Arturo Jorge ‘Finca Santa Elena’ CD (Tumi Music) 4/5

Tumi Music has long strived to champion the very finest, yet unrecognised names, in Latin rhythms and this has motivated label owner Mo Fini to make regular trips over to Cuba in order to unearth some of the hidden talent and très player and vocalist Arturo Jorge is one such find. He is an exponent of the trova, or singer-songwriting style, of which Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes are historically two of the major influences, but this is wrapped up in the campesino, or country style, which in practice means a pared down band comprising acoustic bass, maracas and bongos, guitar and all musicians doubling up on background vocals.

Devotion to the cause is the name of the game on ‘No va morir la trova tradiciónal’, which roughly translates as the trova style of performing will never die, and that sentiment is certainly endorsed by this writer, especially when, if this recording is anything to go by, it is in such a rude state of health. Simple repetitive riffs build up with added percussion and collective harmonies on the exquisite ‘Gózalo vacilalo’, and there is fine add-libbing on guitar on ‘De canto cristo a rio canto’, which is an instantly catchy mid-tempo affair. At times, it seems as if the instrumentation is caught up in a delicious loop, as on the more uptempo ‘Guajiro en la Habana’, where bass and guitar work wonders in tandem, while a similarly lively ‘Bailen nengo’, emphasizes how keeping things simple with collective harmonies pays dividends in the end. Handily, written in bi-lingual English and Spanish inner liner notes, and with the title track lyrics in both, this enchanting music visually conjurs up the very essence of the Cuban countryside and is heartily recommended to anyone with a love of fine rhythms and vocal harmonies. As a further step on for Latin neophytes, this music follows in the footsteps of 1960’s singer, Guillermo Portables, whom the World Circuit label did so much in the UK to publicise back in the 1990’s. This latest recording is a fine example of Cuban roots and a sure fire contender for best Latin roots album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse

Avishai Cohen ‘1970’ LP/CD/DIG (Sony Music) 4/5

With this last album, the world-renowned bass player Avishai Cohen departs from his usual stellar jazz recordings and offers us a groovy and mellow compilation of original and traditional songs, inspired by music of the 1970s. It is not the first time Avishai Cohen enchants listeners with his vocal talent but this album is entirely vocal and thus, very different from his previous releases. It is a concise album with an array of soundscapes and influences (pop, soul, African, Yemenite etc) that appeal to a wide audience. The various tempos ebb in and out, all interlaced in a musical continuum and yet, unified by Avishai Cohen’s acoustic balladry.

Avishai Cohen was particular in his choice of musicians. There is no doubt that having Tal Kohavi on drums, Yael Shapira on cello and Jonatan Daskal on keyboard play an important part in shaping the album, both emotionally and musically. And of course, the delightful Karen Malka, with whom he had performed before, provides excellent back vocals. She has a deep and colourful range and there could not have been a better match for Avishai Cohen’s own voice and exploding spirit. Percussionist Itamar Doari, who is a regular in Avishai Cohen’s entourage, and Elyasaf Bishari on oud, add that Oriental tinge which is so dear to the bass player. While he is honing his vocal talent on the album, he clearly demonstrates what a universal, all-encompassing musician he is, how he can take any musical genre and make it his own.

With a strong feminine imagery throughout the album, its recurring theme is that of lost love and hope. All songs are intimate and listeners are given a window into Cohen’s world, and are undoubtedly moved by it. For a moment, we almost forget the iconic jazz bass player and, through the lyrics, the rhythms and his musicality, he becomes even more human. We recognize and empathize with the feelings he expresses and the hurt he sings about. He sings both in English and Hebrew. He sings with transparency and his voice is resonant and warm. It is so modulated — deep and languorous, at times serene, sometimes sad, but forever eloquent.

The album opens up with the groovy ‘Song of Hope’, which is a plea for unity and, given that it is the lead track, clearly shows how the bass player cares and craves for a better world. Politics aside, the song still seems to come at the perfect time, given the ongoing state of affairs in the world. Another electrifying moment is delivered with ‘My Lady’, which is an upbeat love declaration, devoid of any soppiness, and which quickly evolves into a catchy tune.

