Enrico Le Noci ‘Social Music’ CD (A.MA) 4/5

“Social Music”, the debut release from young Italian guitarist Enrico Le Noci, is in many ways a breath of fresh air. His music leans affectionately back to the jazz traditions served up from a bygone Blue Note era, whilst incorporating a fresh contemporary European feel that embodies a youthful joy of expression. The vibe is cool, the writing is mature, and the performances on this recording are exemplary.

Featuring Gadi Lehavi on piano, Felix Rossy on trumpet, Giulio Scianatico on double bass and Andrea Niccolai on drums, this quintet are winning well deserved praise in Italy, and with this album release one would imagine their stock can only be raised to a higher level as their music reaches wider shores.

Eight tunes feature on this session, each of them embodying the core principles of what this band are all about; intelligent hooks, to-die-for riffs, and beautifully executed musicianship. There’s an equality and equanimity to the whole thing, with all five musicians shining in equal measure, not just the band-leader. And that’s one of the reasons this album works so well, with Le Noci allowing everyone to contribute and feel a part of a unified collective, which very much benefits the overall recording.

“One For Cedar” kicks off proceedings, taking me back to a 1960’s New York jazz club. There’s a clear post-bop ambience filling the room, with only the music successfully cutting through the smokey atmosphere. “Solo Ida” jumps us forward by twenty years or so, with its very subtle Brazilian vibe bringing light and sunshine to a breezy beech somewhere on a lost horizon. It shares a thing or two with a couple of Marc Johnson albums I’ve heard… music for the summer might be an apt description. The title track “Social Music” throws us back into Blue Note waters as we swim alongside Wayne Shorter, riding the crest of a musical wave with a thrilling balance of skill and creativity. And as we come down from that wave we rest a while for reflection with “Leaves Like That”, just taking in the events so far, contemplating perhaps where to go next. And with that thought the band turn a page and take us into the 21st Century with the stunning “One For Humanity”. Reminiscent of a duetting Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny, there’s a spark of life within the music that suggests pastures new, filled with hope and joy. “Icarus Dream”, something of a slow burner of a track, takes the listener on a journey that gradually builds with meaning, until the music ignites with fierce, flaming passion. And with “Heavy Lunch” we find ourselves walking into fusion city. Not so much ‘Heavy Weather’, more like a modern take on Herbie’s Headhunters. The album closes with the silky smooth “For Nuts Only”, reigniting a smouldering flame that was left behind by Donald Byrd.

All in all, “Social Music” is a very enjoyable adventure. The writing is excellent, the performances warm, intuitive and intelligent, and the production levels of a very high standard. I’d highly recommend it, and on the evidence of what I’ve heard on this recording, I would say that Enrico Le Noci has a very bright future ahead of him.

Mike Gates

Sébastien Jarrousse Tentet featuring Ellinoa ‘New Frequency’ CD (A.MA) 2/5

French saxophonist Sébastien Jarrousse’s latest album, ‘New Frequency’, features a Franco-German ensemble of ten musicians with compositions which have taken influences from genres ranging from Fusion, Funk, Pop and Jazz. Known for playing both Tenor and Soprano sax, Jarrousse opted to play only Soprano on these sessions recorded over two years. Sole vocalist, Ellinoa’s ethereal timbre is more grounded in Pop, bearing similarities with the operatic Kate Bush and the sensitive Björk. The English lyrics are mostly indecipherable, but their delivery feels generally charismatic. Occasionally, she does not quite reach the band’s note, but this adds to what feels like a spontaneous and live album.

There is a 70s mysticism to the horn section sound, and it contrasts nicely with the vibrant rhythm section of electric guitar (Jonas Vogelsang), electric bass (Stefan Rey), drums (Nicolas Fox), percussion (Dogan Poyraz) and keys (Thibault Gomez). Specifically, the conga rhythms of Poyraz elevate the excitement when they appear.

Regarded as one of France’s best saxophonists Sébastien opens the album by paying homage to rockers Radiohead with the slightly tedious ‘Tribute to Radiohead’, which begins with a Rhodes keys riff more reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s on ‘2 H.B’ by Roxy Music.

