Bill Evans ‘New Jazz Conception’ (Poll Winners) 4/5

A much feted pianist and rightly so, this debut album affords us the opportunity to hear the young Bill Evans making his way in the recording studio with a steady rhythm section made up of Teddy Kotick on bass and Paul Motion on the drums. The 1956 date was a strong indication of what would become a glittering music career, culminating in the participation on ‘Kind of blue’, and the seminal live recordings at the Village Vanguard. Not surprisingly here, the young pianist was still developing as a composer and his focus was mainly on the American songbook which he would so delicately and expertly exploit throughout his subsequent career. The selection is revealing in displaying his reverence for the compositions of fellow pianists. These include the bop hues of Tadd Dameron on, ‘Our delight’, the stylish piece, ‘Conceptions’ by George Shearing, and even a jaunty take on Duke Ellington’s, ‘I got it bad and that ain’t good’. This writer’s personal favourites include Evans’ interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘My romance’, a piece he would regularly revisit and Cole Porter’s, ‘I love you’. However, already, the pianist’s talent for writing a tune could be heard on the first ever, albeit tantalisingly brief rendition of, ‘Waltz for Debby’, a de facto signature tune for Evans. As a bonus, there are half a dozen extra tracks from a separate 1957 date with added musicians on guitar and vibraphone. Rounding out the excellent re-issue are original Downbeat review notes from Nat Hentoff.

Tim Stenhouse

Red Garland ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Best known for his work as sideman in the mid-late 1950’s Miles Davis quintet, Dallas born pianist Red Garland has never received his full due as an interpreter of no little talent and this four album 2 CD provides an excellent overview of his early sides, by far the best he ever cut, for the Prestige label. By the mid-1950’s Garland was already a fully matured pianist and one who had been influenced by the likes of Art Tatum (his main inspiration), Nat King Cole (whose piano skills are sometimes neglected) and Bud Powell. The first CD focuses on the debut as a leader, ‘A Garland of Red’, that celebrates the great American songbook in all its variety. A virtually identical rhythm section operates throughout comprising Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums. It is the Gershwin brothers who are showcased on, ‘A foggy day’, while Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘Little girl blue’, receives a subtle treatment. A real favourite of another jazz pianist, namely Bill Evans, is the focus of attention on, ‘My romance’. The rest of the first CD is taken up with the one exception to the albums as a whole, a quintet recording and one that features no less than John Coltrane on tenor. The lengthy title track, ‘All morning long’, took up all of one side on the original vinyl and typifies the sound that Prestige owner Bob Weinstock revered, long, loose numbers that have something of an informal jam session feel.

Continuing in a similar vein, the second CD features the trio format once more and is dedicated to what were Red Garland’s primary three strengths: ballads, standards and blues. This regular routine consequently allowed the musicians to stretch out and relax. As ever with Avid re-issues, the bargain price is matched by the unparalleled time value (nearly eighty minutes per CD) and the facsimile original back album cover notes. An ideal place to start and discover one of the underrated virtuoso’s of the jazz piano.

Tim Stenhouse

The Natural Dub Cluster ‘Biosfear’ (4Weed / Elastica) 4/5

Three Italian brothers creating electro dub and ambiental industrialised leftfield masterworks since 2009 are back after 2016’s long-player ‘B Deeper’ with a very strong and in places very thought-provoking Dystopial new album, it’s their fourth entitled ‘Biosfear’.

The Natural Dub Cluster have toured their albums since 2010, the tours amassing over two hundred live shows in Italy and France and are about to embark on a new 8 date tour (at time of press, more dates could be added) to showcase this new long player.

This new offering has all the Natural Dub Cluster soundmix hallmarks as their other long players, yet there is something different about this release, it is stronger in vibe, in delivery and subject matter -arguably perhaps to that of some of their past works- they push forward effortlessly the leftfield ‘off piste’ envelope whilst keeping the heavy density of their dubby soundmix on path.

