Mother’s Finest ‘Love Changes: The Anthology 1972-1983’ 2CD (Soul Music) 3/5

Jazz-funk, and even punk-funk (for the latter, think early 1980s Prince and Rick James who had something of a rivalry going on between them) are both well worn and respected terms, but what about the little known sub-genre funk-rock? Formed in 1970, Mother’s Finest personified that style and are really the brainchild of Chicago born singer Glenn Murdock (whose influences ranged from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin to Django Reinhardt) and Mississippian singer Joyce Washington, the latter of whom adds a soulful touch throughout, and fully deserved to be a successful singer in her own right. In fact, her influences included Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Tina Turner. Overall, the sound is not quite as extreme as this writer might have expected and the mid-tempo and ballad material is at once surprisingly accessible and indeed listener friendly.
Clearly, Sly and the Family Stone were a seminal influence on the band in terms of concept (though the sound is actually quite different) as were Ike and Tina Turner. A multi-racial band that were equally at ease with hard rock including heavy metal and soul and funk were always going to be a hard act to sell to a US audience who were brought up on a musically (and by extension racially) segregated airwaves. The band started off covering songs with, ‘Sing a simple song’, and, ‘River deep, mountain high’, paying direct homage to the aforementioned influences. A bonus for the listener is that the pre-Epic era of songs recorded by Mother’s Finest are included and this includes their debut recording from 1972.

The band began to find their own voice by the mid-1970s when now signed to major label Epic and this was just at a time when disco was starting to take off and when funk, even P-funk, was taking on board a more dance oriented groove. A 1976 self-titled offering yielded the first concrete evidence that the band’s brand of fusion funk-rock was truly sellable. Rock and gospel hues combine on, ‘Fire’, whereas the soulful vocals and funk-tinged keyboards and bass lines come together effectively on, ‘Give you all the love (inside of me)’.

Fast forward a year and their 1977 album, ‘Another mother further’, contained a sizeable rock hit in,’ Baby love’ (not the Supremes’ Motown classic), while UK glam rock influences surface on, ‘Piece of the rock’, with Marc Bolan and T-Rex. Of note here is that the uptempo funk numbers have something of a Santana feel in the instrumentation, especially tracks such as, ‘Monster people’, and equally on the fine percussion work of, ‘Bone song’, which even has a jazz jam session groove to it. James Brown guitar licks and an earthier hammond organ accompaniment are, moreover, features of the mid-tempo number, ‘Dear sir and brother Mann’, which has a melodic guitar solo and even a pop-soul feel with blues roots around the edges. Arguably, this should have been the kind of song to widen their appeal to a more general audience. Conversely, on ballads such as the excellent, You move me’, Washington seems to have been listening to Gladys Knight and there is a marked southern soul approach to the phrasing. By the late 1970s music was evolving with a stronger emphasis on synthesizers and layered sound, and somewhere along the way Mothers Finest simply got lost in the changes underway. Their last recordings on this anthology fizzle out into relatively inoffensive, if a tad bland, songs and these were the final recordings made by the band who were caught in a 1970s time warp. The first CD that focuses firmly on the 1970s era is by far the stronger of the two.

The lasting legacy of Mother’s Finest can, perhaps, best be gauged by the other musicians covering their songs, and one obvious example of a group that took on board their innovatory concept are Labelle, the reformed version of which covered, ‘Truth’ll set you free’ on a 2008 CD. A intriguing band, if one that has largely been neglected by funk fans over here, and even rock devotees may be unaware of the fusion of genres. All the more reason to investigate.

