Hifalutin ‘Animals In Dub’ (Private Press) 5/5

At a wonderfully traditional album running time of around 44 minutes, Hifalutin presents us with his creation, an uptown underground sixteen tracker with the vast majority of pieces running at under three minutes each, he seems to understand as an artist the importance of ‘attention span’ with one’s listeners, he gives just enough time for the listener to settle into a piece and to enjoy it for a moment in time then it fades out and on with the next. The tracks here on this album were originally released as two track EPs some time ago and more recently Hifalutin decided to release them all as one ‘Animals In Dub’ package.

Modern underground ‘fusion dub’ becoming more prominent now with Nepal resident and musician Hifalutin, a multi-instrumentalist that has the required knowledge and understanding of reggae and dub music – ‘that feel of the mix’ – and then he lets that feel shine through into his own particular trademark style of playing and then by adding just a little bit of something else – the way it’s blended together and mixed, he delivers here a very interesting instrumental dub album with a crisp clean modern sound alongside warm bass and low-end organ sections, he doesn’t over do it with echo’s and dubby effects they are there though presented in their many different forms and disguises with some nice dub vocal snippet inclusions appearing on some pieces.

Instrumentation wise you will hear some nice horns, most notably the muted trumpet on ‘Puddles Poodle Dub’ married with its wirly sounding Jackie Mittoo style organ, and whilst I’m on the subject – organs, you will discover some really cool organ work from his studio keyboards feature across the tracks, especially on another standout track ‘Monkey Fat Dub’, and on the organ led ‘Panda Dub’, with its fusion funky drum rhythm sections in contrast to its one drop sections yet predominantly this track is a pure groove funker.. in dub style and fashion of course. These funky rhythm sections (or prehaps they could be taken as medium speed Jungle rhythms) season many tracks throughout this album, as do occasional electric lead guitars, catching the ears with the Santana vibe superbly mixed ‘Come As You Aardvark’. Another standout track warranting a mention is ‘Elephant Dub’, on this he manages to encompass jazz/funk and drum ‘n’ bass/jungle into one cool rhythm track, yet in a dub style and fashion, this album is sounding good in both headphones and on studio monitors. An album of varying tempo and inspired styles; I really do feel a subliminal jazz vibe hovering around the whole, it’s quite possibly the superbly played horn section that gives this vibe, yet it’s funk, yet it’s drum ‘n’ bass, it also has its share of traditional minimalist steppa style such as ‘Turtle Dub’ and other one drop tracks.

Overall this is a laid back album helped along of course by the chilled bass lines. It has its own little punch though so be ready for the funky bits, do indulge yourself with this dub album for variety is the spice of life, for some reason that I simply cannot explain is that after listening to this album, each time that is, I’m drawn to searching out and playing certain tracks from the first three UB40 albums, not sure why to be exact, perhaps it’s something about the mixing and sound style similarities I’m picking up on with ‘Animals In Dub’ and by contrast with a handful of UB40 dub style tracks from that early period. Looking forward to the next Hifalutin album already.

Gibsy Rhodes

Ferenc Snétberger ‘Titok’ (ECM) 4/5

Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger will be a new name to most, but his ‘In concert’, debut album for ECM was critically acclaimed, not least among guitar specialists, and this collective all original new recording of compositions, which actually dates from 2015, builds upon the first offering and beautifully combines folk and jazz elements. Snétberger has a love of Latin American music and this does come through as a secondary influence, though to these ears it is the central European folk influence that is strongest of all. What really impresses is the lovely balance struck between, on the one hand, the natural empathy between the leader and his fellow trio members, double bassist, Anders Jormin, and drummer Joey Baron, and, on the other, the ever melodic spontaneous conversations that the trio enter into. On the title track, the bass-led intro results in some improvised exchanges and Snétberger sounds not dissimilar to Egberto Gismonti here. Delicate melodicism is the order of the day on, ‘Kék Kerék’, where there is a greater sense of urgency, with leader and double bassist playing off one another in some gorgeous passages. The ballads are specially strong, with, ‘Renaissance’, the prettiest of numbers while, elsewhere’ the numbers have a Middle Age classical guitar influence. In contrast, ‘Cou cou’, has a semi-improvisational feel and is at once relaxed and informal in character.