One could say that the track called ‘Bi’ is gothic styled 80s synth new wave or that the track ‘Mi Know Like Them’ is a full on dystopian sparse 80s dancehall piece with its Ini Kamoze era style bass run (check out the lyrical delivery on this piece, it’s ultra cool). One could say that ‘No Redemption’ is digital gloom steppers and even to say that the piece ‘On Natural Selection’ is very ‘orby’ and very enticing. ‘Radical Breath’ is a foreboding electro instrumental with a digi steppers style riddim track  whilst ‘Fractal Error’ has a robot voice layover backed with electro gothic heaviness including nice lazer lights in a field moments from the synths, ‘Core Matter’ is a very interesting piece complete with outerworld female narration, like a scene from a film where on a starship far far away there is a room where different species students are learning about humans, it’s that kind of vibe over a minimalist -and again foreboding- soundtrack. ‘Fight Or Flight’ is a calmer play out track for the album, an instrumental piece in heavy ambient mode ideal for film background music, it’s a very cohesive album, nice for all synthheads and perhaps robotic goths, I don’t know how I came to the goth references I just get a digital goth vibe with two or three of the pieces from this set.

Overall it’s a bit of a dark album and I would go far as to say that it is very cool synthesized art, the sequencing of the album is spot on. Oh, and on the whole the bass is real, one of the three brothers plays the electric bass guitar.

Gibsy Rhodes

Robert Diack ‘Lost Villages’ (Private Press) 4/5

Robert Diack is a drummer and composer based in Toronto Canada. He studied music in Toronto, with over fifteen years of study in various institutions across the city. Composing for many years, he draws his influence from jazz, folk and traditional, to post-rock and pop music. As a drummer Robert has recorded and played all over Canada, and works with his own quartet and a musical collective called Luscar.

Robert has been leading his own quartet for a few years, comprised of members: Brandon Davis (bass), Patrick O’Reilly (guitars), and Jacob Thompson (piano). The group has been the main musical outlet for Robert’s compositions and this is the quartet that recorded his first album ‘Lost Villages’.

The Lost Villages is what I would call a concept album in as much as it is based on the story of The Lost Villages, which (taken from the sleeve notes), ‘were a collection of nine communities and townships in Southern Ontario. The people there were forcibly removed to make way for the St. Laurence Seaway, a 1950’s project which linked Southern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean by a collection of waterways. The houses are submerged underwater, as the places where there once was human community there are now lakes.’

This happens all over the world and there are many communities which are displaced for all different reasons, but nevertheless we can feel the unsettling quiet of an abandoned town, village or home. This album is a courageous reflection of the human cost of displacement and dereliction but offers hope as well for new beginnings.

So on to the music:

1. Displace: Atmospheric and eerie, a good introduction to the story with a

repeating melody.

2. Bittered: Big guitars from Patrick O’Reilly, an automaton sounding piece.

3. Pluterperfect: Great guitars and pedals, shades of ’70’s prog and ’80’s rock

which collapses into an avant-garde free style.

4. Idyll: Nice piano from Jacob Thompson, modal jazz, drums bass and piano

with some interesting production sound effects and then it morphs into a moment of chaos then resolves to a quiet and still end.

5. Lacuna: More than a just a nod to Heartland Rock and blue collar America, we hear the bass of Brandon Davis properly on this track. Laid back, sitting on the porch gazing out at the big sky.

6. Reliquary: Musically eclectic, ambitious and thought-provoking. A genuine attempt at a stadium sound whilst narrowly avoiding the self-indulgent, leaving enough space so we can hear the melodies and instruments, all well-played with great production and musicianship. This one is definitely a contender.

7. Sap: Dark and malevolent, you can feel the angst and despair of dereliction as well as the hope of a new beginning.

8. Placed: The new beginning promised in the previous track. A good mirror to the first track ‘Displace’ . Nice bass melody, hopeful and melodic.

A great first album from Robert, intelligent but not intellectual, musically diverse and not easy to categorise. There is something for everyone here, but in a way that is it’s weakness. I want to hear more of all the styles on the album, I want to see more development in all areas – I want more basically – and that’s a good thing!

David Izen

Florian Favre Trio ‘On A Smiling Gust Of Wind’ (Traumton) 4/5

Born in Fribourg, Switzerland, pianist Florian Favre completed his Masters degree in Composition & Theory with Django Bates and Dieter Amman at the High School of Arts in Bern (HKB). After a brief experience in the classical world of piano, he began to study jazz at the Conservatory of Fribourg with Richard Pizzorno. He entered the Swiss Jazz School the same year and in 2010 was selected to be part of the DKSJ All Star project with Pierre Audétat. That same year he received his Bachelor of Arts and the Friedelwald grant.

