a key element sometimes gets forgotten. And that key element is that somewhere there needs to be either cohesion, or emotion, to enable the audience to ‘get’ what they are listening to. For me I’m not getting either of these things. I dare say that at the time the quartet felt it, but to my ears something somewhere has got lost in translation between the live session that makes up this album, and the audience who listen to it. Others will no doubt disagree, but I can only speak as I find.

Recording spontaneous and improvised music is a risk, one that to my mind will always be well worth taking. Sometimes the results will be nothing short of revelatory and astonishing. And sometimes it just doesn’t work as well for the listener as for the musicians giving their all on the music they are making. For me, although “The Stone House” is most certainly not without merit, it does fall into the latter of the two aforementioned categories.

Mike Gates

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20th Feb2017

Chip Wickham ‘La Sombra’ LP/CD/DIG (Lovemonk) 3/5

by ukvibe

Flautist/saxophonist Roger “Chip” Wickham is a name you might be familiar with if you read liner notes. Since he started out playing in Manchester during the ‘90s, his credits include work with Rae and Christian, Eddie Roberts and Matthew Halsall as well as an album under the moniker Malena with partner Dan Broad. To date Wickham has only released a couple of singles in his own name, “La Sombra” is his first album. Currently based in Dubai, the album was recorded in Madrid, where he lived for some years. Musicians on the set are Gabriel Casanova on piano, David Salvador on double bass and Antonio “Pax” Álvarez on drums.
Much of Wickham’s previous work has been in a retro vein, Soul Jazz or vintage funk, and as a whole “La Sombra” takes us into similar areas. The title track is an enticing opener, one that primes and focuses the senses with its clean, soothing tones and an unhurried, lighter-than-air aura that encourages reflection and introspection. Wickham’s flute and pianist Casanova’s piano lines have enough about them to elevate and add colour to this mood in a spiritual way.

I first heard “La Sombra” last year and have been keen to hear more since. Unfortunately I have mixed feelings about the rest of the album. For me the sound, whilst admittedly rooted in Jazz of the ‘60s and ‘70s, is too derivative and lacking in individual, original touches. I find this particularly so on uptempo, Soul Jazz numbers like “Sling Shot” or “Red Planet”; compact, melodic tunes that are easy on the ear, but don’t really capture or maintain my interest. Elsewhere, down tempo tracks like “Pushed Too Far” and “Tokyo Slo Mo”, both of which have some nice work on the vibes, are pleasant enough, although I appreciate that in saying this I am damning them with faint praise. Neither has the impact of the title track.

If the retro scene is your bag then you will probably find plenty to like in this album, but for me I’m afraid that I can’t see beyond the title track.

Andy Hazell

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19th Feb2017

Jimmy Reed ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid) 4/5

by ukvibe

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Reed is one of the undisputed greats of blues singing, yet he is still relatively underrated. This despite the fact that the Rolling Stones have never ceased to sing his praises, at regular intervals covering his songbook, and that includes their very latest album which is a series of blues covers reinvigorated with the Stones’ own trademark licks.Avid have again done a sterling job of condensing four of Jimmy Reed’s late 1950s and early 1960s albums onto two CDs. This comes with one caveat. While all the albums are worthwhile and help showcase Reed’s majestic delivery, this does not as such amount to a greatest hits package since it is missing some of the singer’s biggest hits of the calibre of, ‘Honest I do’, ‘Ain’t that lovin’ you baby’, ‘Bright lights’ big city’ and ‘You don’t have to go’. Thus, you would need to supplement the present package with an authoritative anthology to have the near complete picture. That said, the music within captures Jimmy Reed in excellent form and some of the songs are definitive examples of electric Chicago blues with a strong dose of R & B.

Unlike other singers of the same ilk such as any of Albert, B.B. or Freddie King, Jimmy Reed did not engage in long instrumental solos and simply left his understated voice to do all the talking for him. This writer immediately warmed to the funky undercurrent and raunchy drum beat of, ‘Big boss man’, which is a highlight while a classic bass line groove and intimate guitar greet the listener on, ‘Baby you want me to’, which does nonetheless feature a harmonica solo that Reed repeats elsewhere. Another winner is, ‘Hush hush’, which has the catchiest of riffs and a terrific soulful delivery from the leader. Some of these songs originally came out on a double vinyl and was mistakenly titled, ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’. In reality, they were not live at all. Like many blues musicians, Reed was born in Mississippi and moved up to Chicago in 1943, after completing his military service, before relocating to Gary, Indiana (where the Jackson Five family would be raised). He worked at a meat packing plant while gradually integrating himself into the rapidly emerging Chicago blues scene.