Classically trained with Julian Bream one possible influence, Snétberger has clearly soaked up the playing of fellow Hungarian Gábor Szabó, Pat Metheny and Jim Hall, while the national composer Béla Bartók is surely a figure whose music the guitarist has called upon for inspiration. Quietly, this album gently gets under the skin and slowly, but surely, occupies the soul. There is nothing overtly flashy about Ferenc Snétberger’s style of playing. Just an overriding feeling of deep musicality.

ECM seem to be in a rich vein of guitar albums at present with the recent sets by Ralph Towner and Bill Frisell, and this new album certainly deserves to be considered within the same esteemed company. A warm recording sound quality, as might be expected from the Rainbow studio in Oslo, permeates the pieces.

Tim Stenhouse

Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet ‘December Avenue’ (ECM) 4/5

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has made Manhattan his home since 2008 and rapidly established a new band. This, his twelfth album in total for the label, is recorded at La Buissonne studios and features new elements in the line-up with a lovely juxtaposition of styles. A strong and young Caribbean representation comes in the presence of Cuban pianist David Virelles and double bassist Reuben Rogers from the Virgin Islands. Jointly, they add a whole new dimension to the music, arguably the most identifiable presence since Bobo Stenson was in the band in the early 1990s, and Stańko clearly revels in their presence and youthful exuberance. Another youthful participant is drummer Gerald Cleaver is one of the hottest new talents and three members of the rhythm section contribute three originals, with the other nine composed solely by the leader.

The general tone is contemplative, and the reflective ballad, ‘Blue cloud’, is typical of the album as a whole. Some of the pieces are quite abstract in character, and this is exemplified on, ‘Conclusion’, a number that breaks down into a piano solo, before rebuilding itself as a quiet quartet piece. Stańko’s distinctive breathy tone is emphasized on the opener, ‘Cloud’, which is a wonderful calming and reposing way in which to start off the album. Cleaver displays a deft hand on percussion on the ballad, ‘The street of crocodiles’ and there is fine balladry work all round on, ‘Ballad for Bruno Schulz’.For a complete shift of tempo, ‘Burning hot’, has a more complex and even funkier tone to it with Stańko’s contribution having something of an early 1970s feel. The title track has a Monk-esque post-bop feel and is intended to convey the atmosphere of a busy Christmas period of anticipated preparation. Here trumpet and piano operate in tandem, Nothing revolutionary here, but long-time devotees will find much to admire nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Rob Luft ‘Riser’ CD/DIG (Edition) 5/5

Rob Luft is a London based, twenty three year old guitarist and composer and “Riser” is his debut album, released on the ever-impressive Edition label. It is an astonishing debut, especially given the fact that up until recently Luft saw himself primarily as a performer, rather than a composer. As he explains; “Riser marks the first occasion on which I’ve released a selection of my original songs. I have always considered myself as being primarily a performer and secondly a composer. I feel more at home standing on the kind of ‘Riser’ that can be found in London’s jazz clubs rather than sitting at home writing music”. The ten original tunes he has penned for this album well and truly prove that he is already an accomplished writer and performer, giving the listener the best of both worlds in abundance.

This album is so fresh and inventive, it has it all. Startling compositions that brim with a joyous air of inventiveness are performed with an ease of grace and skill by the musicians involved. Luft plays acoustic and electric guitars, and is joined by Joe Wright on tenor saxophone, Joe Webb on piano, Hammond organ and harmonium, Tom McCredie on bass, and Corrie Dick on drums. This acoustic quintet work brilliantly together with their youthful exuberance meeting head-on with a deft maturity, making for a rich and rewarding listening experience.

Luft’s background as a very young member of The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, along with his work with saxophonist Martin Speake, drummers Enzo Zirilli and Phelan Burgoyne, trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen, appear to have given the guitarist a wealth of varied experience in a relatively short space of time. His own music is multi-faceted, taking on board many musical influences and styles, ranging from contemporary jazz, Celtic folk, Afro-Caribbean, indie-pop and ambient dance grooves. That may sound like a heady mix, but it all gels together in such a fascinating and subtle way that it all just sounds as if it was always meant to be. His writing is extremely melodic and surprises and delights in equal measure.

