Detroit Rising ‘A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure’ (Down Jazz) 3/5

Detroit collective (with other cities, notably L.A. mixed in) Detroit Rising are an ensemble of original studio members of the P-Funk school including both Funkadelic and Parliament. Their no-nonsense approach to music has extended to individual work with the likes of Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and on the jazzier side of the tracks, Herbie Hancock and Theo Parrish. Stylistically, the group embraces old-skool funk from the 1970’s (Slave) as well as the kind that Prince in the 1990’s might have conjured up and the group needs to be slightly wary of not being perceived solely as a Prince tribute band; they are good enough musicians to stand on their own. Vocals are shared between Steve Boyd and various guest singers, and the temperature is hot from the outset. The Prince-esque ‘Lashing Out’ opens up the album on a mini-jam session complete with wailing saxophone, whereas it is Steve Arrington and Slave that are most obviously evoked on the nine and a half minute uptempo groove of ‘Little Bit’. Where this kind of re-enactment of funk history falls down is in reinforcing the point too many times and, with four tracks alone weighing in at over nine minutes, this is an album in need of a severe trim. Some variation is available on the Prince-like vocals to ‘My Heart Is Frozen’, which is more melodic, but it is a pity that their jazz credentials were not more on display on some moody, laid back pieces, and these are sadly conspicuous by their absence. Distributed by the Light in the Attic indie label, this releases is strictly for funk enthusiasts who like their extended jam session with large doses of bass line and crashing drums.

Tim Stenhouse

Nina Simone ‘The Colpix Singles’ 2CD/LP (Stateside) 5/5 for CD, 4/5 for LP

While many fans of Nina Simone have focussed on her late 1950’s album, ‘My baby just cares for me’, for which she never received any royalties and has been endlessly plundered, a more accurate portrayal of the young singer still searching for her songwriting talents comes in the shape of this delightful 2 CD package (available as a single LP with selected tracks from the CD anthology) that captures her singles for the Colpix label. They date chronologically between 1959 and 1963, after which she moved over to a major label in Verve and enjoyed her greatest commercial success as well as blossoming into a songwriter of great promise.

Rewind to 1959, however, and Simone was still under the influence of classical piano having studied this subject at the Julliard School of Music in New York, before competing for further study only to be confronted by racial bigotry. Instead, she signed for Colpix, recording a flurry of 45s in addition to recording live performances, especially the one at Carnegie Hall, that came out on Stateside in the early noughties. Of the singles, eternal favourites are to be found in, ‘Blues is the colour of my true love’s hair’, and in folk-blues interpretations such as ‘Gin house blues’ and ‘Cotton eyed Joe’. Billie Holiday was not long departed from this world when Nina recorded these side and a fitting and uplifting tribute to Holiday comes in ‘Fine and mellow’. Other composers/musicians who caught the young woman’s ears were tow sets of brothers, the Gershwin’s.

While the singer-songwriter in Nina Simone had not yet fully matured, four lovingly crafted songs are offered here and they include the mini masterpiece that she would sing throughout her lengthy career, ‘I want a little sugar in my bowl’, an adaptation of ‘Little Luisa Jane’, a co-written ‘Blackbird’ (not to be confused with the Beatles Paul McCartney composition) and a short version of ‘Under the lowest’.

Tim Stenhouse

Miles Davis ‘Ascenseur pour l’échafaud’ CD (State of Art) 5/5

Atmospheric jazz film soundtracks rarely impress as much as this timeless recording and this is one of the all-time classics. Director Louis Malle enlisted trumpeter Miles Davis, then a young aspiring musician, to view the rushes of the film in the studios and then imagine how that might be translated into musical form. The result is a superb excursion into the murky world of the thriller with beautifully crafted vignettes such as the rapid moving’Sur l’autoroute’ (taking a riff out of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’), specific scenes inside with ‘Julien dans l’ascenseur’, ‘Au bar du petit bac’, and the all too memorable title piece, or ‘Générique’ that seemingly goes on forever. Bassist Pierre Michelot in the inner sleeve notes alludes to how the session work took place at a time when the band were performing live together and consequently developed a close symbiotic rapport that can be heard in the tightness of the ensemble sound, with Barney Wilen operating on saxophone, while the brother of Miles’ then girlfriend, René Urtreger, plays gently on the piano, and there is sensitive accompaniment by Swiss drummer, Daniel Humair.