Tim Stenhouse

Benedikt Jahnel Trio ‘The Invariant’ (ECM) 4/5

Piano trios have become one of the most prominent features of the emergence of new jazz musicians over the last fifteen years or so, and ECM have succeeded in discovering a few of the most creative. Thirty-six year old and Berlin-based pianist and composer Benedikt Jahnel comfortably fits into this category and this new recording comes on the back of his critically acclaimed debut for ECM in 2102, ‘Equilibrium’. The international line-up of Spaniard Antonio Miguel on double bass and Canadian Owen Howard on drums (who has performed with John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Joe Lovano among others) operate as a highly effective trio and the textured sounds and performances are made all the more interesting by the use on several numbers of unusual tempi. At just forty-five minutes long, there is no filler and the conciseness definitely works in the trio’s favour, with an overall understated collective voice. The all-original compositions are those of a mature musician leader, and one who has been influenced by swing jazz as well as more contemporary voices such as Michel Petrucciani, and who has a clear idea of where he is heading. This is illustrated on the classically-influence opener, ‘Further consequences’, that betrays a strong to Brad Mehldau, and flows effortlessly.

Bass lines are well defined, and a warm and often intimate sound is created by the trio on pieces such as, ‘The circuit’, with a fine bass solo. In general, it is the apparent simplicity of the playing that is communicated so well, and underneath the music is refined. Both American and continental European dates are planned, but nothing in the UK as yet.

Tim Stenhouse

Theo Bleckmann ‘Elegy’ (ECM) 3/5

ECM prides itself on promoting esoteric musical encounters, and often ones that border on the experimental side of the music tracks, and American vocalist Theo Bleckmann is a prime case in mind. There are elements of theatre, poetry, American songbook and classical piano all weaved into a single album. The accompaniment is sparse throughout and from the black and white imagery of the inner sleeve photos, one cannot but be taken back in time to the classic ECM promotion of the 1970s.
Relatively short in time, weighing in at just over the fifty minute mark, this album aims at cross-boundary fertilisation and is precisely the kind of undertaking that Manfred Eicher would approve, which is presumably why Bleckmann and co have been invited to record at the Avatar studios in New York, Eicher’s de facto North American studio of choice. This writer warmed to the choral influenced largely wordless vocals of the leader and these are best sampled on the angelic sounding piece, ‘To be shown to monks at a certain temple’, which is as Zen as the title suggests and taken from Zen poetry as a matter of fact. Several brief pieces are really an excuse for pianist Shai Maestro to showcase his lovely pianistic skills and vignettes such as, ‘Semblance’ and ‘Littlefield’ both impress. Elsewhere, the wordless vocals are supplemented by layered guitar as on the title track, or the atmospheric improvisation of, ‘The mission’, which has no obvious structure to it. A more reflective side to the ensemble playing is to be found on, ‘Fields’, where guitarist Ben Monder engages in some Pat Metheny inflected licks while there is delicate percussive work from drummer John Hollenbeck. All but one of the numbers are originals. However, the one exception is a piano plus voice-led interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s, ‘Comedy tonight’. Possibly, re-reading other American songbook numbers might prove to be fertile terrain for a future album project.

Tim Stenhouse

Teena Marie ‘Ooh La La: The Epic Anthology’ 2CD (Soul Music) 4/5

Californian born singer Teena Marie Brockert is best known for her work at Motown and funk-tinged numbers such as ‘Square biz’ and ‘Behind the groove’. In addition, her collaborative work with Rick James and the unforgettable ballad, ‘Portugese love’, is a long-time soul boy favourite, and she repaid her dues with a second duet, ‘Fire and desire’, on James’ own seminal ‘Street Songs’ album from 1981. However, in reality the tenure at Motown was short-lived lasting but a four-five year period. Thereafter, Marie embarked upon a longer contract with Epic records and it this recording period spanning almost a decade that is the main focus of this excellent anthology. While the Motown era would have to be included for any package to be truly comprehensive, this 2CD set covers all the rest and offers bonus 12″ versions that are hard to find, with lesser known album tracks that are worth the investment alone.
Teena Marie made her Epic debut in 1983 with the album, ‘Robbers’, and although it did not result in a major hit, it featured some of the very top session musicians and was a clear indication of the high esteem in which her new label viewed her. Clearly Marie was listening to other up and coming singers. Prince for example springs to mind when one hears the pared down funk of, ‘Fix it’. Keyboardist-sing Patrice Rushen, Average White Band drummer Steve Ferrone participate throughout and the album included what would become a Quiet Storm radio classic in, ‘Dear lover’. It is important to stress that Marie was more than anything else an old-school R & B singer who was equally adept with uptempo or balladry material. In fact, during her teens, Marie’s family moved to Oakwood, California. a predominantly black neighbourhood and it was this exposure to African-American language, culture, and above all else music, that equipped the singer with the tools to handle R & B influenced songs. Her own ethnicity was initially concealed since the cover of her debut album, ‘Wild and peaceful’, from 1979, contained no picture of her. It therefore came as a something of a shock to the wider public to discover that the booming voice was that of a petite young white woman, albeit one who was as schooled in the black music tradition, as any of her contemporaries.