Luft veers away from what you might expect a debut album to be. It’s very much a group recording, one where the guitarist is certainly the leader and driving force, but where he gives room for the other musicians to shine. And this is clearly down to the writing. These are proper tunes, carefully constructed with ideas to burn, written, I would imagine, with a very clear idea of what the composer wanted to achieve. This isn’t an album or a guitarist where the debutant invites comparisons in any context really… certainly not in your archetypal Jazz trio/quartet/quintet tradition anyway. Luft is very much charting his own course and seems pleasingly unafraid to do so. He has his own character and creates his own sound through his artistic vision, in the same way that one might think of how Pat Metheny or Kurt Rosenwinkel forged and developed their own style and sound. The resulting music is highly original, versatile, compelling and ultimately wonderfully satisfying.

“Night Songs” opens the album, with its infectious rhythms burning brightly. Darting exploratory phrases combine with striking melodies with an urgency that has this listener on the edge of his seat from word go. The combined interplay between sax and guitar, drums and bass, enriched with soaring Hammond organ are a feature throughout the recording, and this first track combines all of these elements perfectly. The title track “Riser” begins with lush acoustic guitar before the overall sound begins to resonate with a joyful, playful vivacity. Reminiscent in some ways of tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard in his early days, there’s an African-inflected vibrancy to this tune. “Beware” has a more ethereal feel to it, with its Celtic overtones and fluent guitar and sax interplay taking me back to the wonderful music of Tim Garland’s “Lammas”. The atmospheric “Slow Potion” is a beautiful piece of music. Folksy guitar combines with a crystal clear electric guitar, floating above a musical pallete of colour and texture. “Different Colours Of Silence” with its reflective Bill Frisell-like intro, develops into an energetic and life-affirming celebration. The thoughtful yet anthemic nature of “Dust Settles” reminds me of Brian Blade and The Fellowship. Uplifting and thought-provoking. “Shorty” benefits from a rhythmic fluency with its jazz, rock, funk grooves dripping out of my speakers as the whole band stretch out in irrepressible style. “Blue, White and Dreaming” is a haunting piece, notes cascading like a gentle waterfall, ripples of sound spreading outward from a pool of clear water. The penultimate track “St. Brian 1” provides yet more excellent interplay from this quintet, with an upbeat mood effervescent and decadent. And so we come to the final piece “We Are All Slowly Leaving”. If you’ve made it to this part of my review then hopefully you’re thinking by now that maybe this album’s well worth checking out. Well, it’s not very often as a reviewer or general avid music lover I’d say this, but the last track of this album is just so incredible that it makes “Riser” worth buying right now, just for this track, let alone everything else that preceded it. This is a stunning piece of music. It’s an adventurous journey, perhaps similar to how Pat Metheny or Weather Report might have taken us on a journey. The opening meditative acoustic guitar leads into a Coltrane-esque spiritual vibe, with the ensuing passage of sound embracing hypnotic grooves and a deep, atmospheric intensity. This is truly brilliant music, leaving me in no doubt whatsoever that Rob Luft could have so much to offer the world of jazz for many years to come.

“Riser” excels as an album in many ways. Brilliant writing, fabulous individual and collective performances, recorded par-excellence at Real World Studios. But perhaps the best recommendation I can give it, is that I just keep coming back for more. Each and every time I listen to it I feel enthused and invigorated. I love it.

The album is out now and will be officially launched at Kings Place in London on 23rd September 2017.

Mike Gates

Tom Browne ‘Brother, Brother. The GRP / Arista Anthology’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 3/5

Probably better know in the UK for his major pop chart hit in ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ than in his native country, Tom Browne is a frustrating musician in some respects. He started off in jazz-fusion at the very end of the 1970s, modified his style and scored individual single successes with a style some would describe as jazz-funk, and then got somewhat sidelined by the hip-hop revolution and changed his style again. Compare this with the two major trumpeter players of the 1980s, the resurgence of Miles Davis who came out of semi-retirement to record again with a new generation of musicians, and the young pretender to the throne in Wynton Marsalis, who after a promising early series of albums that included performing with the classic 1960s Miles Davis rhythm section, then turned his back on moving forward and instead pursued a revivalist career, harking back to the jazz tradition.

By the 1990s, Tom Browne’s sound had become somewhat dated and one wonders whether had he not scored the major hit in ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ (of which there are no less than three separate versions on this anthology, the original album version, a 1991 extended version and a more recent mixed version) as early on in his career, his music might have travelled a different path, with more satisfying results. Be that as it may, for devotees of the Tom Browne sound, there will be a good deal to delve into and the anthology is comprehensive in including harder to find 12″ versions.