State of Art have once again spared no expense with a lovely gatefold sleeve that reproduces the black and white still of Jeanne Moreau in her absolute prime and included is both a review (outer sleeve) by French existentialist writer, jazz critic and contributor to the highly influential Jazz Hot, and jazz trumpeter Boris Vian, as well as an inner sleeve (in glorious red background) up-to-date revisiting of the release and how it surfaced first on 10″ vinyl and then on to 12″ LP, placing the releases in a wider historical context in relation to earlier soundtracks from Louis Armstrong and others on ‘New Orleans’ from 1947 and not forgetting its near rival, ‘Anatomy of a murder’ composed by Duke Ellington from 1959. More reviews of this premier league re-issue label will be forthcoming and they cover both blues and jazz, as well as cutting across major record label boundaries.

Tim Stenhouse

Shatner’s Bassoon ‘Disco Erosion’ (Wasp Millionaire) 4/5

We meet aliens everyday who have something to give us. They come in the forms of people with different opinions. Whether from the dark of space, or the deep of blue, there’s always someone, or something, with a different point of view.

They could be ions away, spanning stratosphere and nebula, or they could be right here, on earth. They could be amongst us right now, playing music foreign to your ears and mind, and we would be none the wiser. They could be from Leeds in the form of Shatner’s Bassoon.

Yes, that sounds correct. Shatner’s Bassoon: men from some unknown moon.

It’s the second time to tango, count to two. New album Disco Erosion exploring pastures new with a syncopated beat. This is not some ‘Encounters Of The Third Kind’ sort of jazz. There are no synths in this desert. We’re talking alien lifeforms, mindfarming that part of the brain stimulated by Cake. Listen to this and you’ll never ween yourself off.

They will tease you with metal basslines, and goad you with a blink of cowbell. Begin to listen and you’ll never stop, hypnotised by sax that shouldn’t work but does, and you want to hate it, but can’t because You’ve Got To Play The Game. You must play the game. After all, energy is the key to creativity. Energy is the key to life, or so a wise man once told.

Throw Darts to the wind, and they’ll be chucked straight back with razor sharp symbols, growing into an 11:19 free for all not satisfied with scoring bullseye. Close your eyes, see what life is like during a Derpa Day, then head in for Zuppa.

Shatner’s Bassoon. Shatner’s Bassoon. Shatner’s Bassoon.

Say their name three times and they’ll send down their transporter beams down at you.

Sam Turnell

Mildlife ‘Phase’ (Research) 4/5

Names don’t come more ironic than Mildlife.

Here’s a band of twenty-somethings from Melbourne releasing a debut album so hot it’ll melt your face off.

In six oh so groovy tracks the four piece inject rock, jazz, funk, disco, and psych. The new holy pentalogy.

Think of Django Django, then forget about them. Then think of Vulfpeck, and put them out of your mind. Then cast your mind back to that time in your apartment, when you got that new Herbie Hancock tape, and quickly let the thought slide away. Then listen really, really hard and realise that it’s still Mildlife in the now, and you may have heard something similar in the 70’s, but then realise you’re hearing it now and it’s all fresh, bliss.

Hear those pan pipes on Im Blau. Taste the bass on Zwango Zop. Take a great big inhalation of synth.

When it’s all over, lay back, and get ready to do it all over again.

These guys may be called Mildlife, but they’ve got loads left in them yet.

Sam Turnell

Janne Mark with Arve Henriksen ‘Pilgrim’ (ACT) 4/5

Scandinavian folk combined with elements of jazz has become a repeated feature of ECM releases in recent years, and in truth, this comes from almost identical roots. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen is a regular contributor to that label and this recording of a reworking of the Danish hymn repertoire given a modern update firmly belongs in the ECM Nordic jazz meets folk tradition. Born in Jutland, singer Janne Marke has a pure and sweet sounding voice that is almost certainly inspired by the native folk tradition. Recorded by Lars Nilsson, who worked with Lars Danielsson on the excellent, ‘Libretto’ album of last year, this project has a gentle, reposing quality and one where folk fans will feel very much at home. Mark adds her own lyrics to the traditional music, and is clearly interested in the close artistic relationship that exists between literature and music. A pared down instrumentation includes piano and celeste, bass and drums, plus tap steel, but it is the sound of the trumpet that dominates proceedings here.