It was a tragedy that Jimmy Reed should be plagued by epilepsy throughout his career and depart this life aged just fifty-one in 1976. Consequently, the world of music was deprived of one of its truly great disciples. Hopefully, this two CD set will help fill in at least some of the gaps.

Tim Stenhouse

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18th Feb2017

Sugar Pie DeSanto ‘A Little Bit of Soul: 1957-1962’ (Jasmine) 4/5

by ukvibe

When ACE records released, ‘Go Go Power: the complete Chess singles 1961-1966’, a few years back, you could have been forgiven for thinking that would be all the Sugar Pie DeSanto sides you would ever require. Thankfully, this excellent new compilation proves all sceptics wrong and adds to the panoramic picture with the inclusion in full of a 1962 album that the singer recorded for Chess on their soul offshoot, Checker. In addition, it offers the substantial bonus of a series of 45s on independent labels that preceded her tenure with Chess. Moreover, there is precious little duplication either since there are only four songs that overlap and thus the new set represents a fine accompaniment to the existing and already excellent ACE overview.
Of great interest to fans of gritty R & B is cult bay Area producer Bob Geddins for the self-titled album from 1962. Where this differs crucially from the singles is that Sugar Pie’s wonderfully vibrant vocal delivery was, on the album format, given full reign to cover a diversity of styles and these included gospel, blues and jazz, as well as R & B idioms. There is a definite hint of the influence of Dinah Washington on some songs here and the former was at the zenith of her commercial popularity at the time, something that a young Sugar Pie DeSanto could not fail to have observed, and possibly hoped to replicate in turn. Certainly, the intimate jazz-tinged guitar and saxophone work wonders on, ‘Maybe you’ll be there’, and on the standard, ‘It’s not for me to stay’. Fans of Donny Osmond will recall his hit single from the 1970s, ‘The twelfth of never’, but how many are aware that Johnny Mathis had the first hit with that song in 1957 and DeSanto transforms the piece into a slow moving gospel number. One of this writer’s favourite numbers from the album is the gentle mid-tempo groove of, ‘I still care’, which actually has a strong Chicago blues feel even though it was not actually recorded in the Windy City. In fact, another song, ‘I don’t feel sorry’, comes across as a proto-Motown sound, albeit with a country-soul bent. Of course, the driving uptempo R & B songs are what DeSanto is best known for and she could certainly belt them out as and when required. An album track that should have been released as a 45 is the low down grit of, ‘Tell me what’s the matter’, which is a contender for the strongest song on the CD as a whole along with the beautiful female harmonies to ‘Ask me’ and ‘Open your heart’. Arranger and conductor Riley Hampton is to be congratulated for his work here and on several numbers including the excellent, ‘Can’t let you go’, the lovely bass line and hi-hat drums are a prominent feature and only enhance the listening experience.

As for the early singles, they are notable in that they feature duets with her husband, Pee Wee Kingsley, aka Alvin Parker. DeSanto would make duets a trademark of her repertoire and, while the early singles lack the same quality of instrumental support or studio sound of the later Chess period, they nonetheless are an indication of what was to come and for fans of the singer, it is extremely useful to have them all in one place to compare and contrast. A very worthy re-issue, then, from one of R & B’s most tenacious and individual singers. The photos by the way are most likely taken from a live date at the Jigsaw Club in Manchester circa 1966 and are testimony to the athletic and expressive prowess of the singer.