‘Sei Yona’ and ‘D’ror Yikra’ are traditional songs which reveal Avishai Cohen’s deep connection to the Eastern heritage so present in Israeli jazz musicians. ‘Sei Yona’ is a Jewish Yemenite tune, which has been sung in countless ways. Here, Avishai gives it a hopeful, upbeat, happy rhythm while ‘D’ror Yikra’ sounds almost liturgical. Avishai’s raspy voice on the latter is beautiful, while the combination of the oud, cello and percussion lend it a hypnotic drive that is so alluring.

‘Motherless Child’ is one of Cohen’s most popular tunes of late. The lyrics are not particularly recherché and I feel the whole song relies entirely on the spirited groove, which unfolds like a kaleidoscope. Karen Malka’s back vocals are magnetic and it is a pity that they last for only such a short time.

On the other hand, I am particularly fond of ‘It’s Been So Long’. I like how the tune unravels its simple and yet touching lyrics and, once again, Karen Malka’s deep back vocals. ‘For No One’ is another one that tickles my sensitivity. I actually prefer it to the original McCartney song. Both the lyrics and the melody speak for themselves and Avishai Cohen’s rendition is even more soothing than the original. His soft-spoken voice and singing, combined with the piano, display pure emotion and vulnerability.

‘Vamonos Pa’l Monte’ is slightly different from the rest of the album. It definitely has the upbeat tempo of most South American popular songs. Listeners are offered some great cello and oud performance, which add a different angle to the song.

All in all ‘1970’ is a warm and earnest album, with a throng of rich tones and groovy melodies. Once again, Avishai Cohen nailed it.

Nathalie Freson

Shahin Novrasli ‘Emanation’ CD/DIG (Jazz Village) 5/5

“Emanation” is essentially a trio-plus album, with pianist Shahin Novrasli at the helm, bassist James Cammack and drummer André Ceccarelli. A wonderful feature of this recording is the addition of percussionist Erekle Koiva, who’s intuitive playing really adds something special to the proceedings. Violinist Didier Lockwood also appears on two tracks. All compositions are by Novrasli, and mighty fine they are too. This album has just about everything going for it, the strength of the writing, the incredible musicianship, and the stunning way in which all of the performers work together. By taking Novrasli’s tunes, and through an apparent interconnectedness, the five musicians have created something quite beautiful with this recording.

Born in Azerbaijan, Novrasli draws both on Caucasian culture and classical European music and jazz beats to carve out his own unique brand of music. His playing is incredibly refreshing to hear. There is a true sense of joy and freedom in the way that he performs and one can’t but help marvel at and admire his virtuosity. Yet his strength is undoubtedly in his breathtaking sensitivity. Even when playing the quickest riff or solo, there is something very special in the way that the notes are played, breathtakingly eloquent.

If one was to try to compare Novrasli’s music and style, a couple of reference points would be Tigran Hamasyan and Esbjörn Svensson. With these two musicians he shares a gentle wave of exotic melodies, powerful and sharp harmonies, and a glorious, majestic grace and speed of hand. Novrasli’s music ebbs and flows like a meandering river with thoughtful, reflective ripples often building up pace until they cascade and dance with passionate fervour.

“Emanation” was recorded at Studio Sextan in France, and co-produced with Ahmad Jamal. The quality of the sound is excellent and allows the warmth, subtlety and sublime nature of the music being performed to shine through. This is not only apparent on the more sensitively played tunes, such as the title track, but also when the band throw abandon to the wind as on the scorching “Jungle”. Whether it be the click of the woody bass or the brush of a percussive instrument, the recording picks up every nuance beautifully.

Tunes like “Jungle” and “Tittle Tattle” benefit greatly from a straight-ahead jazz approach, simply brilliant in their execution. Tracks such as “Yellow Nightingale” and “Saga” are more of a journey of discovery, where the musicians share an awareness of what goes on around them, their instruments blending together East and West musical heritages in perfect harmony. And whether it be the cool vibe of “Misri Blues” or the intrigue and splendour of “Land”, there’s always something new and wonderful for the listener to discover in each and every piece of music.