Second track ‘Monolithe 1’, feels a little chaotic and brash at times and the stagnant bassline combined with repeated generic wah guitar riff make for a lacklustre 6 minutes, something you can imagine hearing in an old B movie. ‘Pegaze 51’ instantly feels like a better arranged song, smooth vocals and a horn section complete with funky break. Jarrousse simmers away nicely here, weaving in and out of this electric orchestra before the suitably bombastic and synthy crescendo end.

The high-octane ‘Cuban Native’ sees the band playing at break-neck pace, except for Ellinoa, whose elongated melodies tend to sound out of sync with the song’s energetic and funky vibe, until the angelic harmonies of the outro.

‘Camelot Project’ begins with a James Brown vocal sample from Nikitch on the turntables, before the disco fusion arrives with Ellinoa now getting into the soulful mood and singing sensually in French. It has a beguiling effect in its repetitious groove.

Sébastien reappears for the middle-eastern introduction soliloquy of ‘The Three Waves’ before some slow neo-soul ambience provides a sparse backing for a fantastic, sauntering trumpet solo from David Heiss.

At times on ‘Burn Out’, the groove feels lost and the amount of instrumental voices and layers gets overwhelming, leaving one a little burnt out.

The last track is the forgettable ‘Mr JM’, the odd lyrics reference Icarus of Greek mythology: ‘Obsessing over light my friend, A moth you meet your burning end, As long as you won’t comprehend, These words of truth: die and become’. ‘New Frequency’, as an album, is about as interesting as its baffling lyrics.

Fred Neighbour

James Mason ‘Rhythm of Life’ LP (Chiaroscuro) 4/5

Back in the mid-1990s a reissue of James Mason’s seminal ‘Rhythm Of Life’ album began to circulate for those DJs interested in extracting such highlights as ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ and ‘Free’ for club or radio. The sound was adequate but, lacking on range or dynamics. Okay, it was poor! A few years later, Soul Brother Records obtained the rights to reissue the album, elevating the quality for a much better listening experience. Then a few years after the Soul Brother reissue, a Japanese reissue via SHOUT! Productions followed, featuring a 7” promotional release with ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ on the a-side and ‘Free’ on the flip. It’s a little expensive and difficult to find but at least it’s 1⁄4 of the price of the advertised original, and it’s meticulous in staying true to the original release which included a 7” promotional disc. The sound quality is great.

And then there was the 2017 package that came through the Dutch label, Rush Hour, who followed up their highly collectable 12” releases of ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Dance Of Life’ with another adventure into the world of James Mason and his music. ‘The Sweet Power Collection’ was a 2 x 7” package featuring rare promo versions of ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ and ‘Free’ on one 7” with original versions of the albums, ‘I Got My Eyes On You’ and ‘Slick City’ on the other 7”. There is also another 7” with a new edit of ‘Funny Girl’ and a promo version of ‘Dreams’. As per usual Rush Hour placed a real emphasis on quality and uniqueness adding a spark to the usual mantra which pervades many of the collectable reissues.

And now we come to the original label’s September 2019 reissue… Deciding to venture out on his own after playing an integral part within Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity band, James Mason pulled together an interesting group of musicians to record his one and only album ‘Rhythm Of Life’ for the Chiaroscuro label in 1977. In the same year, on the same label, another release featuring James Mason was the brilliant self-titled album by Tarika Blue, with James Mason and Ryo Kawasaki both guitarists on the album. For many radio stations of the time ‘Rhythm Of Life’ was one of those difficult albums to categorise and thus received less than deserved airplay, with the album, like many other timeless gems, falling into obscurity. It’s easy to see why some of the radio stations might have found it difficult to give the album its due. The use of the Arp Odyssey synthesizer and the Polymoog may have been, for many, a little too much to handle.

The range of electronic instruments which provide a colourful template for vocalist Clarice Taylor and saxophonist Justo Almario. James Mason embracing a range of interesting electronic instruments of the time including the Arp Odyssey, Poly-Moog and Arp String Ensemble. A bold and adventurous approach. The influence from his Ubiquity band contribution certainly brings a unique vibe that permeates the album and adds to the dynamics and overall feel of the album.