Tim Stenhouse

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16th Feb2017

Aaron Parks ‘Groovements’ (Stunt) 4/5

by ukvibe

Seattle born pianist Aaron Parks first came to prominence in 2008 with his acoustic fusion debut for Blue Note, ‘Invisible Cinema’, and then five years later followed this up with an excellent ECM solo recording, ‘Abrorescence’, which was arguably his strongest album to date. Parallel to this, Parks has been a regular contributor to the James Farm collective that among others includes saxophonist Joshua Redman.
His new trio outing is on the independent Danish Stunt label that is carving out a reputation for quality jazz musicians and he is accompanied in the endeavour by bassist Thomas Fonnesbaek and drummer Karsten Bagge. While, perhaps, not as adventurous as the ECM album, this is nonetheless a highly enjoyable and melodic recording that takes on board various classical and contemporary influences from Debussy and Satie to Arvo Pärt, and from a jazz perspective from Paul Bley to Keith Jarrett and through to Brad Mehldau. In parts, there is a lightness of touch that recalls the Bill Evans trio, especially on a piece such as, ‘Elutheria’, and the interplay between trio members suggests that collectively they have soaked up the innovatory aspects of the classic Evans era.

Musicality is at the very core of, ‘Alcubierre’s law’, which has wonderful floating quality, and where one really hears the trio in unison. Whereas there is a reposing quality to, ‘Forever this moment’, the emphasis is more on the blues on, ‘A rabbit’s tale’, with a delightful bass line in the main theme that lingers long on the mind. In general, Aaron Parks specialises in quiet contemplative music and this is illustrated further on, ‘Winter’s waltz’, a piece that was composed by Fonnesboek. The choice of what has become something of a modern jazz standard in Cedar Walton’s, ‘Bolivia’, is treated less as a Latin-infused number as on the original and more as a piece with shifting polyrhythms that are expertly crafted by Bagge. One pop cover is intriguingly a Bruce Springsteen composition, ‘I’m on fire’, that here takes on a distinctive gentle New Orleans mid-tempo groove with inventive percussion work from Bagge. Classical music is not forgotten with a gorgeous pared down ballad taken from Carlo Neilsen’s, ‘Tit er jeg glad’, and featuring just piano and double bass, with Fonnesboek entering into an extended solo. In sum, a well balanced offering of modern and classic straight ahead flavours that impresses the listener from start to finish.

Tim Stenhouse

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15th Feb2017

Club d’Elf ‘Live at Club Helsinki’ (Face Pelt) 4/5

by ukvibe

Crossing musical boundaries is something that some artists do better than others. Club d’Elf must be near the top of the tree in this respect, with their genre-leaping, eclectic fusion of dub-jazz, prog-rock, drum ‘n’ bass, psychedelic Moroccan dosed improvisational music. As much defined by sci-fi writer Philip K Dick, as by the parallel universes of Miles Davis and Fela Kuti, the band draws its inspiration from many diverse sources. Featuring keyboard wizard John Medeski, along with Brahim Fribgane, Duke Levine, Mister Rourke, Mike Rivard and Dean Johnston, this Boston based collective excel in the combined use of analogue keys and synths, guitars, turntables, laptops, horns, tablas and all manner of exotic instruments. Other guest contributors include DJ Logic, Mark Sandman, Hassan Hakmoun and Billy Martin, as the band take to the stage to embrace their non-convention with their musical menagerie of sound and spirit.Live at Club Helsinki is a double album of improvisational acumen, performed and recorded at one of the band’s favourite venues. The combination of excellent sound, intimate environment and an audience tuned into the band’s every nuance, makes for a heady mix as the album captures the feel of two complete continuous sets of improv and classic Club d’Elf tunes.

Disc one starts with the free jazz opening of “Mogador”, featuring Medeski on grand piano, and segues seamlessly into one of the finest tracks on the album, “Africa”, driven by the brilliant, rootsy Telecaster of Duke Levine. The whole performance throughout this album constantly shifts from one style of music to another, almost tormenting the audience in a quirky kind of way, as if to say, ‘I bet you didn’t see this coming’. And yet Club d’Elf are masters at this, succeeding where many try and fail, with the incredible achievement of making it sound so natural that so many different styles can be mounded together to create something new, exciting and ultimately skillful and very enjoyable. “The Booloolu” employs an almost long forgotten groove, whilst “Hegaz” is based on a traditional Arabic scale. There is at times a wonderful flow to the music, as the solos sparkle and the deep grooves flirt with vivacious exuberance. The bass driven hip-hop of “Secret Atom” showcases the wizardry of Mister Rourke, whose rock-steady beat-matching and ability to pitch samples into the key of the song set him apart from many DJ’s. The first set closes with “Berber Song”, featuring some blistering solos from Medeski and Levine.