This album highlights the exceptional talent of Shahin Novrasli. His art of storytelling within his compositions and improvisational playing is inspiring. “Emanation” is a stunning album that not only deserves international recognition, but also emphasises what a wealth of talent there is in this world, highlighting the pianist as an artist and composer at the top of his game.

Mike Gates

Various ‘Gay Feet’ Expanded CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

This earlier Sonia Pottinger compilation production dates from 1965, only came out originally on limited vinyl pressings and as such rapidly became a collector’s item. It is in fact an album that truly captures the atmosphere of fun that permeated the ska era, with Jamaican political independence a then recent phenomenon, and with greater emphasis place here on the instrumental side of the genre which was always going to be its forte. The album is really a showcase for trumpeter and big band leader Baba Brooks who is at the forefront of this compilation of talented musicians and the original twelve tracks are full of classy and fun-themed instrumentals. These include the leisurely ska beat with catchy horn riffs of ‘Fabergé’, or the horse hoof sound effects that accompany ‘Mosquito Jump Up’, or even more horse galloping over a Latin piano vamp to ‘El Manicero (aka ‘The Peanut Vendor’) on the evocatively title ‘Bugle Boy’, with Brooks soloing to his heart’s content. In between, there are some lovely vocal harmonies from The Techniques on the stomping ska of ‘Heartaches’, or on the mid-temp attempt at US soul on ‘What Can Love Do’, probably influenced in large part by listening to both The Impressions and The Temptations. Roy Richards offers up a harmonica solo with Baba Brooks and the band on ‘Contact’ (a precursor possibly to Augustus Pablo and his Far East melodica sound?) over a truly rocking ska riddim beat.

As per usual with the Doctor Bird series thus far, loving attention to detail with facsimiles of front and back covers of the original album, and featuring within informative sleeve notes courtesy of Echos and Record Collector reggae aficionado, Mike Atherton. This is no less than required listening as well as reading for anyone who wishes to discover in greater depth the instrumental side of Jamaican popular music. Terrific graphical illustrations include a regal looking Brooks on a black and white photo with trumpet in hand, a classic photo of the then teenage The Techniques in a promotional picture and plenty of those original Jamaican Gay Feet and UK Doctor Bird 45 labels. This is very much an earlier accompaniment to the aforementioned Sonia Pottinger compilation.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Dancing Down Orange Street’ Expanded CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

Reggae compilations do not come with greater kudos or sheer collectability than this gem of an album with evocative graphic art to accompany on the cover, and this is quite simply one of the most eagerly anticipated re-issues of the year and the first time that many longer term reggae fans have been afforded the opportunity to hear the music contained within. Thankfully, the musical content does stand up to the hype and, moreover, has the major extra bonus of what amounts to an additional album worth of material, and all organised under the expert production talent of Sonia Pottinger. This release is a fitting testimony to her exceptional talents.

The music itself comes from the transitional period of the late 1960’s when rock steady was morphing into early reggae, and a by-product of this was a chugging uptempo and mid-temp rhythm with stunning vocal harmonies, which has come to be known as ‘boss reggae’, and which was championed by the earliest and original incarnation of skinheads in the UK. Far from having the unsavory political inclinations of the latter in the 1970’s second period, these youths were fascinated by the Rude Boy culture of counterparts in Kingston. Irrespective, the music is timeless, accessible to all, and features the cream of instrumentalists and vocalists of the time. Harmony groups of the ilk of The Melodians offer the incredibly soulful ‘Tell Me Baby’, the catchiest of bass lines on, ‘Lonely’, and best of all, the mid-tempo burner of a tune, ‘Heartaches’. Jamaicans were certainly taking in developments in the United States. Less well-known to others, The Beltones (AKA Fantels) and The Conquerors were aspiring vocal groups and the latter contribute, ‘Look ‘Pon You’, which is an uptempo riddim-laden number with catchy trombone riff. Vocalist Delano Stewart is deserving of greater recognition and excels here on ‘That’s Life’, with a faux Motown piano intro, before heading off with a bubbling bass line and keyboard motif. Delroy Wilson was a major singer who preceded Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, and straddled era and stylistic changes. Here, ‘I’m The One Who Loves You’, is a delicious slice of contemporary sounding reggae. Of the lesser known singers, Patsy Todd deserves a mention and once again Motown influences are hinted at in intro to, ‘We Were Lovers’. This compilation scores so highly because of the quality of the musicians and the spread of individual and collective singing, coupled with stunning arrangements that are as good as anything from any other premier label at the time. Lengthy inner sleeve notes are jointly penned by Andy Lambourn and boss reggae authority Marc Griffiths. A great time to be listening to the immense legacy of Jamaican popular music.