As a leader, Favre takes an active part in several projects, such as the Florian Favre trio, or his solo project. Recently he has also started two news projects, “Rêves de gosses” (rap and jazz) and “Fragments d’identités”. “On a smiling gust of wind” is a piano, bass, drums trio album, with bassist Manu Hagmann and drummer Arthur Alard joining composer/pianist Favre.

Favre’s style is wonderfully expressionistic. He plays with an assured touch, sometimes calm and thoughtful, sometimes lyrical and dynamic. His compositions work on different levels, being very listenable in an immediate way, yet also taking the listener deeper on repeated listening. Not unlike Esbjorn Svensson in the way that he skilfully lays down a foundation around a simple melody then takes a tune from jazz to pop and back to jazz again, many times over.

Eight original compositions feature on this recording. Highlights include “She just is”, a wonderful example of how lyrically beautiful Favre’s music can be. This is one of those tunes that takes me to a different time and place. The music transports this listener to a realm unto itself, where I can lose myself in the notes and chords, not having to or needing to think about anything else. “Flagile” is a deeper, achingly darker tune, yet still has light shining through to its core. I love the way “Nanomelie” gradually builds. From its sketchy, delicate beginnings we are soon drawn into a more colourful picture, with Favre’s classical influences never too far from the centre of things.

“On a smiling gust of wind” is a very enjoyable album. Those of you into your piano led jazz trios need to check this out. Florian Favre may not yet be quite the finished article in terms of stand-out jazz performers, but on this evidence there will be much more to come. His music has that flare and intelligence combined with melody and lyricism that many composers better known than him would quietly admire.

Mike Gates

Dubheart ‘Cool Under Pressure’ (Karnatone) 4/5

Bournemouth. Once a sleepy retirement south coast resort, nowadays it’s an eclectic cauldron of cool happenings and the sounds of musical reggae pleasure.
‘Cool Under Pressure’ is the new album release by Bournemouth’s very own 5 piece roots reggae band, Dubheart, presenting a showcase style 14 tracker of vocal and dub reggae culture with mixing duties traditionally provided by Fullness (drummer Gavin Sant), also starring is the brass section from London ska band Chainska Brassica guesting on the album as the Brassica Horns. It’s the bands latest long player release since their 2013 classic ‘Mental Slavery’ and its follow-up dub version long player ‘Mental Slavery In Dub’, which was released the following year in 2014 with Fullness at the dub controls. The band recently enlisted Zacheous Jackson, MC Tenja and Prince Jamo to accompany their creations lyrically.
The first two tracks on the album ‘Cool Under Pressure’ and ‘Tek It Fool’ are by far the strongest of the set closely followed by the end piece ‘Rocky Road’ and all come complete with their dub versions, a nicely produced set of tunes and dubs that fully showcase the players with Mark Shepherd on bass guitar, David Mountjoy on the keys, Richard Ramsey on guitar who does a nice job on ‘Rocky Road’ also with Steve Parsons keeping the riddim backwash rolling on percussive duties and the aforementioned Gavin Sant on the drum kit.
The band will play their new album live for its launch night on Saturday April 14 8pm at The Old Fire station, Bournemouth. The album is released on the bands own house label Karnatone Records. This is a band that knows how to drop the reggae groove in fine musical passion.

Gibsy Rhodes

Kay-Gees ‘Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan’ / ‘Find A Friend’ / ‘Kilowatt’ 2CD (Robinsong) 5/5