For the second Epic album, ‘Starchild’, from 1984, and this writer’s personal favourite because of the tremendous depth of the quality of the songs contained within, Marie excelled on a variety of tempi, but mid-tempo grooves nonetheless were a marked feature of this particular album. Interestingly, the album as a whole fared better than the individual single releases. Outstanding songs here include the uptempo, ‘Jammin’, the quality ballad, ‘Out on a limb’, and the wonderful title track. A break of two years ensued, and then a return to recording in 1986 with the Caribbean-flavoured, ‘Batucada suite’. This revealed, like ‘Portugese love’ before it, that Marie had a a greater awareness of the world and was adept at depicting exotic far away places and this imaginative creativity was a hallmark of the songs that Teena Marie performed and thrilled her loyal fans. Of course, Marie’s greatest ever popular hit and one that propelled her to an altogether different audience, was the title track of the 1988 album, ‘Ooo la la’, a stereotypical utterance of what a French native speaker might express (they do not!), and this was the lead single. Almost a decade later in 1996, the Fugees revisited the song and scored their own hit with a barely disguised remake in, ‘Fu-gee-la’.

Teena Marie has influenced countless younger singers of all hues. In the UK Lisa Stansfield cites her as a key influence in her decision to pursue a career in the music business. Groups such as the Fugees and others have paid Teena Marie the major compliment of sampling her songs. Perhaps beyond even strictly musical parameters, Teena Marie stands in what is still a deeply divided United States along racial grounds, as a beacon of hope as someone who, in her own profession at least, broke down pre-established barriers of what could and could not be achieved, and gives us all reason to be optimistic, even if in the opposite direction one has to immediately acknowledge the obstacles facing African-Americans in white dominated professions. She opined thus, ‘I’m a black artist with a white skin.(…) At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your soul’. Teena Marie. RIP.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Twenty Five Magic Years: The Jubilee Album 1992-2017’ CD (ACT) 4/5

Siggi Loch is the brains behind this most inventive and enterprising of labels and time seems to have flown by in the meantime, but it is indeed a good twenty-five years since the ACT label was first founded. This writer became aware of the Vince Mendoza production of Spanish jazz fusion music back in 1992, and then of course later in the decade the beginnings of a European superband in EST. To celebrate the anniversary, ACT have released not so much of a ‘greatest hits’ sampler, but in their own distinctive style, an overview of some of the key musicians with a quirky twist: ten of the thirteen selections are previously unissued. Eclecticism is the order of the day with covers of pop classics, interpretations of seminal original compositions that were featured first on the label and fascinating takes on standards.
Opening up proceedings is a pared down reading of the Beatles late period, ‘Come together’, which is transformed into a bass, guitar and trombone number complete with vocals by Nils Landgren. The original is thus reduced to its very essence, with country-folk influences in the vocals and a lovely acoustic blues feel to the guitar playing. A real favourite of this writer is the flute-led take on Esbjörn Svensson’s classic, ‘Dodge the Dodo’, which acquires a whole new identity with melodic violin soloing courtesy of Adam Baldych.

