Various ‘DJ Andy Smith presents Reach Up – Disco Wonderland’ 2CD (BBE) 4/5

The history of dance music has been chronicled and dissected in recent years, but DJ Andy Smith belongs to a generation that was at the forefront of the original disco explosion that then morphed into myriad other underground dance forms with the commercial demise of disco (at least in the mainstream pop charts, if not in reality on the dancefloors). He first listened to the disco import charts that in the late 1970’s were on the poor quality Long Wave of Radio Luxemburg and the then in-demand and in the know DJ, Tony Prince, who hosted the import show. It was here in fact that this writer first heard the young emerging Prince with the full length version of, ‘I wanna be your lover’, that went on to become a major underground hit before the singer hit it big in the United States. It would be four years later before he hit the big time in the UK. The import charts played a vital role in showcasing new talent from tiny independent labels as well as majors.

On this compilation, the story of dance music is neatly sub-divided into two separate CD’s. On the first, the music that disco spawned, the later and more soulful side of house is celebrated, while on the second, some of the more underground disco and boogie tracks are showcased. The latter is by far the stronger, with some forgotten gems now available to a wider public. They include a Tom Moulton mix of singer Tamiko Jones’, ‘Let it flow’ from 1976, and is a classy disco number that is far less known than the rare groove classic, ‘I can’t live without your love’, from 1979. Another rare groove item of interest is by Cloud One whose ‘Atmosphere strut’, is a much sought after 12″. Here a different cut by the band, ‘Party duke’, is included from a 1979 album that was released on the cult label Sound of New York. It has become a well sampled track too in the world of hip-hop with Spoonie G using the instrumental for a rap song. Progressing into the 1980’s, and with boogie and electro in the ascendancy, ‘Share the night’, by World Premiere from 1983 was a favourite club track and indeed featured on a dance mix compilation for Epic records in the UK. An old favourite of this writer is by the group Advance and, ‘Take it to the top’, again from 1983, and with a strong Italian production which was another new development during the 1980’s. Even a group regarded as totally American as Change in reality had instrumentation that was initially created in Italy and was then sent over to New York to have an authentic vocal backing added. Another underground hit from the early 1980’s, ‘First true love affair’, by Jimmy Ross has been revived in recent years and still has the capacity to fill a dancefloor at random. This is a re-edit by Andy Smith and Nick Halkes of a special remix by DJ legend Larry Levan and the song was a big hit at the Paradise Garage where Levan was the remixer par excellence, and a major historical figure in the development of dance music. Back in a funkier vein, T-Connection are best known for their wonderful, ‘Do what you wanna do’, from 1977, but recorded elsewhere, including for Henry Stone, and the offering here, ‘Groove to get down’, was actually an original b-side. It has become a favourite of break beat devotees and was included on a 1986 compilation of ‘Ultimate breaks and beats’. Far more obscure and enjoying a new lease of life thanks to being re-issued by the Cultures of Soul label in 2014, ‘Got to have you’, by Joanne Wilson originally surfaced in 1980 and was recorded on the hard to find Kalinda label out of Trinidad and Tobago. Overall, definitely worth investing in because of the variety and rarity of the older disco-oriented numbers.

Tim Stenhouse

Baiju Bhatt & Red Sun ‘Alive in Lausanne’ (Private Press) 5/5

When was the last time you got a sunburn in December?
I must admit, I do not really like world music, I can not stand the esoteric and pompous act and I fear Jazz violin – however this is different!
Baiju Bhatt comes straight to the point and delivers an album with charged virtuosity, nonstop energy and unlimited playfulness. Red Sun simply does not let go of the gas pedal. Solo section after solo section, song after song they move forward.
Leader Baiju Bhatt makes a potent point for where Jazz-Violin can go in 2018. Bhatt manages his bandmates with a strong creative voice and vision, and forms a tight band complex, with a unique sound and outstanding repertoire.
Red Sun traces a journey from oriental heat to Swiss cool, Across this distance and affinity is discernible the outspokenness and expression of both musical cultures.
Unrestrained and unstoppable. Truly free, full of fantasy and vision.