Tim Stenhouse

Kevin Fitzsimmons ‘Working Day and Night – Live at Pizza Express Jazz Club’ CD/DIG (Jazzwurx) 3/5

British jazz vocalist, Kevin Fitzsimmons, has been influenced by the likes of Mark Murphy and Mel Tormé, but this live performance at the Pizza Express from July 2016 is an illustration of a singer rapidly developing his own voice. Backed by an excellent and swinging quartet, the time is a little short at just under fifty minutes and could be a tad more generous with at least another twenty minutes to give the wider audience a fair indication of the singer’s worth, but the music itself is, in general, of a high standard and that bodes well. The Great American Songbook as well as more contemporary standards are tackled in turn with aplomb and the clarity of sound enhances the experience.

A memorable reading of Leon Russell’s ‘This Masquerade’, immediately made an impact on this listener, with growing confidence leading to frequent ad-libbing that was never over the top or too lengthy. One unusual, yet wholly authentic reworkings is of Michael Jackson’s ‘Working Day And Night’, which is ideal re-situated in a jazz idiom. Full marks for being so brave and pulling it off so convincingly. Another cover of interest is Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, which has a lovely Gene Harris inspired blues inflected intro on piano, and Fitzsimmons certainly transforms this into his own number, which is to his credit.

Of the original material, the blues influences on ‘Cuban Alibi’ worked a treat with a Latin vamp on piano by Leon Greening, and maybe the inclusion of more original pieces would both facilitate the singer’s own voice coming to the fore, and would be one means of boosting the volume of content in a live context.

Elsewhere, Kevin Fitzsimmons has developed his craft, working on television adverts including with Naomi Watts, and has performed both at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s. A bright future is promised and one looks forward to hearing more of the challenging side of the singer’s repertoire and a blossoming of his own compositional skills.

Tim Stenhouse

Dudley Moore Trio ‘Today’ CD (ÉL) 4/5

Pianist, musician extraordinaire and polyglot, Dudley Moore, spread out his talents over various activities, but at the heart jazz was a major passion and this recording from 1971 during a three month tour of Australia demonstrates just why. Heavily influenced by two of the modernist innovators in Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson, Moore nonetheless evolved into a talented practitioner and composer, and this is reflected on the album before you of which five of the nine pieces are originals. He excelled on mid-tempo renditions of popular pieces, such as a relaxed rendition of ‘Two For The Road’, with some lovely blues inflections, and then into an expansive solo passage. A mean groove by his associates, bassist Peter Morgan, and long-term collaborator, Chris Karan, is created on ‘Robyn’s Blues’, with another self-penned composition that swings gently. One of the stand out numbers is the extended reading of the Hal David and Burt Bacharach classic, ‘The Look Of Love’, that has regularly featured among the repertoire of jazz instrumentalists and vocalists (Diana Krall), and after a faux Pink Panther style intro, the Garner-esque phrasings come into play. The album contained an unexpected pop hit which was released as a single, ‘Song For Suzy’, with wordless vocal harmonies that take a leaf out of the Sergio Mendes sound, popular at the time. In a more mournful tone, ‘Before Love Went Out Of Style’, hints at a reverence for the balladry work of Bill Evans and this represents the more introspective and vulnerable side to Moore’s own personality that is invariably overlooked. In spite of his unquestionable talents, he did suffer from major self-doubt and this ultimately proved to be his downfall, contributing in part to his premature death aged sixty-six, along with diagnosed physical ill-health. No bonus cuts. Black and white photos of his non-musical accomplices and a lengthy article on Dudley Moore shed useful light on how his jazz interests fitted into his wider life trials and tribulations that dogged him.