Elsewhere, there is a quiet, but heartfelt tribute to Esbjörn Svensson on, ‘Tears for Esbjorn’, with the same line-up that featured previously on his composition. A moody flute dominates the air here with refined classical-infused piano from Rantala. Chamber jazz hues are regularly espoused by ACT and the piano duet between Michael Wollny and Iiro Rantala on, White moon’, is a fine illustration. Fusion guitar with a flamenco base is paid homage to on, ‘Paco’s delight’, by the guitar duo of Ulf and Eric Wakenius, and the intricate guitar work displayed here would surely have met with the great Paco de Lucia’s wholehearted approval.

Accordion and soprano saxophone are an unusual combination. However, reedist Emile Parisien and accordionist Vincent Peirani in tandem with pianist Michael Wollny cook up a head mix of acoustic jazz on the longest album track just short of ten minutes on, ‘B & H’. Vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy has enjoyed success on the label in various guises, with tributes to the great singers as well as her own compositions. Here, she joins forces with the omnipresent Svensson on, ‘Monologue’.

The album ends fittingly with a solo piano piece composed and performed by the inimitable Esbjörn Svensson, ‘Prelude in D minor’, and this is at once a contemplative and mournful number which exemplifies what a consummate musician he truly was. Inside the trademark gatefold sleeve is both a back catalogue and a detailed graphical listing of brand new releases for 2017.

With the emphasis both on the present, future and a gentle glance back at the past, some names have consequently not been able to be highlighted, and these include the likes of Yaron Herman, Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock and more recently the excellent new French talent that is Grégory Privat. Young pianists have been a regular feature of the label and Siggi Loch in this respect, is quite possibly, the Arsène Wenger of jazz label executives in discovering and unearthing new talent.

To celebrate this momentous event in the history of ACT records, there will be a whole spate of new releases coming out from late April onwards and, if recent releases are anything to judge by (forthcoming in the review section), they are likely to have the ACT twenty-five years sticker on to mark the period in action. Major figures such as Richie Beirach and some familiar faces too. As ever with ACT, unusual fusions of musical styles is the norm, and this means in the near future Monteverdi interpreted in a jazz idiom! Of note to collectors is that some of the releases will be issued in vinyl format also. Long live vinyl!

Tim Stenhouse

Trichotomy ‘Known-Unknown’ (Challenge) 4/5

Australian piano trio Trichotomy return with an album that builds on their existing strengths and adds a new twist with a subtle dose of electronica. However, this is still very much an acoustic formation where the melodic piano hooks of leader Sean Foran are uppermost in the listener’s thoughts. This is typified by the opener, ‘Five’, while a strong contender for the most compelling composition is surely the mid-tempo groove of, ‘Junk’. The trio take on board multiple influences from EST and Tord Gustavsen to Brad Mehldau and the Bad Plus, and that is only in the field of jazz.
What is noticeable on this new recording is that the compositions are significantly stronger and more concise (a clear sign of a band maturing nicely), with writing duties more evenly divided up between trio members and double bassist Samuel Vincent offering his own debut piece in, ‘Past tense’. The influence of Erik Satie and classical impressionist style is discernible on the chill-out zone minimalism of, ‘Hemmingways’. For fans of old-school computer sounds, they will revel in the electronica input of, ‘Reverie of lack’.

Trichotomy have established a reputation as a trio that delves in a degree of abstraction, albeit in an all-acoustic mode. This characteristic has, if anything, become even more pronounced on this latest endeavour and is a fine extension of Sean Foran’s own solo work, most notably on the 2016, ‘Frame of reference’ album.

Tim Stenhouse

Dominic J Marshall & Friends ‘The Triolithic’ (Challenge) 4/5

UK pianist/composer/producer Dominic J Marshall is an ideas man. Some people have money burning a hole in their pocket, some have too much time on their hands, some can’t see the wood for the trees, but it’s obvious listening to the pianist’s latest release that he quite simply has ideas to burn. There’s so much going on in these twelve, largely trio tunes, that one has to draw breath at times to take it all in. With Jamie Peet and Sam Gardner on drums, Sam Vicary on bass, and one tune featuring Lars Dietrich on alto sax, the listener is taken on a breathtaking journey through acoustic jazz, hip hop and electronica. Marshall plays piano, fender Rhodes, septavox, soft synth, percussion overlays, clavichord, wurlitzer, bass programming and drum programming. So that gives you some idea of the variation that’s in store when listening to this album.