SHG

Nitin Sawhney ‘Live at Ronnie Scott’s’ LP/CD (Gearbox) 5/5

Recorded across a three night residency at Ronnie Scott‘s in Soho, London, during March 2016, this live album is full of re-imaginings of old and new favourites, spanning many of Sawhney’s ten studio albums. As with much of the composer’s work, the music expertly combines Eastern and Western influences, melding flamenco, funk, pop, jazz and Indian ragas while branching into blues, tabla breakbeats, beatboxing and so much more. For nearly three decades Sawhney has been successfully crafting seminal studio recordings, scores of film and TV soundtracks, dance and theatre productions and DJ sets. To hear his music performed in the intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scott‘s in a live setting is a thrill. He manages to bring all of his exemplary production values with him, and along with his fellow musicians gives an enigmatic performance that well and truly lives up to expectations.

Performing alongside Sawhney are Aref Durvesh on tabla and vocals, Ashwin Srinivasan on bansuri flute and vocals, Eric Appapoulay on guitar and vocals, Ian Burdge on cello, Eva Stone on vocals and Nicki Wells on vocals. One thing is for sure, the band leader/composer/guitarist has assembled a formidable array of talent here, and they gel together perfectly under Sawhney’s musical leadership.

As is the hallmark of the “Live at Ronnie Scott‘s” series, the supreme quality of Gearbox Records’ mastering and cutting process ensures the intimacy and energy of the live setting is brought back to life. This is truer than ever here, as I found myself actually feeling part of the audience, participating in what must have been a very special gig(s) to attend. Speaking about the album, Nitin Sawhney said, “For any musician growing up in or around London, especially if you’ve grown up loving great improvisation, as I did, Ronnie Scott’s is the most iconic club to play. We’re used to playing large venues in London like the Royal Albert Hall so to then arrive at an intimate club like Ronnie Scott’s with a pared down group of my favourite musicians was sublime.”

Ten tunes grace this brilliant live recording. Every track brings its own listening pleasures, but for me the stand-outs would be the blistering, rousing performance of the flamenco infused “Henrecia Latina”, the classic and seemingly ever-relevant “Dark Day”, the thoughtful, meditative nature of “Tere Khyal” and a beautiful rendition of the exquisite piano-led “Breathing Light”. Regardless of which tracks one may care to pick out, there is a lovely warmth, humour, enjoyment and a genuine love for the music that shines brightly throughout the whole album.

This recording is a living, breathing testimony to the unbeatable nature of a great live performance. Sawhney devotees will not be surprised at the creative brilliance of his compositions as they will have heard most of these tunes before. But there are several things that make this release such a must-have album; the sparkling musicianship, the timelessness of the compositions, the intimacy of the venue, and quite simply, the joy of hearing such genuine, heartfelt, sublime music being performed with warmth, passion and stunning virtuosity. For those not yet familiar with Sawhney’s music, this is as good a place as any to make a wonderful new discovery and begin a new journey. For those who already love his music, you need to add this album to your collection right now.