Of interest to jazz fans is the highly personalised sound that Henriksen generates on the trumpet and which has rightly been described as flute-like. This is evident on the title track where he takes a solo on the introduction, with the sparse sounding vocals only to accompany. Then, the trumpet takes on another guise, that of a high-pitched alto saxophone, in the style and manner of Jan Garbarek. Other world music influences come to the fore as the album progresses, with, ‘Walk quietly, hushed through the world’, this time on the trumpet betraying a distinctive Indian feel and this is a truly haunting piece, with minimalist piano accompaniment from Henrik Gunde Pedersen. Full marks to ACT for including an outstanding inner sleeve with canvas painting by Neo Rauch that has something of Frida Kahlo quality to it, full lyrics in both English and Danish, and useful notes by the Scottish translator on the complexities of the translation process.

With the current interest in English folk music, a renewed passion for Welsh folk music and the continued devotion to folk in both the Irish and Scottish music traditions, Scandinavian folk sometimes loses out which is a great pity. Watch out for a review in these columns of a stunning re-issue of a Norewgian folk duo in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Very Best of TappanZee Records’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

Compilations galore abound in the field of jazz and especially, its more commercial aspects. The label TappanZee, however, is one of those labels that rarely receives an in-depth re-assessment and yet it is one of the most sampled of all 1970’s labels by the hip-hop generation. The label was co-created by then Columbia records head of jazz, Bruce Lundvall, and keyboardist, Bob James. While a separate 2 CD anthology of James already exists (though eight entries here covers a lot of the essential tracks, some paired with fellow fusion guitarist Earl Klugh) and is required listening for those wishing to hear the first four albums that are so revered, this brand new anthology of the label as a whole embraces left-field disco. Latin fusion, and even some straight ahead piano trio work, as well as classic jazz-fusion, often with a soulful disposition. That is certainly the case of another keyboardist, Richard Tee, and his interpretation of Aaron Neville’s immortal ‘Tell it like it is’. A far less known revisit is that of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Jesus children of America’, that receives a faithful treatment.

As a whole, this compilation veers towards the crossover instrumental soul with a jazzy content territory and as such those with a deeper interest in jazz may feel out-of-place. However, there are some interesting reworkings of classic funk and soul. One example is a lovely take on Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Serpentine fire’ by Mark Colby (am member of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra), and the alto saxophone is straight out of the David Sanborn school of jazz. Dance floor action is seldom far from the surface and the traditional folk song, ‘Black is the colour’, serves as the pretext for an extended percussion workout that has long been adored by discerning fans of disco, His second offering, ‘Love’s holiday’, is a lovely mid-tempo soul outing with surprisingly good vocals. The Latin jazz standard, ‘Watermelon man’, became a first hit for Herbie Hancock on Blue Note, but the original composer and performer was Cuban congacero, Mongo Santamaria and during the disco era, he fused Latin dance rhythms with the then newly emerging hi-hat drum groove. On a radical 1979 reworking of this number which will not necessarily meet with approval from Latin music traditionalists, Santamaria, with the addition of a vocal sample by no less than Cuban diva La Lupe, achieves a similar effect to what fellow Cuban percussionist Candido Camero accomplished with his take on ‘Jingo’. Both remain firm favourites of the disco crowd.

One of the earliest examples of the label is jazz pianist Joanne Brackeen whose album surfaced on the label in 1975 and is very different in tone from the rest, and would go on to become one of the most accomplished of the younger generation of pianists to emerge in the 1980s. Her reposing ‘Let me know’, is an indication that even during the jazz-fusion era, quality acoustic jazz was being recorded, even if the prevailing vogue would not go full circle until the early 1980’s with the emergence of Wynton Marsalis and the signing of Arthur Blythe onto the Columbia imprint. It would be lovely to have a similar compilation of the straighter ahead jazz side of the Columbia label.