Marshall describes the concept behind the album title as; “The Triolithic was a time when humans lived in direct symbiosis with the natural world. We didn’t create barriers between ourselves and other life forms, nor did we presume to own anything. We lived the holy trio of love, poetry and rebellion (to borrow from Octavio Paz) and worshipped trees, our dreams and the sun, How do we get back there?” Well, I don’t know the answer to that, and to be honest, as deep as some of Marshall’s thinking might be, I’m left wondering if he has too many ideas and thoughts going on at one time to make a totally coherent album. There are moments of genius on this recording, but there are also times that as a listener, I find myself frustrated and confused. It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde walked into a recording studio and battled it out for an hour.

The last quarter of this album is outrageously good. So let’s work back from there. The closing tune, “Blue Lotus” (track 12), is pure piano trio brilliance at its best. One of the most striking things about the whole album, is how Marshall can mix things up effectively, creating moods, atmospheres and soundscapes that would make most writers want to jump off a cliff. And on this tune, he opens up his jazz chops and storms his way through the piece with sublime skill and jaw-dropping virtuosity. The electronics used here are subtle and of the right time and place. “Fictions” (track 11) is another largely acoustic piece that hovers and hangs before grabbing hold and drawing the listener in with its wonderful meandering intensity. “Deku Tree” (Track 10) is a stunningly evocative piece, creating a beautiful atmosphere to lose oneself completely in. And “Family Chronicle” bursts with effusive energy and spirit. Marshall takes a more supportive role on this tune as saxophonist Dietrich joins the pianist for the sumptuous melody before breaking free with some excellent soloing.

And the rest of the album is pretty darn fine too. The cool synth sounds on the opener “Devadatta (Intro)” lead the listener into an album of vivacious variety. Wonderful compositions are matched by some incredible interplay from the trio, with twists and turns always creating surprise and delight… for the most part. Having listened to this album several times over, I do however still struggle at times with the way Marshall mixes things up, just a little bit too much for my liking. Others may see this as an incredibly positive thing, and I can understand that, but for me it just sounds at times like a musical adventurer with a new toy, trying to explore too quickly and use too many different sounds and effects. Whilst some of what ensues shows an incredible maturity for such a young musician, there are times when I couldn’t help thinking less is more. That said, this is a very entertaining and refreshingly original album that is worthy of high praise.

Mike Gates

Donald Byrd and 125th St. N.Y.C. ‘Love Has Come Around: The Elektra Records Anthology 1978-1982’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

Trumpeter Donald Byrd enjoyed a multi-faceted career that can be divided up into distinctive phases. In the early period, he operated as a trumpeter in the hard bop mode and recorded both as a leader and sideman for Blue Note, introducing the world to a then unknown pianist by the name of Herbie Hancock in 1961. This phase lasted until the late 1960s when Byrd had already begun to experiment with electrified sounds and what has come to be termed jazz fusion. A second period began in 1972 when Byrd recorded a series of seminal albums (four in total) that were produced by the brothers Mizell (Larry and Fonce) and these included the stunning, ‘Blackbyrd’ from 1973 and, arguably strongest of all, ‘Place and Spaces’, a definitive slice of jazz-funk, crammed with anthemic numbers. Crucial to this new pioneering sound was the use of vocals in tandem with more condensed and restricted instrumental soloing and this, along with the commercial success, led Byrd to be charged by jazz purists with ‘selling out’. However, where members of the jazz fraternity lost interest, a whole new and younger audience came on board and were attracted by the combination of emerging funk, soulful vocals and jazz-tinged instrumentation.