Back in 2007, Recloose covered the ‘Sweet Power’ track with his live band on his excellent album ‘Backwards and Sideways’ and it’s a fitting tribute to the integrity of the multi-instrumentalist, James Mason, and his sonic explorations of the time. 10 years earlier, on the Mo Wax record label, Attica Blues alongside guest artists including Anti Pop Consortium and vocalist Roba El Essawy reinterpreted James Mason’s track ‘Free’ with a contemporary twist that sparked deserved interest and most likely jump-started a new wave of interest in the artist and his music. James Mason’s music has thankfully been recognised for the due credit it deserves and the timeless appeal continues to create more interest with collectors and musicians alike.

For those new to the name, this vinyl reissue is guaranteed to sell out quickly and highly recommend you investigate without delay. For those who have lived with this music for some years, well perhaps a crisp fresh copy wouldn’t be a poor choice either.

Mark Jones

Bryony Jarman-Pinto ‘Cage and Aviary’ 2LP/CD (Tru Thoughts) 5/5

‘Cage and Aviary’ marks the debut album from singer-songwriter, Bryony Jarman-Pinto whose release comes courtesy of the Brighton-based Tru Thoughts record label.

With Tru Thoughts already in the midst of an excellent year, boasting releases from Quantic and Pieces of a Man which have already been unveiled along with upcoming projects from Moonchild and Rhi on the horizon – ‘Cage and Aviary’ could very well be the project to stand tallest for the year.

Spearheaded by the singles ‘As I’ve Heard’ and ‘Saffron Yellow’ – Jarman-Pinto’s distinctive unhindered style of soul, jazz, folk and beat-heavy tracks, coupled with an earnest and heartfelt approach to her songwriting, served as excellent examples to what her pairing with Tru Thoughts label-mate Tom “Werkha” Leah would breed for a full-length album.

As long-time friends, their musical collaborations extend beyond the music presented on ‘Cage and Aviary’ with Jarman-Pinto having guested on several tracks from Werkha’s more electronic-inspired album release, ‘Colours Of A Red Brick Raft’ (2015, Tru Thoughts) including ‘Dusk’, ‘Sidesteppin’ and ‘City Shuffle’, the latter two receiving further notoriety from their accompanying remixes by Henry Wu and General Ludd, respectively. Should you be reading this and keen to scoop up even more music featuring the delectable vocals of Ms Jarman-Pinto, I would absolutely urge you to check out ‘Jamais Vu’ which sees her partner with the incredible Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra from the album ‘Into Forever’ (2015, Gondwana Records).

Even just exploring these external collaborations, Jarman-Pinto’s versatility is fully on display as we hear this exquisite vocal excel whether it be on the more electronic/dance-oriented production of Werkha’s design or the jazz-folk synonymous with Matthew Halsall’s compositions. Which brings us right back around to ‘Cage and Aviary’ and its unique ability to create something that straddles all of these genres. It almost harks back to a perhaps under-appreciated Tru Thoughts release from 2008, ‘Raise The Roof’ by Lizzy Parks which also thrived from the dynamic pairing of songwriter/vocalist, Parks, with another Tru Thoughts luminaire in Benedic “Nostalgia 77” Lamdin.

‘Cage and Aviary’ really sees Jarman-Pinto navigating these varying soundscapes with ease – knowing when to sound confident as she does over the rapid-fire drums and high energy of ‘Sweet Sweet’ and then allowing the sincerity of her voice and penmanship to take centre-stage as it does through songs like ‘Emerge’ and ‘For The Bear’.

The album is an absolute joy and we look forward to more from Tru Thoughts and their continued onslaught of world-class music in 2019.

Imran Mirza

Ana Mazzotti ‘Ninguém Vai Me Segurar’ LP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Ana Mazzotti came from the city Caxias do Sul, an area established by Italian Immigrants around 1900, the mountainous region is situated in the southern part of Brazil and approximately 18 hours train journey north to the nearest cultural hub ‘São Paulo’ and 25 hours travel to Rio de Janeiro. Ana Mazzotti’s first instrument as a child prodigy was the accordion, a particularly common instrument of the area with its Italian and Germanic roots. From accordion to the piano, conducting and singing, Ana Mazzotti’s life was moulded around music from an early age.