The Moroccan influence comes to the fore on the second set, beginning with a tribute to the late Maalem Mahmoud Guinia. “Zeed Al Maal” is another album highlight, featuring the vocals of Fribgane and Rivard’s intense and commanding playing of the Moroccan sintir, a camel skin covered bass lute. “Power Plant” follows, with Levine adding a James Bond-esque melody over a sintir propelled rhythm. The band then flows effortlessly into “Salvia” and “Green Screen”, with dance-floor filling electro-jams fuelled by Medeski’s funky clavinet. The last tune “Sidi Rabi” features Fribgane’s oud and vocals, closing the set on a spiritual note.

Club d’Elf have been drawing on a wide spectrum of styles since their formation in 1998. Each performance can feature a different line-up, drawn from a constellation of some of the most creative musicians from the jazz, DJ, rock and world music scenes of Boston and New York City, and “Live at Club Helsinki” captures well exactly what this band are all about.

Mike Gates

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14th Feb2017

Various ‘Jazz in Italian Cinema’ LP only (Jazz on Film) 4/5

by ukvibe

For a brief period in the late 1950s until the early 1960s and the rapid emergence of rock and roll, cinema regularly drew up on jazz music as its evocative soundtrack and, in the case of Italian cinema, this coincided with a particularly fertile period in Italian cinema. All of the ‘big three’ of post WWII cinema composers in Italy (Piero Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Piccioni) used jazz music as the background to their film soundtrack work and this provides a good deal of the material on this single vinyl set. Unlike in France, where swing jazz was closely associated with resistance to German occupation, in Italy jazz did not fare as well since under Mussolini and the fascists the music was banned altogether. It was only really from the mid-late 1950s onwards that jazz began to be heard in the country. Arguably, the first example of jazz and cinema combining harmoniously is to be found in the young Rome born composer, Piero Umiliani who, in 1957, released the influential album, ‘Da Roma a New York’. A further EP yielded, ‘Blues for Gassman Pt.1’, that is included here. While the single vinyl offering only provides the briefest of glimpses into the musical universe of Italian cinema, and a more comprehensive overview of jazz in Italian cinema is urgently required, similar to CD box set projects on French and Polish national cinemas (and that is indeed a feasible endeavour), this very first incursion into the musical world of Italian cinema is not without its significant merits, not least because it introduces us to some obscure and extremely hard to find music that has remained largely unknown to jazz aficionados. Who for example has previously sampled the delights of Chet Baker as invited guest with Italian octet performing in 1959? Even the most seasoned of Chet fans would probably only be familiar with his later 1962 studio release, ‘Chet in Milan’. Elsewhere, Argentine tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, then a resident in Italy, is the only international jazz musician of note to be showcased here. Of course, he would be the composer and performer of the 1972 Bernardo Bertolucci film, ‘Last tango in Paris’, that won plaudits for its musical content as well as the controversial nature of the film. How many non-Italian jazz musicians sought refuge in Italy over the decades? France is well chronicled, but that would be an aspect that a future edition could potentially address. Baker re-emerges as a guest on, ‘Oscar is the back’, part of the soundtrack by Dino Risi to the 1959 film, ‘The Widower’.

Interestingly, the majority of the music was composed by Italian pianists who were attracted to jazz, with Giorgio Gaslini a prime example who performs on the Michelangelo Antonioni classic, ‘La Notte’, with Jeanne Moreau (who features on the vinyl sleeve front cover) and Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni. The moody, ‘Blues All’alba’ is a definite highlight here. The music was in fact recorded live on set and in this respect the improvised nature of the music is comparable to jazz. Some five years later, Antonini would call upon pianist Herbie Hancock to compose music for the title to his London-based cult film, ‘Blow up’. The theme from this was recorded on a 1967 Blue Note album under Bobby Hutcherson’s leadership, ‘Oblique’, that featured Hancock on piano and came out on vinyl only in Japan and, more generally, on CD in 1990. A question does need to be raised of how committed were the composers to jazz beyond this narrow period of interest. In other words, did they ever use the idiom of jazz again, or was it more of a case that jazz was no longer perceived as in-vogue and rock and roll flavours held sway with younger directors as well as the evergreen attraction of using western classical music to accompany films?