Parallel to a musical career, Donald Byrd pursued an academic career as university lecturer in music, having obtained B.A. and M.A. degrees (he even found time later to study for a degree in law) and it was while at Rutgers University that he developed a new group called the Blackbyrds. In his mind was thus born the concept of a younger group to accompany and freshen up his sound (interestingly Miles Davis would, at regular intervals, would do precisely the same thing). This new anthology, while it could never hope to cover Byrd’s entire career, or even just the fusion period, does an excellent job of chronicling the Elektra years which spans the end of disco and the beginning of the 1982, just as jazz was about to come out of the doldrums and be hip again to a new public.

The first album, ‘Thank you for…. funking up my life’, dates from 1978 and included here is the full-length 12″ disco cut that typifies the more left-field side of disco (think War, George Duke, David Bendeth) which readily encompassed jazzier beats,

but in a dancefloor setting. The title track was a reasonable hit at the time, but has been eclipsed, certainly in the UK at least, by the soothing mid-tempo groove with deliciously soulful female vocals of, ‘Loving you’, and this was released as a single at the time and made the lower échelons of the R&B charts in the United States.

A second album surfaced some two years later, simply entitled, ‘Donald Byrd and the 125th St. N.Y.C.’ and featuring a wonderfully evocative picture by the great Ernie Barnes who had equally produced the cover of Marvin Gaye’s stunning, ‘I want you’, album. Byrd was veering more heavily towards compositional songwriting and consequently his trumpet solos became significantly reduced and less frequent. From this recording, the discofied hues of, ‘I love you’, resonated with audiences and it is a superior slice of dancefloor action. However, more reflective of Byrd was the instrumental, ‘Marilyn’, and the mid-tempo number that opened the album in, ‘Pretty baby'(a nod possibly to the film of the same title featuring Brooke Shields).

By album three, change was in the offing and this came in the significant and new influence of the legendary Stax soul singer-songwriter, Isaac Hayes. Accompanying Hayes were the vocal talents of the Hot Buttered Soul Singers. Byrd and Hayes scored a major hit among the jazz-funk community in the UK with the superb, ‘Love has come around’, and here Byrd was able to offer meaty soloing as well as directing the group. In fact, the song was written by long-term Byrd band member and guitarist, William Duckett, and this proved to be Donald Byrd’s biggest hit on the R&B charts, weighing in at number fifteen. Further tasty album cuts included the very Hayes sounding, ‘I feel like loving you today’, and ‘Falling’. This was probably the strongest album of the four. Another single release, the mid-tempo, ‘I love your love’, was a more modest R&B hit.

The final album for Elektra, ‘Words, sounds colors and shapes’, dates from 1982 just as synthesized instrumentation was about to dominate the soul charts. Thankfully, Donald Byrd resisted that potential pitfall and came up with an end of era jazz-funk record, where his trumpet sound was even less prominent than previously. Two choice cuts of this album include, ‘So much in love’ and ‘Forbidden love’. The album did not fare as well as the predecessor, but was still well received in the UK.

As ever with BBR anthologies, excellent pictorial support with album sleeves, labels and photos of Byrd still looking decidedly cool in his attire.

Tim Stenhouse

Ibrahim Electric ‘The Marathon Concert’ 2CD (Stunt) 4/5

Danish jazz is enjoying something of a new flowering and to prove the point this double live CD that captures one of the grooviest trios in the capital Copenhagen. The hammond organ trio combines elements of blues, funk, Afro-Beat and even surf guitar, and yet still come across as a cohesive whole. What is truly remarkable is that the music contained within is but a small part of the six hours they performed for at the Veega music venue on 8 July 2016. It must have been an awfully long evening for band and audience alike, but an immensely enjoyable one all the same.
The trio were formed in 2002 and are well travelled, having toured both Canada and China. They are made up of guitarist Niclas Knudsen, Hammond B3 organist Jeppe Tuxen, who sounds as though he has listened to plenty of Charles Earland and Big John Patton, and drummer Stefan Pasborg.
Clavinet is featured on the highly creative tribute to the king of Afro-Beat and it is wonderful how the band with just a trio manage to capture that densely layered Afro-Beat sound with clipped guitar riff and drums all contributing. A most inventive take.
This writer warmed to the understated blues-infused groove of, ‘Funny games’, with a rocked-tinged guitar solo.