Ana Mazzotti was an independent spirit during a period in Brazil when it was extremely difficult for women to lead singers unless you lived in the larger more culturally embracing cities such as Rio or São Paulo. Entwined within the conservative society around Caxias do Sul with its strong threads of religious tradition made it difficult for strong independent female personalities such as Ana’s to thrive, but she persisted against the mainstream and, inspired by the 1960’s tropicalia movement through psychedelic bands such as Os Mutantes and the hippie movement, Ana Mazzotti eventually moved to the cultural hubs of Rio and São Paulo. It was here that she met and collaborated with Azymuth at a time when they were recording their seminal debut album during the early mid-1970s.

Much like Ana Mazzotti, Azymuth were pioneers and free-spirited artists who retained their artistic integrity and sensitivity, so it was fitting that the group and Ana worked together. The myth surrounding this seminal album has built around the artists and stories which have travelled through time inspired by the compelling story of this super musician who represented strength and independence against the status quo. From holding a community together as a teacher and conducting choirs and orchestras, Ana’s life was treasured by many within her Caxias do Sul community and further afield, albeit with hindsight as we don’t often appreciate the challenge to our core beliefs at the time. She was a persistent character whose panoramic view in life enriched many of those around her.

Recorded in Rio de Janeiro 1974, this classic debut album by Ana Mazzotti sees a welcome reissue through the Far Out imprint, and who better to channel this important historical piece of music. It’s an album which featured members of the seminal Azymuth group including Jose Roberto Bertrami who also co-arranged with Ana Mazzzotti.

Recorded at the legendary recording studio Estúdio Haway, located in Rio de Janeiro, around the same time as Azimuth’s seminal self-titled debut album,’Ninguém Vai Me Segurar’ has since become a cult classic since its release in 1974. It’s one of only two albums recorded by Ana Mazzotti in the 1970s, with many highly esteemed Brazilian musicians such as Hermeto Pascoal regarding her talents of a superstar quality. Had she lived longer the world would have been graced with many more sublime albums and collaborations and probably many within a more jazz setting such as the early 1980s album, ‘Festival de verão do Guarujá 82’, which is evident of a more jazz influence.

The album kicks off with the samba jazz classic ‘Agora Ou Nunca Mais’; a memorable moment from the album enhanced not only by the nuanced delivery by Ana but also the tempered swirling effects from synth and percussion. A faint recollection of Tania Maria springs to mind. ‘Roda Mundo’ is a catchy mid-tempo funky atmospheric number accentuated by some poignant contributions by Azymuth’s bassist Alex Malheiros and percussionist Ariovaldo Contestini. It’s a short track packing a punch, with the synthesizer sounds adding a welcome timely dimension. In 1995 vocalist Salome De Bahia covered the track for the Reminiscence Quartet on their ‘Psycodelico’ release on the French label ‘Yellow Productions’, slightly elevating the funk aspect without taking anything away from the original and it worked well.

‘De Um Jeito Só’ and ‘Acalanto’ both add a calm note to the album with sweeping electronic effects gracing the soft vocal tone of Ana Mazzotti’s delivery and they both are full of depth of statement.

‘Eu Sou Mais Eu’ is a beautiful midtempo funk-tinged track has touches of Elis Regina about it. An uplifting spritely number that states her ‘ I Am More Me’ translation. The track also featured on Mr Bongo’s excellent Brazilian Beats compilation in 2000.

‘Bairro Negro’ is a symbolic composition harking back to her teaching period within the neglected and sometimes violent schools wherein she gave her heart and soul for the protection of the students back in Caxias do Sul. It’s a downtempo dreamy affair with some great spaced out effects and a perfect delivery from Ana Mazzotti creating one of the highlights from the album. Thirty years later DJ Spinna’s clever sampling of the track added a unique twist to the Jigmastas cut ‘C.S.S’ from the 2001 album ‘Infectious’ and possibly opened up further interest through inquisitive diggers and collectors alike.