The album is likely to appeal to broad-minded jazz fans who are curious about the relationship between jazz and cinema on the one hand, and cinema fans on the other, who are interested in soundtracks and how the two art forms interact. What helps to bring them together here is the quality of the digitally enhanced black and white photos and the loving care of the presentation with great credit due to the in-depth sleeve notes of Jazzwise writer Selwyn Harris and Sienna-based jazz archivist and author, Francesco Martinelli. This is an Anglo-Italian collaboration we would very much wish to encourage and hope for further fruits. This helps greatly to compensate for the brevity of the musical time. What we now require is a meatier follow up that takes the story further and begins to fill in some of the key questions that this releases raised: at what point do more contemporary Italian jazz musicians of the calibre of trumpeter Enrico Rava, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and even drummer Romano Mussolini enter the equation? Was the period 1957-1962 a mere one-off, or did jazz musicians at a later stage equally engage in soundtrack work? For the time being, this worthy release opens up a pandora’s box of fascinating questions, and Italian jazz is still very much outside of the country and its close neighbour in France where Italian jazz musicians, like actors, have always been welcomed with open arms.

Tim Stenhouse

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13th Feb2017

Myele Manzanza ‘OnePointOne [Live at the Blue Whale]’ LP/DIG (First Word) 5/5

by ukvibe

November and December tend to be fairly quiet for new releases as our collective attention turns towards the festive season. Indeed, I doubt whether I would have known of Myele Manzanza’s latest album if it wasn’t for, of all things, an ad that popped up in my Facebook feed. Qualms about the evils of data sharing to one side, on this occasion I was thankful for the heads up. As you can tell from our 2016 end-of-year charts so were the rest of the team.
Manzanza’s debut, “One”, was originally released in New Zealand in 2012 before being picked up and given a wider distribution by BBE Music in 2013. “One Point One”, as the name suggests, is not an entirely new project, but an iteration stemming from the creativity ideas and musical vision expressed in the original. It’s a live recording of Manzanza’s first show in the US, featuring tracks from “One”, several covers and the odd original thrown in for good measure. The intention had only been to capture a live video of the song “City of Atlantis”, but on listening back to the whole set Manzanza felt it was strong enough to release as a long player.

Manzanza was formally schooled in Jazz, but has an outlook that extends well beyond this into hip-hop, beats, dance and electronica. “One” summed this all up nicely, but it’s definitely a studio production and one that needed adjustments to work live.

To help translate this into a live experience, Manzanza brought together fellow Kiwis, Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys), who’d played on the album, and Ben Shepherd (bass) to form the core trio. The addition of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s Quartetto Fantastico (Chris Woods and Paul Cartwright (violin), Peter Jacobson (cello) and the man himself (viola)) is a masterstroke as their sound adds further depth and texture.

The album begins with “A Love Eclectic”, the bait that Facebook used to lure me in in the first place. It’s a take on “Acknowledgement” from “A Love Supreme”, with viola leading the way instead of saxophone, surrounded by shimmering waves of sound from piano and drums. The drama and energy it gives off creates a great opening statement.

Later on, Atwood-Ferguson’s lead works even better on another jazz classic, the Bobby Hutcherson number “Montara”. This tune, a favourite of Manzanza’s, perfectly highlights the symbiosis of the old and the new; it’s classic Blue Note, but it’s also been reworked by Madlib. Drums replace the metronomic percussion of the original, the soothing sound of the strings stretching out and taking wing. It’s a wonderfully sensitive, warm moment.

“Absent Fade”, another of the string pieces, features an energetic solo from Mark De Clive-Lowe on piano that builds and builds. I’ve tended to think of Mark outside the Jazz genre, but it’s clear from his playing on this album that he’s got what it takes.

“7 Bar Thing” is the first of the tracks from “One”. In it’s original form it’s an out-and-out dance floor tune; this version retains all the vitality, with forceful drums and heavy bass, but pushes it a bit more into jazz funk territory, with some nice piano fills.

“Circumstances” gives Manzanza a chance to show us what he can do before the interval. Throughout this track and the album as a whole his playing is on point; punchy and driven where it needs to be, open and more communicative at other times.

The second half opens with a Theo Parrish cover, “Love is War for Miles”. Like “7 Bar Thing”, Manzanza’s arrangement maintains that sense of direction and purpose of the dance floor, whilst adding colour and variety to the melody.