Tim Stenhouse

Brzzvll ‘Waiho’ LP/CD/DIG (Sdban Ultra) 3/5

Ghent based indie label, Sdban, have made reputation for themselves as a superior producer of compilations on various aspects of the Belgian music scene. However, they are now venturing into more contemporary beats with a new group to these ears, though this is in fact their seventh studio album. Brzzvll are a seven piece band whose influences veer towards the darker side of jazz-fusion with a grittier funk edge in the Headhunters meets mid-1970s Miles Davis vein. A brooding atmosphere permeates the entire album and they follow on in the historical footsteps of Marc Moulin and group Placebo whose 1970’s recordings have been re-discovered by a new and wider audience.

While the group are not that intent on extended improvisation, which may be a drawback for some, they do succeed in laying down heavy bass lines over shifting drum beats, with repetitive motifs, and collective and individual horn work. This is then added to psychedelic guitar and keyboards, and it all comes together beautifully on ‘Wizzly Whop’. Hints of early 1970’s Santana circa ‘Caravanserai’ can be heard in the eerie sound effected intro to ‘Andromeda’, and the shuffling drum pattern give this a more modern twist even if the bass is straight out of the 1970’s. Plucked bass strings à la Jaco Pastorius are prominent on ‘Mantra’, which is notable for its extensive use of sound effects and with a distant flute and soprano saxophone. In live performance, Brzzvll have share the stage with some impressive company ranging from Marcus Miller to the Neville Brothers, and with the excellent British singer, Alice Russell, also in attendance. A pretty melody, conveyed by the medium of synthesizer, dominates ‘Mighty Mylou’. Perhaps deliberately, the sound quality is at times lo-fi and slightly blurred on ‘De Vlijtige Kip’, though the overall quality is still high. The band can be credited for their quality of the compositions and ensuring a balance between virtuosity and danceable groove with memorable hooks.

This is a musical journey into the darker side of 1970’s jazz with a strong funk-tinged bass and drum, and as such can be recommended to those searching for less obvious jazz oriented grooves.

Tim Stenhouse

Aki Rissanen ‘Another North’ LP/CD/DIG (Edition) 5/5

If I may quote from the Edition records web site, “Aki Rissanen delivers an all-encompassing, powerful new album….that explores new heights of rhythmic intensity, pulsating grooves and hypnotic loops.” This statement is certainly not hyperbole. It is an accurate description of the music that you will hear on this album. This is an all-star Finnish Trio. Alongside Rissanen on piano, is Antti Lötjönen on bass and Teppo Mäkynen at the drums. In the somewhat overcrowded arena of jazz piano trios, the challenge for these three is to produce something compellingly original and which stands out from the crowd.

The seven track album opens with ‘Blind Desert’ and this piece immediately grabs one’s attention. It is an exuberant and energetic piece of music making, marking the trio out as confident in their presentation. This is high energy music. I’m reminded in places of the more extravagant minimalism of the likes of Terry Riley in the repeated rhythmic passages which weave in and out of the piece. In contrast the following tune ‘John’s Sons’ is somewhat more restrained, but no less intense, and the rhythmic device from the previous piece is utilised again to great effect. ‘New Life and Other Beings’ incorporates elements of rock beats and has almost free-form passages. Amongst the intensity there seems to be a large helping of good humour on this piece. Something for everyone. Most unexpectedly the next piece is a singular interpretation of a piano étude written by György Ligeti which, to me, in parts, sounds strongly reminiscent of the music of the late John Taylor. ‘Nature of the Beast’ is next and opens with a delicate tracery of piano arpeggios which are soon joined by ruminative double bass figures. Gradually, the intensity is built up once again before a more contemplative middle section which is followed with more high-powered minimalism. The tune ends as delicately as it begun. Something of a musical rollercoaster ride.