Riff-laden numbers predominate and subsequently the pieces are relatively short, averaging four and a half minutes, and the longest piece is only, seven and a half minutes long. Audience participation merely adds to the fun atmosphere with clapping on, ‘Der alte das boot’, where the Hammond takes centre stage. Who would have expected surf guitar to come into the mix, yet that is precisely what happens on the intriguingly titled, ‘African boogaloo’, and on the surf meets Chicago blues sounding, ‘Big boss’, which is a groovy little ditty for sure. Definitely a group to watch out for and younger jazz fans will enjoy the combination of rock guitar with funky drum beats.

Tim Stenhouse

Josiah Woodson ‘Suite Elemental’ CD/DIG (Re:Wax/Truth Revolution) 5/5

30/40 years ago talented musicians like Josiah Woodson would have no difficulty finding their way onto a good-sized Jazz record label and reaping the benefits of the corporate machine for promotion, exposure and market penetration. That was the traditional route then. Now young artists with something to say have to take their destiny into their own hands, using the marketing ‘starter’ kit available via the web in the form of social media, video streaming, crowd funding and the blogosphere. Woodson has taken this route for his debut and whilst the Internet has made the world smaller, it has made it no less crowded meaning that exposure is still a challenge.His background is fairly typical for a Jazz tyro, at least in his early years. Formally schooled in music in Ohio and Boston, he got his musical education playing with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Billy Hart, Gary Bartz, David Sanchez, Danilo Perez and Marcus Belgrave. Rather than take the traditional Jazz route to New York though, Woodson moved to Paris where he lives and works, following in the footsteps of Sidney Bechet, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Archie Shepp and more recently Logan Richardson.

Woodson plays trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and guitar on this album, but he’s no one-man band. His group, Quintessentiel, embody his cosmopolitan attitude featuring members from Martinique, Australia, US and France.

The 6-track album is the backdrop to a narrative exploring the journey of a prince as he experiences the four elements of nature – “Air”, “Eau”, “Feu” and “Terre” en route to becoming a king. Woodson describes both the story and the music as “a chance to spark as much imagination as possible, to give the listener a chance to create their own reality in their mind, to imagine what is going on in the story on their own terms”. By shaping his music around such universal, primary building blocks Woodson allows us all to step inside his creative vision, after all who amongst us cannot imagine textures and tones that embody the air we breathe or the water we drink?

Inside my head there is wonder, harmony, joy, unpredictability and danger, a mixture of raw, primordial energies and benign eternal constants, concepts I can relate to within Woodson’s musical interpretation.

“Air” is upbeat, light and fresh sounding infused with trumpet and a nice performance on Rhodes solo from guest Lovell Bradford. “Eau” shimmers as it ebbs and flows, with Woodson leading on both guitar and flute. Imagine a fast moving stream with the rhythm driven along by the current, with quieter eddies and pools at the water’s edge. “Feu” is darker in tone and opens with a promise of menace before bursting with sparks of energy. Ricardo Izquierdo on tenor sax adds to that sense of foreboding. “Terre” starts with the bass, as I guess it should, with another guest New Yorker Peter Giron. Originally intended as the start of the journey, it is the most grounded of the suite, with a whimsical spirit. If you like this track then I’d urge you to watch the Youtube video which includes Tarani Joy Woodson’s reading. The story reaches its end with “Solstice” an upbeat guitar lead melody.

Woodson has crafted as stimulating and joyous an album as I have heard for some time, to my ears more evocative, entertaining and just downright tuneful than many of the more mainstream artists in the Jazz firmament right now.

Andy Hazell

travelling the spaceways since 1993