Jazz-funk is a much maligned term and one that is prone to be misinterpreted as a mere substitute for easy listening muzak. At its essence, however, is an edgy fusion of styles that had a significantly rougher side than disco, and yet combined elements of jazzy brass and appealed squarely to the dancefloor. The Kay-Gees are one of the hidden gems of this genre that have been crying out to be re-discovered (original vinyl is highly sought after) and this is actually the first ever re-issue of the group on CD in the UK, which given their roots is all the more surprising. They are in fact an off-shoot of Kool and the Gang, the latter of whom were formed in the late 1960’s and were influenced by the likes of James Brown, the sound of Motown and the collective horns of jazz. While Robert and Ronald Bell were the co-founders of the Kool collective, younger brother Kevin was the brainchild of the Kay-Gees, and they recorded on the De-Lite label side imprint, Gang. Their 1974 debut kicks off proceedings and the eight piece band have close affinities with Kool, but are considerably tighter in sound and track length, and were aimed far more at the dancers than the elongated jams with which early Kool and the Gang are best associated. From the first album, ‘You’ve Got To Keep Bbumpin’ came as a two-part 45 that came together on the elongated album version, while two more singles followed, the third, ‘Get Down’, ironically, being the bigger of the hits, just reaching the R & B top forty in early spring of 1975. However, from, a purely musical listening perspective, the second single, ‘Master Plan’, was equally strong and an early prototype of jazz-funk with chanted chorus and tight horns guaranteed. A second album continued in a similar vein, with ‘I Believe In Music’ coming across as a composite of both Earth, Wind and Fire, and perhaps inevitably, Kool and the Gang. Again, it was the second single, ‘On The Money’, that fared slightly better chart-wise. A third album extended the franchise, and this time Latin and disco flavours came to fore on ‘Tango Hustle’, with yet another dance craze being celebrated, while the real killer tune was ‘Kilowatt’, featured here in the original album and two extra long versions. Familiar to many will be the opening cut of the third album, ‘Kay Gee’s Theme Song’, while another is ‘Cheek to Cheek’, (not the Fred Astaire associated song) that exists both as an album track and as 12″mix. To provide a fully comprehensive coverage of the band, the bonus cuts include non-album songs such as, ‘Hustle Wit’ Every Muscle’, a TV theme track, and three separate 12″ versions, two of ‘Kilowatt’. This is probably all the Kay-Gees you will ever need and they can be compared with bands of the calibre of Brass Construction who typify this era.

Tim Stenhouse

M.F.S.B. ‘The Definitive Collection’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

The acronym itself may well have its divided camps (we shall stick to the politer version of ‘Mother, Father, Sister, Brother’, but a foul-mouthed, more street-wise version does nonetheless exist), but there is little disputing their wide-ranging historical influence on the field of dance music that MFSB have exerted, and this in different guises, since the very same collective of musicians are known equally as the Salsoul Orchestra who operated out of the same Sigma studios in Philadelphia. This double CD is a tribute to that very sound, although their Salsoul career is a different story altogether and covered elsewhere on CD’s by BBE. They surfaced just as early disco was emerging and one of their most endearing numbers, ‘TSOP’, became the back drop to the Don Cornelius led ‘Soul Train’ programme that graced US television, doing so much in the process to promote black music nationally, and eventually internationally when clips were broadcast throughout the globe. A further classic disco anthem is to be found in ‘K-Jee’, and the only surprise here is that this has not received up until now a major and extended re-edit. On the left-field of dance, ‘Picnic In The Park’, was always a classy piece of music, while MFSB prided themselves on covering some early 1970’s funk and soul hit songs in their own inimitable fashion. These included, Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘A Family Affair’, a wonderful re-working of ‘Freddie’s Dead’, that provided the instrumentation to a Curtis Mayfield soundtrack, and a take on the O’Jays ‘Back Stabbers’.

Jazzier cuts such as ‘Zach’s Fanfare’ indicate how closely disco, Latin and jazz elements could cross-pollinate and still sound convincing and authentic, whereas Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ has undergone a refined salsa/disco makeover that actually works. Later on in their career, they moved into the 1980’s with the understated ‘Mysteries Of The World’, which joins Dexter Wansel as the soulful side of keyboard-led music and co-founder of the label, Leon Huff, regularly performed on Hammond organ. Meanwhile there is a strong blues vibe to a piece like ‘Lay In Low’. Sophisticated disco is where MFSB excelled as with ‘Get Down With The Philly Sound’, but they could also contribute biting social satire when required as on the collective Philly International All Stars, 1977 smash hit ‘Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto’.

The one pity here is the absence of an extended version of arguably their greatest claim to fame, the epic ‘Love Is The Message’. The album version does not quite do justice to the extra long interpretation that DJ Tom Moulton spun this tune into and making way with space for this essential piece of dance floor history should have been a priority, even if it meant leaving out some of their latter product which does tend towards easy listening. Likewise, it is pity we have no examples of them live which do exist and are worthy of our attention. In several cases, these would have been preferable to the inferior later tracks. Otherwise, a solid selection of the essential. Extensive liner notes from Mojo journalist Charles Waring provide a useful overview to the evolution of the collective of musicians.