Ana Mazzotti brings a soulful dream-like warmth to ‘Feel Like Making Love’ that is enhanced by the synthesizer effects and microphone echo adding a lo-fi feel that really embraces Eugene McDaniel’s song. Although not as striking as say Ricardo Morrero’s interpretation a few years later it’s a fitting song for this album bridging the uptempo and more laid back songs.

The album was self-funded at the time by the artists and thus was never really circulated as it should have been. The result was that it faded into obscurity unable to gain radio play because many stations demanded money for playing tracks unless the music was heavily promoted by the label. An important album that is thankfully now remastered and available this September on 180g vinyl and CD.

Mark Jones

Mike Westbrook Orchestra ‘Catania’ 2CD (Westbrook) 4/5

The English bandleader, composer and pianist has been pulling together the disparate influences of American jazz, Brechtian polemics and English radical poetry since the 1960s.

In London, in the 1960s Westbrook was writing his own music and formed a regular band. The music was becoming more experimental and inspired by the American New Wave. Whilst the American influence remained strong, Westbrook had a strong conviction to question the American orthodoxy and to work on developing an independent voice. Early in his career, he was writing anti-war pieces such as ‘Marching Song’.

The 1970s saw the opening up of opportunities in the theatre world, both in straight theatre and in Fringe or alternative theatre. His Brass Band was formed in 1973 and had the ability to play in any surroundings from the streets to shopping centres, schools, hospitals and factory canteens. The repertoire drew on influences from New Orleans music, folk songs and early music. By the late 1970s, the band moved into Jazz Cabaret. This music theatre approach, based in jazz, with improvisation all-important, as a vehicle for original songwriting, is a constant theme in the work of Westbrook and his wife, Kate. I can think of nothing else quite like this.

One source has it that this 2CD set is a document of a performance at an anti-mafia protest festival. However, a more plausible explanation is that the music was recorded at a three-day Mike Westbrook Music Festival in Catania.

It seems nothing less than a minor miracle that this music has ever seen an official release, having been culled from an incomplete recording from the sound desk mix, an audience member’s cassette recording and an almost forgotten set of reel-to-reel tapes. The music was restored and edited for CD release by the late Jon Hiseman in January 2018 and sadly, therefore, may have been one of the last projects that he worked on prior to his untimely death. The sound quality over the course of the 2 CDs, which together make up more than 150 minutes of music, is exemplary, and the ambient sounds of coughing and car horns simply add to the atmosphere of Sicilian street music.

The album is something of a career retrospective covering three decades of Westbrook’s compositions. With the inclusion of three pieces from the 1974 album Citadel/Room 315; ‘View from the Drawbridge’, ‘Love and Understanding’ and ‘Tender Love’. There are also highlights from Mama Chicago, Big Band Rossini and The Cortege. Westbrook’s love for the music of Duke Ellington is clear and the orchestra includes ‘Lush Life’ and ‘I.D.M.A.T.’ which is something of a de-construction of Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’.

The music offered here largely represents what Westbrook terms his European Song Book. The band of 24 musicians included old friends of the time, such as saxophonists Peter Whyman, Chris Biscoe and Alan Wakeman together with newcomers such as fellow saxophonist Alan Barnes and Anthony Kerr on vibraphone. Tuba and cello are added to the relatively conventional Big Band configuration.

With such a large and wide-ranging programme of music, it is impossible to comment on each piece and so I will limit myself to mentioning a few highlights. Cabaret meets schmaltz on the Brecht and Weill ‘Alabama Song’. Mike’s companion in life and in music, Kate Westbrook, offers her characteristic theatricality to this piece. Long-time Westbrook collaborator Phil Minton brings his totally unique vocal stylings to William Blake’s words on ‘Long John Brown’ and ‘I See Thy Form’. Apparently, Blake at one point lived just around the corner from Ronnie Scott’s famed London jazz club.

This heady combination is sometimes something of an acquired taste. At times I’m reminded of the more adventurous work of Charles Mingus. As I have said, Ellington is clearly a major influence and Westbrook may say that he is simply attempting to combine art and entertainment just as Ellington did.