Drumroll herald the introduction to ‘Before the Aftermath’. The trio are constantly exploring new sounds and textures which hold the attention of the listener. They sound almost restless in their desire to attain new heights of musical expression. The final piece, ‘Hubble Bubble’, commences with insistent drumming and more minimalist piano and bass gradually building up the intensity. Just when you think you know where the music is taking you, there is another abrupt change of gear and we are thrown into a highly swinging section. A delightful change of pace. Then towards the end, the drummer gets a chance to shine. If I were to pick just one piece from this highly enjoyable album as my favourite it would be this one.

These are three master musicians working in a classic jazz trio format who are constantly bringing something new to the table. The ‘Nordic’ piano trio has a particular approach to music-making. Rissanen and friends are far from what we have grown to expect from this genre and they are none the worse for that.

Alan Musson

Cécile McLorin Salvant ‘Dream and Daggers’ 3LP/2CD/DIG (Mack Avenue) 5/5

Part recorded live before an audience at the legendary Village Vanguard club in Greenwich Village, New York, part recorded with strings in the studio, this extended take on Cécile McLorin Salvant is typically individual and quirky, and breathes new life into some of the Great American songbook standards, while equally demonstrating that the singer is developing into a gifted and innovative songwriter. The material is at once thought-provoking and challenging, and Salvant is extremely well supported by regular Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on double bass and Laurence Leathers on drums. Adding layered texture to proceedings are the Catalyst String Quartet.

It may surprise some to know that Cécile McLorin Salvant has been the recipient of the Down Beat critics poll for best female vocalist for four years in a row and this critically acclaimed reception is really an indication of how her idiosyncratic and ever entertaining take on standards and own originals has found favour with the critics including this one who has been repeatedly impressed by the quality of her work. What this writer especially likes about the voice is that it communicates directly to the audience and radiates warmth and a uniquely individual take on life’s narrative. It is often the awkwardness of every day life that provides the material for the singer to stamp her own imprint on. This time round, some of the originals are quite inward looking in character and, while not wholly autobiographical, McLorin Salvant does draw upon personal experience for inspiration. Five songs were either written solely by, or co-written by the singer, invariably with Paul Sikivie. There are echoes of Betty Carter on, ‘Never will I marry’, with full-on vocals and a drum solo. Compare this number with Carter’s own, ‘Some gentlemen don’t like love’, and you can begin to hear a logical evolution

A lengthy homage to the US songbook takes in Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill, while the blues is not forgotten with a Buddy Johnson composition in, ‘Tell me what they’re saying can’t be true’ and the traditional, ‘Wild women don’t have the blues’. For the latter, the storytelling quality of McLorin Salvant in a live context is showcased and the subtle use of strings is never intrusive, or overly lush.

The trio excel in this repertoire and the elasticity of their improvisation allied with McLorin Salvant’s own elongating of lyrics makes for some thrilling listening. A breezy, ‘I didn’t know what time it was’, contrasts with an austere reading of the ballad, ‘You’re my thrill’, and in her phrasing there are elements of both Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, but it still comes out sounding her own. An unexpected singer inspiration turns out to be Bob Dorough and McLorin Salvant tackles both, ‘Devil may care’ and, ‘Nothing like you’, the latter especially convincing.

Sound quality is excellent and captures the intimacy of the rapport with the audience that the Village Vanguard is rightly famed for, with individual instrumentation clearly distinguishable. Reproducing handwritten lyrics is a nice touch on the inner sleeve notes, even if they are not always easy to decipher, and the evocative illustrated drawings on the outer cover are another indication that Cécile McLorin Salvant wishes to have a direct input in all aspects of the recording process and why not when the final result is as enjoyable as this. A marvellous individual voice and a star of the future.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993