The debut album, ‘Browne Sugar’, was a modest top fifty R & B album entry and, frankly, there is little among the five pieces selected that distinguishes him from any number of musicians from the era when jazz was well and truly in the doldrums with the onslaught of disco and rock. Chuck Mangione seems to have been a guiding influence here and the latter had some major commercial successes in the 1970s before disappearing altogether when acoustic jazz came back into vogue during the 1980s jazz revival. A reasonable mid-tempo stab at Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s goin’ on’ features collective vocals in the chorus, but not on par with the Harvey Mason cover.

A second album from 1980, ‘Love Approach’, would prove to be the major breakthrough for Tom Browne, with a number one R & B single in ‘Funkin’ For Jamaica’, which crossed over into the pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic. As a whole, the album contained nothing else quite as ‘sellable’ to a wider audience and only three tracks including the big hit are included here. The far stronger ‘Magic’ album was released in 1981 and this is by far the most balanced of all Browne’s recordings and also included a reasonable chart hit in ‘Thighs High (grip your hips and move)’, and betrayed a bass line that paid direct homage to the Funkadelic and Parliament P-funk school with ‘Not Just Knee Deep’, immediately springing to mind. Jazz-funk was very much flavour of the day in the UK at the beginning of the 1980s, with home-grown talent such as Incognito and Level 42, and veterans such as Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith enjoying a new surge of popularity. Another single, the title track, was a good deal poppier and the 12″ version is added with vocals by Cliff Branch Jr.

The next album, ‘Yours Truly’, was another well-balanced set, but frustratingly here, the three interpretations of John Coltrane standards, ‘Naima’, ‘Lazy Bird’, and, ‘Come For The Ride’ are all left off this compilation which is a mistake. Clearly Browne was rediscovering the roots of jazz and the listener should have been made aware of this, but you would never know based on the more commercial side of Tom Browne that is showcased here. All the more frustrating because this could easily have replaced throwaway disco-tinged numbers such as ‘Let’s Dance’, which is not the Nile Rodgers and David Bowie collaboration number.

A new single, the lengthy titled ‘Fungi Mama/Bebopafunkadiscolypso’ was a minor hit in the UK, but nothing on the scale of ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’. That said, it was an indication that Browne was open to different influences and here the combination of calypso, gospel vocal harmonies and P-funk with jazz was one that he could and, perhaps, should have explored in greater depth because no one else was fusing these genres so effectively. In a not dissimilar vein, ‘Bye Gones’ combined assorted stylistic elements and the extended remix is included here.

Thereafter, Tom Browne fell victim to major changes in the music industry and allowed himself to be led rather than pursuing his own distinctive trajectory and this was typified by ‘Rockin’ Radio’ and his carer petered out somewhat. Liner notes by writer Kevin Goines places Browne’s career in a wider historical framework and there are useful quotes from bassist Marcus Miller, keyboardist Lesette Wilson as well as by the trumpeter himself.

Do search out the BBR re-issued an expanded edition of ‘Magic’ when investigating further.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Swamp Pop – Sea of Love – The Ultimate Collection 1955-1962’ (Jasmine) 4/5

Back in the 1950s one of the most effective ways for record labels to promote their products in the United States was via the jukebox. It immediately brought new sounds into the inner cities and countryside bars alike, and this well researched compilation casts new light on a style of music that was popular in the southern states of Louisiana and Texas. It was music that cut across both the racial divide and musical boundaries, with R & B and country genres featured in equal measure. These include 45s from some of the premier labels such as Argo, Ace, Chess and Columbia. What is particularly interesting is how these seemingly disparate styles in practice merged and cross-fertilised. Thankfully, musicians never did respect artificially imposed divides by the rest of society.

The excellent liner notes allude to the historical legacy and importance of New Orleans in nurturing new talent and a common denominator here is the collective influence of Fats Domino upon the musicians and equally that of his producer, Dave Bartholomew. To a greater or lesser extent, all the music contained within pays homage to that particular sound. Highlights include the rock and roll influenced, ‘This should go on forever’ by Rod Bernard and, ‘Just a dream’, by Jimmy Clanton. Blues fans will feel at home with Earl King’s, ‘Those lonely, lonely nights’. Arguably the biggest swamp hit of all belonged to the evocatively named Cookie and his Cup Cakes with, ‘Mathilda has finally come back’.