The album ends with “City of Atlantis” featuring the whole group, plus Nia Andrews and Charlie K on vocals. Both strings and keys echo like recorded loops, only with more emphasis and tension. It’s a fitting climax to an enjoyable and varied album.

Myele Manzanza is playing at the Archspace in East London on 13 April.

Andy Hazell

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12th Feb2017

Michel Polnareff ‘A L’Olympia 2016’ 2CD + Limited edition 3CD/4LP (Blue Wrasse) 5/5

by ukvibe

Among the genuine French pop musicians who came to prominence in the mid-1960s, Jacques Dutronc, Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy are generally considered to be the most successful and ones genuinely capable of rivaling their British counterparts. However, one name is missing from that list and that is Michel Polnareff, nicknamed ‘L’Amiral’ (‘Admiral’) with his trademark white sunglasses and outlandish dress sense. His eponymous 1967 debut recording became a cult classic, with ‘Love me, please love me’ capturing the flavour of late 1960s Paris, and indeed Polnareff continued into the early 1970s. At which point, he decided to move ship to the west coast of the United States and stopped recording altogether. Thirty-five years later in the mid-noughties, he made a well publicised come back tour with a series of ten concerts at Bercy in March 2007 and culminating late that year on 14 July with a concert in front of the Eiffel Tower. This more recent concert captures him live at the prestigious Olympia venue once again on Bastille Day 2016, the very same day as tragic events unfolded in Nice.
Available in multiple formats (a slimmed down single CD also exists, but the more generally available 2CD contains the entire two and a half hour concert), some have noted that the concert unfolds more in the manner of a documentary on Polnareff than the standard ‘Best of’ repertoire and for those who can understand beyond basic level French, there is an amazing and close rapport between singer and audience. To be precise, Michel Polnareff is a gifted singer-songwriter who has an ear for sensitive melodies as well as more uptempo material. However, he became seriously ill during 2016 and at one stage it was feared he would not make a recovery. Thankfully he did, and another overriding impression of this concert is of someone who is simply happy to still be alive and making quality music. What a non-French audience will have to understand is that while the lyrics and content are French, Polnareff has soaked up diverse American musical influences while resident there and thus elements of gospel, soul, blues and rock all enter into his musical universe. That he is well respected among British musicians is indicated by the presence on his debut album in 1967 of a young Jimmy Page (then with the Yardbirds) and of future fellow Led Zepplin bassist John Paul Jones. For the concert, several current American musicians make up his band including bassist Reggie McBride.

From the early period of his singing, the soulful groove of, ‘Sous quelle étoile suis-je né?’ (‘Under what star was I born?’) reveals an angelic voice and a sensitive keyboardist who, at various stages, solos at length and improvises on his most memorable themes. Polnareff has clearly spent a good deal of time listening to harmonies and the female background vocalists provide wonderful support throughout, but no more beautifully than on, ‘Qui a tué grand’Maman?’ (‘Who killed grandma?’).

Sometimes the rock element can become a little too prominent for this writer as on ‘Tam-Tam’, or ‘Dans la rue’, which felt like gatecrashing a party to which one was never invited. However, there is so much to admire elsewhere that the odd rock guitar can be accommodated. The sheer musicality of the songs comes shining through on several songs and is illustrated on, ‘Goodbye Marylou’ and the lovely piano riff to, ‘Ame Câline’, which is ideal singer-songwriter terrain. Jerry Lee Lewis and early rock ‘n’ roll must have been a seminal influence on the young Polnareff and the mixture of early rock and even boogie-woogie surfaces on, ‘Impro piano’, while the singer is in playful mood on the wordless, ‘Tbili’. A medley of his own composition, ‘Je t’aime’ with the late Prince’s, ‘Purple Rain’, is an unexpected surprise that actually works and the laid back groove of, ‘Holidays’, has a Californian flavour with falsetto vocals that again conjur up the sound of angels.

The concert proper ends with an encore of three songs of which ‘Hey you woman’ is sung by those stunning female vocal harmonies plus a funk-tinged Marcus Miller bass solo from McBride before Polnareff finally enters. A picture postcard French tradition singer he is not. However, if you can accept the authentic American influences in his music, then listening to Michel Polnareff in a live context will prove to be a truly thrilling experience.

Tim Stenhouse

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