Mike Gates

Philip Catherine ‘Selected Works 1974-1982’ 5CD (Milan/Warner) 4/5

Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine finally receives his due with an excellent retrospective of his most creative period as a musician between the mid-1970’s and the early 1980’s. Born in 1942 to a Belgian father and English mother, Catherine lived the early part of his life in London before his parents moved back to Belgium. Stylistically, his twin guitar influences are those of the jazz-fusion era of the late 1960’s with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, his alma mater. In fact, Philip Catherine listened intently to horn players for influence and this explains in part why he recorded with some of the greats including Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon as well as French contemporaries Lou Bennett and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Bassist Charles Mingus was impressed by Catherine’s style and nicknamed him ‘Young Django’. While internationally, Catherine is best known for his duet recordings with Larry Coryell, these leader sides were critically acclaimed at the time and, the first two, originally on an independent label, were quickly bought up by Warner, and thus contributed greatly to his reputation. The first two albums, ‘September Man’ (1974) and ‘Guitars’ (1975), directly follow on from Catherine’s formative learning period, initially playing under the group of Jean-Luc Ponty between 1970 and 1972, and then taking a year off to study at the prestigious Berklee School of Music. He returned to Europe to form his own group, Pork Pie, and then cut the first two albums contained within. Both were interestingly produced by that great cult Belgian keyboardist, Marc Moulin, and feature his core group of bassist John Lee and drummer Gerry Brown. However, elsewhere Catherine was also entering into a formal duo with Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, as well as working with both Charles Mingus and Stéphane Grappelli. A gap of some five years then follows before ‘Babel’ (1980) and ‘End of August’ (1982) are recorded and by this period the jazz-fusion era was largely considered passé and Catherine was turning his attention to a more straight ahead jazz idiom. This was exemplified further by his tenure as part of the early 1980’s trio with French musicians, fellow guitarist, Christian Escoudé and violinist Didier Lockwood.

His own later albums hints at the earlier jazz tradition of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but deploy a more advanced post-bop phrasing. As a bonus, two unreleased live sessions from radio recordings in Bremen are included and this captures the pure essence of the guitarist. As a package, this is a first class offering, with heavy facsimile covers, intricate pocket opening of the box and a lavish twenty-eight page booklet that truly brings the sessions to life with personal anecdotes from several of the musicians who featured on the original recordings. Given that Philip Catherine rarely, if ever, is showcased in retrospectives on this side of the Channel at least, this is now the first and immediate choice for anyone seeking to discover his art. A fine overview of a guitarist whose reputation among fellow guitarists and jazz musicians has not diminished over the years.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘ANDINA: Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia – The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968​​-​​1978’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Tiger’s Milk/Strut) 4/5

A joint venture between left-field dance label Strut and a Peruvian restaurant in London that also serves as the launching pad for an indie label devoted to the music of Peru, this compilation is the latest in a series that showcases the multi-dimensional sounds of the Andes and beyond in a country that seldom receives any international attention, and more the pity. It is wildly eclectic and fun-loving music with a strong dose of the roots tradition mixed up with external musical influences. Thus Colombian cumbia, big band mambo brass, surfer guitar and even the sound of the violin all feature and this imbues the music with a healthy dose of folkloric meets psychedelia, with rock all rubbing shoulders.

A real favourite and guaranteed dance floor winner is ‘Caymeñita’, by the big band mambo sound of Lucho Neves y su Orquesta, and even Machito would be proud of this number. Instrumental sounds are a feature of this varied selection and guitar and percussion operate together at breakneck speed on, ‘Todos vuelven’, by Los Walker’s de Huánuco’, which is another stunning track. Colombia vallenata rhythms can be heard in part on the romantically worded, ‘Recuerda Corazón, by a high-pitched female singer who goes by the name of La Peruanita, and the mere name hints at this being the very essence of what it means to be Peruvian. Barrelhouse jazz piano from way back seems to be the inspiration for Manolo Avales on, ‘Rio de Paria’, and he comes across as a virtuoso instrumentalist. With the gentlest of intros, but then gathering pace rapidly, comes a West African influenced number that would not be out of place on a classic 1970’s Senegalese compilation and this by the intriguingly names Los Bilbao, with guitar and keyboards prominent on, ‘Zelenita del Año 2000’. It even manages to include a violin solo.

If you liked the rootsy offerings of the Luaka Bop label, then this compilation is most definitely for you. Reaching where the more mainstream labels dare not venture. this is the authentic musical sound of the Peruvian Andes for sure.