It has been argued that Westbrook attempted a cultural revolution in broadening the terms of reference for jazz to construct a peculiarly English, polystylistic multi-media art, thus locating his work in the larger cultural field of English contemporary artistic expression, rather than simply seeking to situate it stylistically within a narrower history of jazz. I will leave you as a listener to consider if this is an accurate summary of Westbrook and his work. One thing is clear, the world of music would be far less colourful and exciting without Mike Westbrook.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Mike Westbrook Uncommon Orchestra at the Blue Orange Theatre Birmingham December 17th 2017

Curtis Nowosad ‘Curtis Nowosad’ CD (Sessionheads United) 4/5

Canadian born drummer Curtis Nowosad releases this his third album, although, this self-titled album is the first with this configuration and on Sessionheads United records. Nowosad’s line-up for this enterprise consists of Luke Sellick on bass, Andrew Renfroe on guitar and the extremely active alto saxophonist Braxton Cook alongside Curtis on drums. This foursome is his main quartet but the recording additionally features Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Jonathan Thomas playing piano, Rhodes and organ, Corey Wallace on trombone, Matthew Whitaker also on organ duties and Marc Cary also playing keys. And for this 8-track venture, four of the compositions include vocalists Michael Mayo and Brianna Thomas.

The album begins with a vibrant version of Gil Scott-Heron’s sombre ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ (1971). Here, guitar, trumpet and piano are front and centre for this dynamic but expressive instrumental version (although it’s hard to touch Esther Phillip’s 1972 version). ‘The Water Protectors’, which is an ode to the indigenous people of North America, comprises of a mesmerising vocal performance from Michael Mayo and his very effective vocalisations rather than use of lyrics, while Cook’s appropriately lyrical sax solo appears during the second half before the brilliantly disjointed rhythm of the final 40 seconds closes the piece. The Delta blues of the Deep South is explored within Skip James’ masterpiece of country blues with a version of the apocalyptic ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’. The surprise of having a female vocalist in Brianna Thomas perform the song rather than a male was rather effective.

The 3/4 of ‘Waltz 4 Meg’ is a brilliantly written and executed piece, with its swirling piano, impeccable guitar work and gliding saxophone floating above the intricate but yet unobtrusive drums parts in perfect symmetry. ‘Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton’ touches upon themes of oppression, struggle and social upheaval, a commonality with the LP and its stylistically focussed compositions. Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and Andrew Renfroe (guitar) steal the show here. And for an insight into the track’s inspiration, this writer recommends, ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution’ (2015), a skilfully crafted documentary regarding the Black Panther Party which also explores the work of activist Fred Hampton and his subsequent early death at the hands of the Chicago Police Department in 1969 aged just 21. This premise continues with ‘Song 4 Marielle Franco’ a composition written almost as an elegy to the Brazilian human rights activist, likewise murdered for her forthright views on social injustice, corruption and police brutality in 2018.

After making Harlem his home since 2013, Nowosad has obviously been influenced by the social consciousness that is evident within this part of New York. The album is full of worthwhile motifs and ideas both during the five original compositions as well as with the three remakes, with Nina Simone’s ‘See Line Woman’ featuring the vocals of Brianna Thomas is also worthy of a mention. And it’s these contemporary observations of world history as well as its present state which give the album an edge over many other modern jazz recordings.

Damian Wilkes

Alexis Avakian ‘Miasin’ CD (Diggin Music) 4/5

French-Armenian saxophonist Alexis Avakian grew up in Marseilles, but it is clearly his Armenian heritage that comes to the fore when making music. Having learnt to play piano, guitar and saxophone at an early age, a decisive meeting with Archie Shepp firmly planted the jazz improv seed into the musician’s head and heart, and this album truly reflects a wonderful balance between Western jazz and Armenian folk music.

Avakian’s enthralling music has been developing nicely over the years, with two previous albums (2014’s “Digging Chami” and 2016’s “Hi Dream”) featuring the same line-up of musicians leading the group with an evolving, natural continuity, to this new release. With Fabrice Moreau on drums, Mauro Gargano on bass, Ludovic Allainmat on piano, and Artyom Minasyan on doudouk or chevi (traditional flute), the quintet bring yet more colour and texture with this new recording, evoking the essence of Armenia even more so than on their earlier releases.