Incidentally, for those wondering why the label was thus titled, TappanZee is a well known name to the inhabitants of New York state since it refers to a bridge that spans the Hudson river and connects Westchester county (another well known reference for James fans) and the metropolitan New York area. Fans of CTI will find much to admire here and if you have been reticent to dip into the jazz pantheon and require an easy to decipher introduction, then this may be for you.

Tim Stenhouse

Elliot Galvin ‘The Influencing Machine’ (Edition) 4/5

“The Influencing Machine” is the third album from the creative mind of pianist, keyboardist and composer Elliot Galvin. A key member of Mercury Music Prize nominated band Dinosaur, Galvin builds on his reputation as one of the rising stars of European jazz by tearing up the textbook and allowing his idiosyncratic approach to music making to blaze a bold and brazen trail on this latest release.

This sonic exploration of the human mind, technology and our postmodern age features bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick. A disparate world of influences old and new work together to powerful effect as the trio negotiate compelling musical melodies, outlandish ideas and intricate concepts to create a devilishly fascinating whirlwind of a recording.

Galvin’s compositions are inspired by “The Influencing Machine” by Mike Jay, a fascinating historical account of the life of James Tilly-Matthews, a double agent at the time of the French civil war. He was a tea merchant, political thinker and architect, and became the first fully documented case of a paranoid schizophrenic who was committed to Bethlem psychiatric hospital in 1797. Tilly-Matthews lived under the delusion that he was controlled by a machine; the Air Loom, operated by a gang of criminals and spies skilled in pneumatic chemistry. Galvin was fascinated by the uncanny parallels with our modern lives and this album reflects Tilly-Matthews’ life and times in an apt way, bringing together sounds both old and new to identify the chaos, the beauty, the joy and the sadness of the world that was then, and the world in which we live today.

There is chaos in Galvin’s music, yet there is also intricate organisation. Beautiful piano melodies, reminiscent of something familiar you might have heard by The Neil Cowley Trio, crash headlong into broken, twisted musical caricatures, a-la The Nick Sanders Trio. Throw in a dose of The Bad Plus and you get a peek as to where this music might take you. But only a fleeting glimpse… this music at times is just bonkers, in a good way. Crazy themes ride effortlessly alongside twisted childhood nightmares. Like a Tim Burton movie, the darkness is interspersed with light. The ill-tempered chaos at times washed away by a soothing, caring, healing sunshine.

“The Influencing Machine” is like a fairground attraction; exciting, intriguing and more than a little bit scary. But just like a child, walking precariously and nervously towards that ultimate thrill, once you’ve experienced it you’ll be hooked, impatiently wanting to come back for more and more.

Mike Gates

Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Berlin ‘Ninety-Nine Years’ (Libra) 4/5

When I say free, you say jazz. Free. JAZZ. Free. JAZZ.

Okay, now we all know what to expect, which is, of course, the unexpected.

Pianist and composer Satoko Fujii returns with 48 minutes of free-spirited expression straight out of nobody’s handbook. Now solidified as one of the foremost figures in her field, Fujii has built an enviable portfolio of more than 80 albums. Her latest, ‘Ninety-Nine Years,’ is sure to confuse and excite anyone looking for no holds barred composition.

Ten-piece ensemble Orchestra Berlin are the drones of the Japanese pianist’s wanton revelry. Having first worked together in 2015 to record Ichigo Ichie, she asked German saxophonist Gebhard Ullman to gather a band of merry souls willing to let themselves go. And so he did, and they did.

“I really didn’t know how they would play together or how the music would sound,” Fujii says. “I didn’t expect them to play so hot, with so much energy.”

Fewer birthday presents are as wackily grand to welcome in a person’s 60th year as Fujii’s present to herself. In 2018 she plans to release 12 albums, one every month. She goes by no rules.

So, back to business; you stick a bunch of musicians in a room together, fronted by an individualist maestro, and tell them to dig deep. They oblige, and their special character comes forth as each is given time to show their abilities and covey their ideas.