Tim Stenhouse

Criollo ‘Espiral De Ilusão’ (Sterns) CD/LP 4/5

The roots of Brazilian samba lie in the favelas, or shanty towns on the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro and in fact belongs to a decades old tradition. To begin with, samba was initially shunned by the middle and upper classes in Brazilian society who viewed it as rustic and backwards, lacking in refinement, but over time, samba has come to symbolize the very essence of what it means to be Brazilian and has had a tendency to be over-commercialised to the detriment of the music as a whole. In the 1970’s there was something of a renaissance of the old-school samba tradition, and lead singer Criollo very much fits into that respecting of the rootsier version of the genre. As such, he is accompanied by a seven string guitar, the indispensable sound of the cavaquinho, and an assortment of percussive instrumentation with the cuica drum at the epicentre. It is indeed the gradual build up of percussion on the opener, ‘Lá Vem Você’, that immediately impresses the listener with a gentle cavaquinho solo. A real favourite is the uptempo samba of, ‘Boca Fofa’, on which brass, cuica and other percussion all operate in tandem, with exuberant vocals from the leader, in parts articulating by means of wordless scats. Stylistically, Criollo’s own voice owes a debt of gratitude to that of Caetano Veloso whom he most closely resembles and that is heard to thrilling effect on the uptempo, ‘Dilúvio De Solidão’, with gorgeous female background harmonies. However, not all is no holds barred music and samba can indeed be more laid back and extremely refined. This is illustrated on the choro-influenced, ‘Menino Mimado’, where a gentle guitar intro is met by a more subdued vocal approach, and on this lovely ballad, the musicians create a feeling of intimacy. By contrast, the full-on, no holds barred percussion discussion of ‘Calçada’, indicates how effectively the rhythm section can work as a cohesive whole, with the female background harmonies serving as the tasty cherry on the cake. A fine example of a musical tradition that continues to reflect the Brazilian psyche in all its myriad facets.

Tim Stenhouse

Stacey Kent ‘I Know I Dream : The Orchestral Sessions’ (Sony) 4/5

American raised, but now British resident and based, singer Stacey Kent returns with an extremely well-rounded album that builds on her natural penchant for the Brazilian and American songbook, but adds with two covers of the French chanson tradition and some interesting new compositions from her trusted team of Cliff Goldmacher, and Kazuo Ishiguro, while multi-reedist, arranger, producer and husband, Jim Tomlinson, takes care of the musical side. The use of strings is never overly saccharine, and Kent’s voice is ideally suited to this varied repertoire. A double helping of Jobim originals in English opens the album, and ‘Double rainbow’ is a wonderful number, complete with a memorable piano riff, flute and strings intro, with the drum pattern quickly developing into a waltz. One of the album highlights for sure. Following in close and hot pursuit, ‘Photograph’, features some Western classical influenced guitar in the intro, and the strings lend something of a 1960’s feel. Over recent albums, Stacey Kent has increasingly lent her voice to music from across the Channel and, in this case, it is the compositions of Serge Gainsbourg and Léo Ferré that are showcased. For the former, a jazz-inflected ballad, ‘Les amours perdus’, while not quite on a par with the hypnotic original, provides an intimate reading here with bass and drum roll, while the strings remain somewhat subdued. More convincing, is the cover of ‘Avec le temps’, which is aided greatly by the dream-like Romantic piano accompaniment. Of the new material, an uptempo piece, ‘Make it up’, is noticeable for some lovely rim drum percussion and this is a joyous number that Kent delivers with some lovely Brazilian-esque flute to accompany her on the musical journey. The piano bossa riff is prominent on ‘The changing lights’ (one of two songs co-composed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson, the other being ‘Bullet Train’), which name checks both New York and Rio in the process and ends the album on an uplifting note. For the classic ballad, ‘That’s all’, the strings contribute some necessary lushness to proceedings, with piano, guitar and saxophone to convey an intimate vocal delivery. All round, a finely crafted release from a singer in the prime of her career.

Tim Stenhouse

Paykuna ‘Raìces’ (QFTF) 3/5

Demian Coca’s band name and presentation can be misleading. While listener’s might expect a straight up world music album, Coca is just sending out mixed signals. But, when diving into the musical universe of the young swiss pianist and composer his choice of cover art starts making sense.

Coca’s compositional approach implies true events – his family background. And yes, as dry as this might seem, he does have enough interesting story to feed from. Coca’s mother is Swiss and his father is from Bolivia. A combination that must inspire.