While none of the singles made any impact in the UK, the title track of the compilation was covered by Marty Wilde and he enjoyed a sizeable hit, occupying the number three position in the UK charts. Ray Charles would effortlessly fuse R & B and country genres with his 1962 seminal album recording, ‘Modern sounds in country and western music’. A previous Jasmine 2 CD, ’50 classic sounds of Louisiana’, covers similar ground in even greater depth.

Tim Stenhouse

H.B. Barnum ‘Everybody Loves The Voice of…’ (Jasmine) 4/5

Better known to soul fans as a gifted arranger, most notably the long-time collaborator of Aretha Franklin, but equally working with Gladys Knight, Frank Sinatra and a roster of Motown artists including The Supremes, The Temptations and the Jackson Five that were released in 1960 and 1962 respectively. The material was varied and straddles blues, R & B, jazz and even the Great American Songbook repertoire.

Barnum was just twenty-five years of age when recording his first ever album, ‘The Big Voice of Barnum’, and at the time was totally focused on his own career. To these ears, the music works best with the more blues oriented material such as ‘I Know (Don’t Have To Tell Me)’ and ‘How Many More Times’. A second album,’Everybody loves H.B. – Barnum that is!’, was released two years later and, interestingly, it is a cover of Thelonius Monk’s jazz standard, ‘Round Midnight’, that stands out here. Ballads were a speciality of Barnum and, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face’, impresses. Of course, there were covers of pop songs with ‘The Last Dance’ and an R & B favourite, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, both fine examples of Barnum’s ability to adapt to his own versatile style.

Now eighty years of age, H.B. Barnum has enjoyed a distinguished career as an arranger of other singers and doubtless his own singing enabled him to empathise and better understand the needs of other singers. He recorded half a dozen vocal albums in the 1960s before settling into a longer career of producing others. A worthy re-issue.

Tim Stenhouse

Arthur Blythe ‘Elaborations / Light Blue: Plays Thelonious Monk / Put Sunshine In It’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

This is the second of the pairing of various Columbia album recordings by the sadly departed alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe in the early-Mid-1980s and once again the unusual instrumental line-ups makes for some highly original and, at times, unorthodox music. The only caveat is that the most commercial of all Blythe’s recordings for a mainstream label, ‘Put sunshine in it’ has been preferred to other far superior albums, and certainly the ever popular, ‘Basic Blythe’, from 1987, would have made a far better choice, especially since it is one of Blythe’s more accessible works and includes the perennial favourite number, ‘Autumn in New York’, with no less than two versions on the same album.

That aside, this latest re-issue has the major bonus of Blythe re-interpreting the music of Monk on the strongest of any of the albums showcased here, the excellent 1985 recording ‘Light Blue: Arthur Blythe plays Thelonius Monk’. This compares favourably with two other original takes on the Monk repertoire, Steve Lacy’s wonderful ‘Reflections’ on Prestige and the late 1980s Afro-Cuban jazz masterpiece, ‘Rumba para Monk’ by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. Sumptuous versions of ‘Epistrophy’, ‘Nutty’ and ‘Off minor’ round off a memorable take on Monk’s innovative compositions.

A 1982 album, ‘Elaboration’, with virtually an identical roster of musicians, carries on with the original line-up of cello, tuba and guitar and the music veers between post-bop and the avant-garde. This writer was especially taken by the modal feel to ‘Lower Nile’. Guitarist Kelvyn Bell impresses and comes very much of the James ‘Blood’ Ulmer school of playing, while tuba player Bob Stewart oscillates between emphasising the bass line and playing the harmony. Cellist Abdul Wadud introduces an additional layered texture and this is music devoid of any clichés.

Which leaves the unfortunate second 1985 ‘Put sunshine in it’. This was a blatant attempt at commercial success with drum machines and synths, and one can only wonder at what the Columbia music executives thought they were doing when they encouraged Blythe to turn away from his natural inclinations and go for broke. The less said about the music the better and only a funky take on ‘One Mint Julep’ is worth mentioning. It was a ghastly mistake and a sole blemish on an otherwise exemplary Blythe catalogue for Columbia.

As a whole, then, well worth investigating and, hopefully, ‘Basic Blythe’, will finally see the light of day on CD in the UK and, with John Hicks on piano, it would be an ideal way to hear the music of one of the underrated saxophonists of the last four decades.