At the heart of this music is the beautiful integration of the instruments used, especially the saxophone and the doudouk. Armenian singer Miqayel Voskanian adds a distinctive voice to selected tracks, his yearning, evocative vocals just adding to the overall atmosphere. But it is the combination of tenor sax and traditional flute that are at the core of the music. Sometimes in unison, sometimes almost duelling, yet always on the same, wonderful wavelength, the path of Avakian’s compositions is firmly set with the traditional folk melodies artfully integrated with a jazz improv ethos.

That’s not to say the music is in any way contrived or too pre-planned. Listening to “Improvisation pour Julien” is a classic example of how these tunes often develop in surprising ways, whether that be through a melancholic yearning, or a spirited, rousing effervescence. The bass, drums and piano alongside the two lead instruments make for a beguiling mix. There’s a telepathic-like understanding that flows between all of the musicians, with tunes like the emotive “Yaounde” swirling in a haze of Coltrane-like spirituality, “Hugo’s Jokes” twisting and turning between its East and West influences, and “Circus” with its wild and experimental juices flowing freely. All of the tunes have something fresh and invigorating to offer.

With “Miasin” Alexis Avakian has found a unique balance of sound that, together with his band, brings to life an impressive musical adventure that unites contemporary jazz and Armenian culture, creating a little world of his own in which the musicians are free to express themselves and craft some mighty fine music in the process. Highly recommended listening.

Mike Gates

Betsayda Machado y la Parranda El Clavo ‘Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree’ LP (Olindo) 5/5

Originally released in digital and CD formats in 2017, Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo’s ‘Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree’ was released on vinyl July 19th. This album is one of the most exciting things to hit my headphones in recent memory, combining my two favourite things – drums and nature. For this special album, Betsayda Machado gathered about 30 of her best friends to sing, play the drums and have a parranda (a party) under the mango trees of her home town of El Clavo in Barlovento, on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity and its authenticity. The group literally recorded Loé Loá under a mango tree, in the open air, as if they were in the midst of celebration. You can hear the sounds of the outside, birds and wind, and sure, some of the nuances of the instruments may be lost but it is hardly missed. The location ends up adding even greater depth, transporting us to the party. I can feel the wind blowing in my hair, kissing my earlobes, and carrying the strands of my hair away with the notes of the song. I can hear the feet stomping and the hands clapping as if the revellers were right there next to me, or more like if I were one of them.

But this isn’t just a party for the party’s sake and the choice of location was no accident. Machado is taking us back to her roots for a reason, the history of which is integral to understanding Machado’s perspective. Barlovento has deep African roots, tracing all the way back to Senegal. In fact, the town of El Clavo was founded by escaped slaves. And though we are witnesses to a lively parranda, that history tells us it’s not just a joyful celebration, but that embedded in that joy are pain and burden and even a little grief. If you’ve listened to the news lately you probably know Venezuela is in the middle of great upheaval and the people are hurting and scared, lacking steady access to the very basic of necessities; food and medicine. Combining the current situation with the history of her hometown, Machado makes sure that as you are listening to her you are also listening to her people.

There is not one throwaway song on the album but there are a few standouts. ‘Oh Santa Rosa’, a song dedicated to the saint of escaped slaves, is full of deep energetic drumming and beautiful call and response, voices filled with reverence and joy. ‘Barlovento’ stopped me dead in my tracks; I can easily say I’ve never felt music so viscerally. The handclaps travelled through the open spaces in my body and wrapped themselves around my calves urging my legs to move. ‘Borracho de Aguardiente’ is a beautiful example of Machado’s style, “Tambor”, a percussive technique that is said to make the spirit shake so much the dancer starts to float.

Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo is the invitation to the party we’ve all been waiting for. It accepts you as you are and only asks you to do the same. The gentle nudge to take all the parts of yourself, those you love and those you’d rather not acknowledge, form them into a ball, and instead of throwing them away or boxing them up, to shape them into shoes, put them on your feet and allow them to carry you away. Machado reminds us of the fullness of our experience. That to live, to survive, is to be defiant and in that, there is much joy.

Molly Gallegos

Astral Travelling Since 1993