The young composer recognizes all colours of the emotional palette. Balancing a rather cold analytic Anglo Saxon appearance with an emotional, rhythmical and dance worthy Bolivian side. Coca understands music. He draws attention, tells a story and hits you with melodic curve balls. Much to the enjoyment of the listener!

This album brings some fresh air from the Andes and massive mountain storms from the Alps. Demian Coca’s debut is a “Leontopodium alpinum” in today’s young jazz world with the talent to call the future shots. Adventures, unusual and bold. This is what it means to “know your roots”!

SHG

Andrew Bain ‘Embodied Hope’ (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Embodied Hope is the debut album from Scots drummer and educator, Andrew Bain. Now settled in Birmingham, Andrew has done his fair share of globe-trotting. Having worked and studied in the USA has done him no harm whatsoever.

What is unusual about this album is that it is not only an auspicious debut, but also has a parallel life as part of Andrew’s PhD in research practice. Whilst this is important, Andrew would maintain that it is equally important that he has created something that people will want to listen to. Judging by the plaudits received so far, this is certainly the case.

The music on the album has been extensively road-tested before being committed to CD. Whilst Andrew describes the seven pieces on the album as a suite, this is not a suite in the generally accepted sense. It is rather more of a ‘moveable suite’ in that the various movements are often performed in no set order and can depend on factors such as how receptive the performers consider the audience at a particular venue to be.

Andrew was inspired to write the music following reading ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’ which describes seven necessary aspects leading to ‘hope’ which is where the ‘Embodies Hope’ concept comes from. The melodies that you hear and the harmonic structures are based on those ideas.

Indeed, Andrew didn’t intend to write a suite of pieces. He describes it more as a confluence of research, playing and teaching. In terms of the order of the pieces and the solo order, Andrew says that “everything is up for grabs”. Whilst structured, each piece is open enough for each musician to have their own input and this is something that the group members clearly relish.

It was important to Andrew to memorise the music that he had written and although he did not demand this of his fellow musicians, they were eager to follow suit. Eventually, all band members had memorised the music by the time of the recording session. This led to instant communication between the musicians and freed them up to do so much more in terms of their improvisations.

This is music that was born in the laboratory but also has a life outside. Bain strives for audience engagement and thinks that the musicians take more risks when the audience is engaged.

This crack quartet consists of American virtuoso musicians George Colligan on piano, Jon Irabagon on saxophone and on bass Michael Janisch, who, whilst hailing from the USA, has long been established here in the UK. It is a mark of Bain’s prowess that he is more than able to hold his own in such esteemed company.

Together they make highly accessible, thrilling yet challenging music. As befits the music, all of the musicians are versatile in their approach to the pieces. The saxophonist is both fluid and dexterous and also capable of great sensitivity. There is huge variety in the music and the saxophonist runs the gamut from John Coltrane to Sonny Rollins and beyond. But this is above all high energy, high intensity music with the musicians giving their all to make a more than satisfying whole.

The music itself is sublime and cleverly varied. This must surely be a contender for album of the year in many a jazz critic’s end of year summary.

The album opens in a somewhat pensive vein with ‘Accompaniment’. This sounds almost like a meditation and acts as a curtain raiser for what is to follow. I hear elements of Michael Brecker at his more considered best on this track and the ghost of Coltrane is never far away either.

The next track ‘Hope’ is a joyous affair which gradually builds in intensity until around the track’s mid-point when we are treated to a gorgeous piano interlude which seems to act as a cleansing of the palate before the intensity is increased once more as the piece reaches its conclusion.

‘Practice’ opens with a lovely bass figure which the rest of the group build around and then suddenly and most unexpectedly we are plunged into the most infectious swing section before reverting to the original bass figure and so these two alternating sections continue throughout the piece and everyone gives their all.

‘Responsibility’ opens with drums out front and the rhythm section quickly establish a funky, blues-drenched vibe over which the saxophonist lays a theme. This piece, to me, has echoes of Horace Silver and the pianist only seems to reinforce this in his solo, which is followed by an equally accomplished solo from the bassist.