Tim Stenhouse

Lee Morgan ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid) 4/5

Trumpeter Lee Morgan led an adventurous life, to say the least, and was tragically killed by his then girlfriend in a jazz club in 1972. His meteoric rise to fame began as part of the Dizzy Gillespie big band before he gained notoriety in one of the very best ever incarnations of the Jazz Messengers under leader Art Blakey. This collection of four albums covers the period 1957 to 1960, with no less than three of the recordings dating from the latter when Morgan’s sound was much in demand.

The 1957 Hollywood recording of part of the Gillespie big band under Morgan’s leadership, ‘Dizzy Atmosphere’, is very much the odd one out here because the sound is more akin to that of Count Basie than Morgan, and Morgan was at the time an exciting hard-bop trumpet. As a whole, the album is something of a disappointment and Avid would have been better served including another album from 1960/1 that more accurately reflects Morgan as a leader. An early Blue Note album such as ‘Candy’ would have provided a useful comparison with what followed.

Moving on to the 1960 albums, two of these were recorded for the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label and this was an interesting record company on at least two accounts. First of all, it was a family firm owned by two brothers Vivian and James Brackeen, who were African-American, and this was unusual for the recording industry at the time. Secondly, the albums were promoted via edited 45s being released and played on the local format favored in inner cities at the time, of the jukebox. This being the case, the first album, ‘Here’s Lee Morgan’, from February of that year featured two single releases in ‘Terrible T’ and ‘I’m a fool to want you’, both original compositions by Morgan. A stellar line-up comprised Clifford Jordan on tenor, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Blakey on drums recorded the six pieces in New York. Morgan was by now part of the Jazz Messengers and his fellow band member Wayne Shorter was as prolific composer and offered up ‘Running brook’ here.

A second album for Vee-Jay was recorded in October 1960 and once again featured Blakey and Jordan, but with Eddie Higgins on piano and Art Davis on bass. Morgan was gaining in confidence and his own ‘Triple track’ is an album highlight along with pianist Higgins’ original and title track ‘Expoobident’. In between these two albums, Lee Morgan found time to record for the Blue Note label and the superior quality of the sound and the performances is evident. Blue Note paid musicians to rehearse and this resulted in the pieces performed on record being that tighter than on other labels. A strong rhythm section line-up of Chambers and Blakey plus Bobby Timmons (misspelt as ‘Paul’ in the liner notes) is added to with Morgan and altoist Jackie McLean. This pairing of fiery brass musicians would meet up on numerous Blue Note albums in the future, but here the chemistry is already evident and on four lengthy numbers, they work out on, ‘These are soulful days’ and McLean’s own ‘Midtown blues’. Not yet definitive Morgan, but good enough by any other standards nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Kondi Band ‘Salone’ CD/LP/DIG (Strut) 4/5

Congolese band Konono Nº1 scored a crossover world roots/techno hit with their albums for Crammed Disc records and this solo artist from Sierra Leone covers similar territory, though with more of an acoustic roots emphasis. As with many musicians in war-torn lands, the story both of how the recording was made and the personal testimony are tragic and heartwarming in equal measure.

Sorie Kondi is a blind thumb piano, or kondi as it is known, who hails from Sierra Leone. He was most certainly a victim of the civil war and, when rebel troops staged an assault on the capital of Freetown (a most unlikely name for a city that was anything but in reality), had recorded an album the masters of which became lost and he probably believed his one and only chance to make a name for himself had been lost.

Fortunately, for Kondi and the rest of the music world oblivious to his talents and history, an American sound engineer, Luke Wassermann, spotted Kondi performing on the thumb piano and was sufficiently impressed by the musician to set up a recording date. This duly came out on cassette (the preferred format in Africa at the time) in July 2007, and later on CD in the United States. Fast forward a few years and in the Mid-West DJ and producer Chief Boima came across an online video of a track by Sorie Kondi, ‘Without money, may family’, and decided to remix the track. The fusion between thumb piano and techno dance was thus born.

If that is the genesis behind the recording, then what of the music and the lyrics? The hypnotic opener, ‘Yeanoh (powe handa blingabe)’ has been attracting a lot of attention and the repetitive riff of the kondi allied with his voice makes for a potent combination. Connections with techno are of course tenuous, but when you hear a piece such as, ‘Bella wahalla’, where keyboards and thumb piano plus vocals come together, the sound created is far from contrived and definitely works.

Throughout this album, a dance friendly pulse is present and this adds to a most enjoyable listen and when you factor in the socially conscious lyrics. The custom-made fifteen pin thumb piano sound is worth the exploration alone.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993