Opening, and aptly named, track ‘Unexpected Incident’ is the perfect introduction to Fujii’s manifesto. The music is a perfect representation of the Japanese government’s euphemism for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, from which the name derives. Over the course of 10 minutes we gain a real insight to the band’s bold, energized glory. Tenor saxophonists Matthias Schubert and Gebhard Ullman push to boundaries beyond, with Schubert and trombonist aggressively fighting midway through. Ullman brings it home, but not on this world, with a raving unaccompanied solo.

There’s something creeping in the latter part of ‘Ninety-Nine Years.’ Perhaps a fox is skulking in the shadows, until spotted, running for its life in a frenzy of shrieking saxophone. One may find it difficult to believe that the track opens to bassist Jan Roder, paying tribute Fujii’s late mother-in-law.

Natsuki Tamura is the embodiment of sheer horror during ‘On The Way.’ After a nice, relaxing sequence of percussion, demonstrative of the musicians’ command of rhythm and groove, hell breaks loose. Demons possess trumpeter Tamura. He gabbles uncontrollably. One can imagine him twitching in a corner somewhere, grounded by some otherly being, trumpet stuck snake-like to his lips.

It was Tamura who suggested the title of fourth track ‘Oops,’ perhaps given to him during his trance. In actual fact the inspiration came from the horn players finding the track’s rhythms tricky, or so Tamura says. Any hint of difficulty is not present in the final recording. Pure, intended, trumpeted havoc ensues.

The album closes with ‘Follow The Idea.’ Peter Orins and Michael Griener set the precedent with a parade of rolling drums. The track ends up breaking into something evoking a call to arms. Don’t be fooled though, there’s plenty of mad gargling hidden away throughout, a fitting close to Fujii’s vision.

Cadence Magazine have called her ‘the Ellington of free jazz,’ but that’s untrue. She’s Satoko Fujii, and her music’s coming to get you.

Sam Turnell

The Dissolute Society ‘Soldiering On’ CD/Dig (Babel Label) 3/5

As a fan of psychedelic, sludge and garage rock, I’m not one to usually listen to lyrics. That changed when I first played ‘Soldiering On’ by The Dissolute Society, captivated by the sadness of verse. London born trombonist, improviser, composer, and educator Raph Clarkson’s new ensemble has created a debut album sure to absorb even the hardier of people.

A graduate of York and Oxford Universities, Clarkson is probably best known as member of award-winning jazz-punk ensemble WorldService Project. He’s been involved in a huge array of projects, a true restless creative, and embarks on this album with no sign of lacking energy.

The fifteen track ‘Soldiering On’ is a deeply personal display of a talent in love with his craft. There is no shortage of brilliance from the album’s contributing artists. Clarkson’s father, Gustav, plays delightful viola, and there are compositions by the late John Taylor, who sadly died in 2015.

Singer Fini Bearman guest stars as the vocalist, and is supported masterfully by the other musicians. She sings sweetly on opening track ‘Opening (A Journey)’ in a performance which could be straight out of a West End show.

A change overcomes her on ‘Grandma’, lilting with a cut-up poetism like a broken train of thought. The song is inspired by Clarkson’s German-Jewish grandmother, who lived in Palestine for many years. But, if you were unaware of this, one might see it as a representation of a mind overrun with dementia. Few songs have captured the trials old-age so accurately.

Later on, on ‘Soldiering On/On,’ she bites with Bjork like brilliance whilst Huw Warren breaks through a scintillating piano score. Suddenly, on ‘I’m Sorry’ Norwegian singer Mia Marlen Berg transforms into a sort of female 80’s post-punk vocal, before unleashing a full-blown operatic staccato.

This is not an easy listening record. Far from it. There’s a deep sadness to much of what goes on which I’d recommend listening to in the right mind-set. Although ‘Find The Way Through’ is a really good, groove laden antidote featuring a rap from Joshua Idehen. But, you’ve got to wait until track 14 to reach respite if listening as a continuous stream.

The only criticism I have is that I often find poetry quite self-indulgent, but so is writing reviews, I guess. Contrary to that, the musicianship on display is all exceptional, exuberant sadness.

Soldiering On is out on the 11th May on the Babel label.

Sam Turnell

Astral Travelling Since 1993