‘Surprise’ opens with a short feature for the leader and quickly leads into a short theme statement which would not sound out of place on an Ornette Colman album, before swing become king again for a while before more tempo changes serving to keep everyone on their toes. Saxophonist and pianist are both in a more abstract mood on this piece. ‘Listening’ is more high energy music. Great fun was had by all here, I imagine.

The second longest piece on the album ‘Trust’ clocking in at 11 minutes rounds out the album. Again, the saxophonist seems to be taking Brecker as his inspiration to great effect. This piece is well named as it seems to exemplify the ethos of trust that exists between the members of this world class quartet.

Alan Musson

Charles Lloyd New Quartet ‘Passin’ Thru’ LP/CD/DIG (Blue Note) 5/5

Charles Lloyd has always been a prolific artist, but in his more mature years he has continued to perform and release music at quite an astounding rate. Since UK Vibe favourite ‘Wild Man Dance’ was released in 2015, he has produced three other projects including ‘Passin’ Thru’, which is again delivered via Blue Note records. But here, Lloyd returns to his celebrated quartet formation which he first established in 1965, with this his most recent configuration consisting of Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harlan playing drums, Jason Moran on piano and Charles Lloyd playing both tenor saxophone and flute. The compositions are all Lloyd originals, with many being previously recorded and/or performed during his extensive career, with this set emanating from two recording dates, with track 1 recorded at Montreux Jazz Festival on 30th June 2016 and tracks 2-7 recorded at The Lensic, Santa Fe, New Mexico on 29th July 2016.

This seven set affair begins with the Lloyd classic ‘Dream Weaver’, which originally appeared on his debut 1965 quartet album of the same name, but this 18-minute version is an extraordinary epic, diverse and dynamic performance and is rubato in form. In one moment, Moran’s piano stylings are very melodic and the next they leap into a fiery rage, matching the various tempo changes. ‘Part 5, Ruminations’ is probably the free-ist track of the set, with its modal harmonic structure, spiritual jazz undercurrent, walking bassline and almost conversational interaction between the quartet. ‘Nu Blues’ is just that, an update of the 12-bar tradition with its jazz blues characteristics, bebop references and intense solos, with Reuben Rogers’ upright bass anchoring the entire 12-minute piece. ‘How Can I Tell You’ is essentially a jazz ballad and is the straightest composition of the album.

‘Tagore On The Delta’ is a somewhat early 60s influenced soul clap celebration with its four-on-the-floor drum pattern, which sees Lloyd exchanging his sax for flute, where he improvises over a one-chord groove but with a quite funky modal attitude, and even features Jason Moran strumming the piano strings like a guitar within the introduction section. ‘Passin’ Thru’ is evidently based around the themes of a journey, and in a 2017 Blue Note interview Lloyd stated that, “It’s a small planet, and we are just passing through on our journey to One. Every now and then there are important intersections”. The final piece, the contemplative ‘Shiva Prayer’, utilises tension, dark and light and other emotive elements to create a kind of musical exploration into a meditative state. Truly spiritual jazz.

A great deal of trust is obviously apparent between the quartet members with previously shared experiences and familiarity supporting this high level of improvisation. Musical ideas are passed around, developed, regurgitated and amended effortlessly throughout the set without any clear weak link – but this is one of the most celebrated ensembles of our time. And although Lloyd would be classed as an elder statesman at 79 as of March 2017, he plays like a 25 year old. He still sounds hungry. When many of his (some much younger) contemporaries have reduced their musical output or focused on performing standards or greatest hits shows, Charles Lloyd continues to be a force to be reckoned with.

This album is far more comparable to ‘Wild Man Dance’ (2015) than ‘I Long To See You’, the piano-less album he crafted with Charles Lloyd & The Marvels in 2016. And it needs to be stated that the album was either originally missed by the UK Vibe team or was not initially fully absorbed into our consciousness when first released, including by this writer. But as the end of 2017 approaches, this is an ideal opportunity to seek out missed or overlooked releases from the year that deserves our attention.

Damian Wilkes

Astral Travelling Since 1993