Tim Stenhouse

Snowpoet ‘Thought You Knew’ Vinyl/CD/Dig (Edition) 5/5

“Thought you knew” is the second album from Snowpoet, the London based band led by the writing duo of Lauren Kinsella and Chris Hyson. For vocalist Kinsella, the new album follows two notable previous releases, the aforementioned 2016 eponymous Snowpoet debut, along with the highly imaginative 2014 “Under The Moon” from Blue Eyed Hawk. Multi-instrumentalist Hyson steps up the production levels on this latest release, skilfully bringing together Kinsella’s engaging and characterful vocal style with warm and beautifully crafted arrangements. The results are stunning and the compelling nature of the lyrics and music make for a mesmerising listen.

There is a deep and raw emotion prevalent throughout the lyrical writing style and vocal delivery of Kinsella, mirrored wonderfully by Hyson’s delicate and thoughtful arrangements. For this session the duo are joined by Nicholas Costley-White on acoustic guitar, Matthew Robinson on piano, Dave Hamblett on drums, Josh Arceleo on saxophone, Alice Zawadski on violin, Francesca Ter-Berg on cello and Lloyd Haines on percussion. The musicians involved illuminate the gorgeously crafted songs with a tasteful and intelligent palette of colour that allows the originality of the compositions to shine through with a refreshing subtlety and beauty.

Ten tunes grace this exquisite album. The lyrics are reflective in a short story-telling kind of way, thought-provoking and intriguing. As tempting as it is to use words like introspective and melancholic, I would rather use words such as illuminating and conscious, portraying that rare quality of honesty that may begin with a very personal thought, but ends up speaking in a very human and universal way. Stand-out tracks include the mouth-watering opener “The Therapist”, a piece of music that surely has to be shortlisted as one of the compositions of the year, “It’s Already Better Than OK”, with its Bjork-like vocal delivery, the beautiful and moving “Snow”, and the heart-wrenchingly reflective music and arrangement of the folk inflected “Two of Cups”.

To categorise Snowpoet is difficult – which to my mind is always a good thing. Sitting in the realm of a folk/jazz/ambient crossover would perhaps best describe this wonderful band, with an originality that is both reflective and innovative. “Thought you knew” is music to my ears. Edition Records continue to go from strength to strength as a label, and with recordings such as this, one can only simply say ‘thank you’ for giving the platform to acts such as Snowpoet to write, record and release such charismatic and original music.

Tour dates:
APRIL 19th Birmingham, UK – Hare and Hounds
APRIL 29th CCA, Scotland
MAY 3rd Bennigan’s Bar, Derry, UK
MAY 4th Derry, Northern Ireland – Derry Jazz Festival
MAY 5th The Model, Sligo, Ireland
MAY 6th Waterford, Ireland – Coastguard Cultural Centre
MAY 10th London, UK (Kings Place, Album Launch)
MAY 11th Southampton Turner Sims Double bill with Olivia Chaney
MAY 12th Cardiff, UK – Millennium Centre

Mike Gates

Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra ‘Black Sun’ LP/CD/Dig (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Far Out are not simply adept at re-issuing material with a Brazilian tinge, but have made it their vocation to facilitate new hybrid sounds, and the Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, is but one illustration, fusing Brazilian musicianship and the head days of disco. The CD version is the preferred option on this occasion for this writer since the orchestra operates best as an instrumental unit, with occasional background vocals where necessary. The CD version is just short of eighty minutes, with lengthy instrumental versions of five vocal tracks from the original album. All three original members of Azymuth are present with Fernando Moraes doubling up on various keyboards. An authentic retro disco ambiance is generated on ‘Step Into My Life’, with punchy brass and subtle Fender, while the disco workout of, ‘Black Sun’, builds into an epic number with catchy and repetitive riff. If anything co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Maunick sounds as if he has been taking notes from the Ashford and Simpson songbook of building into a crescendo-like intro and this is evident on ‘Flying High’. Syndrums and flute combine effectively on the 1970’s old school disco of, ‘Give it to me’, the title of which has graced many a disco/funk tune in its time. A second release, then, from the collective that previously released a self-titled debut album back in 2014, which then received the remix treatment. Likely to feature on many a dance floor in the months to come.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993