19th Mar2017

La Mambanegra ‘El Callegüeso y Su Mala Maña’ CD/LP/Dig (Movimientos) 4/5

by ukvibe

Pan-Caribbean grooves are the order of the day on this slice of driving Colombian salsa with funk and the occasional hip-hop influence and underlying it all, some of the literary magic realism for which Colombia is so rightly famous. The music is inspired by an anonymous and mythical hero of one of the popular working class neighbourhoods in Cali, called barrio obrero. In fact on the Pacific coastline of Colombia, there is a thriving music scene and in the case of La Mambanegra one that in the choppy rhythms and chanted vocals takes a leaf out of Cuban band Los Van Van, and that is most certainly the case of the opener, ‘Puro Potenkem’. This writer immediately warmed to the 1970s style horns that echo the classic salsa dura of New York. Where this album wins hands down over contemporary salsa is in the variety of styles with great subtlety displayed on the muted trumpet and electric piano accompaniment of, ‘Cantare para vos’, which features what sounds like a Cuban trés and with nasal male lead vocals reminiscent of Rubén Blades. There is even some retro cha-cha in the intro to the mid-tempo burner that is, ‘El sabor de la guayaba’ with the guest vocals of Santiago Jimenez. More contemporary dance flavours with hammond organ and funk tinges are evident on, ‘La compostura’.
Neither reggaeton nor salsa romantica, this authentic salsa meets son fusion offering promises a great deal and succeeds on all fronts in delivering first rate dancefloor grooves. Little wonder they cooked up a musical storm at the 2016 Womad festival.

Tim Stenhouse

18th Mar2017

Thundercat ‘Drunk’ CD/LP/DIG (Brainfeeder) 4/5

by ukvibe

Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, returns for his third full-length album ‘Drunk’ which follows on from his last release in 2015, the EP ‘The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam’, and is again released on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label. This is another esoteric journey through the mind of the world’s favourite electric bass player and contributor to some of the most regarded artists in the modern music climate, from Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and label boss FlyLo.The album contains 23 tracks, although the Japanese CD release has a bonus track (more later), but only six tracks are more than 3 minutes in length. This is quite typical of Thundercat so this is definitely not an album of singles. And as the title suggests, the alcohol/being drunk and escapism theme permeates the set with Thundercat’s added soulful vocals being quite accomplished, and it does remind me of a time when bass players would be given recording contracts on major labels to create fully formed albums, such as those by Stanley Clarke and Michael Henderson, with Michael also providing vocals, so this isn’t an album designed strictly for bass players, but obviously his playing is virtuosic and impeccable.  

As common with recent Thundercat material, his West Coast home is a major musical influence, with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan being obvious reference points here, including getting Michael McDonald to guest on ‘Show You The Way’. Other vocal guests include Pharrell on ‘The Turn Down’, Kendrick Lamar (‘Walk On By’) and a pointless appearance from rapper Wiz Khalifa on ‘Drink Dat’. But for some frantic musicianship, check the 2’16” instrumental jam ‘Uh Uh’ with its speed up ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ breakbeat and dexterous bass guitar timing, piano rushes and mollifying vocal harmonies over the top. ‘Show you the Way’ is possibly the only real radio playable track, and it does sound like a contemporary Doobie Brothers song, with electric piano chords, LA synth movements and additional vocals from Kenny Loggins – yes, the guy who did ‘Footloose’ (but play ‘Make The Move’ from the Caddyshack OST in 1980 for some sample heaven).

And in this cynical world, Thundercat doesn’t take himself too seriously with lyrics such as ‘everybody wants to be a cat’ on the otherwise soulful, ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ which blends jazz tones with smooth vocal melodies. And he must be one of the few musicians to reference Japanese Anime, Manga and video games within his records. Thus, it’s refreshing to hear an artist that incorporates something else other than failed relationship material within their releases. And so it’s a very difficult album to categorise, other than it sounds like a typical Thundercat album. And with production from Flying Lotus adding his own unique twist on modern electronic black music, the Brainfeeder label continues to show the world how to be eclectic but also familiar at the same time. There’s modern soul in there, frantic new age funk, a bit of Frank Zappa humour and video game electronica – but all with integrity and honestly, plus some mesmerising bass playing.

But it also has its unfortunate moments such as ‘Drink Dat’, with its poor guest lyrics from Wiz Khalifa, which could have been written by a 14-year old kid trying to impress his school friends on his experiences of getting drunk. And the bonus Japanese CD track ‘Hi’ which features Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh MC, but here he sings rather than raps. This ‘bonus’ is not missed in the rest of the world as it sounds like an unfinished demo – and not a good demo. These may be Thundercat’s drinking buddies, but best to leave them at the bar and go drinking elsewhere. And even Kendrick’s verse on Walk On By’ (not that one) seems a little disjointed and was probably not needed. Added guests from the Hip Hop community I find rarely work on more progressive contemporary music, and coming from a strong and lengthy Hip Hop background, I feel I can identify and comment upon this. Thundercat deserves equals, and artists such as Pharoahe Monch or Black Thought from The Roots would have been a better fit here.

But to redeem the release, ‘Drunk’ also contains the now modern soul classic ‘Them Changes’ from his 2015 EP, with its Isley Brothers ‘Footsteps in the dark’ drum loop and infectious bassline groove. And thankfully, the vinyl release was issued at the same time as the other formats, with it being another Brainfeeder boxset piece but this time pressed on 4 red 10” vinyl records.

Damian Wilkes

17th Mar2017

Egberto Gismonti ‘Dança das Cabeças’ 180g vinyl re-issue (ECM) 5/5

by ukvibe

Part of the ongoing re-issue series of classic vinyl on the ECM label, this album typifies all that is best about ECM and is a superb example of world roots and improvised music coming together, interacting in melodious harmony. This is about as far away from conventional Brazilian popular music (think bossa nova) as one could conceive, and yet the two Brazilian musicians somehow nonetheless manage to conjur up the vastness and sweltering heat of the Brazilian landscape with a crystal clear vividness. From the very outset of the opening piece, ‘Quarto mundo #1’, the listener is greeted by the evocative percussive sounds of nature and is immediately transported into the Amazonian rain forest. A veritable battery of percussion is deployed by Naná Vasconcelos including the haunting sound of the berimbau to create a truly evocative ambience with Gismonti alternating between flute and then on an eight string guitar. Elsewhere on the all but one original numbers, the ace writer pairing of Milton Nascimento and Roland Bastos contribute the excellent, ‘Fé cega faca Amolada’. Greatly aiding the pair in communicating is the wonderful sound recording of engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug and the music still sounds as if it were made yesterday. It never ceases to entice you in even after repeated listens.

What is important for the reader to recognise is that the two sides, amounting to virtually fifty minutes of glorious sound, are two de facto suites where the music develops organically and shifts in mood from one segued piece to another. Truly impressive is the extent to which vibrancy of the music compels the listener to focus intently on the esoteric and ever shifting music, and one is left with the sensation of having witnessed a live recording that has been beamed into one’s own home. The dexterity of Egberto GIsmonti, who was just hitting musical maturity aged thirty at the time, is just one of the magical ingredients to savour here.

For those in search of a likeminded musical experience, then the Gismonti ECM recording from the same year, ‘Sol do meio dia’, comes highly recommended and comprises a crack band of Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Colin Walcott and Naná Vasconcelos once again on percussion duties. Likewise, a reunion several years late between Gismonti and Vasconcelos from 1984, ‘Dias Voces’, is well worth investigating. 

Tim Stenhouse

16th Mar2017

Various ‘Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica’ CD/LP/DIG (Chapter Two) 4/5

by ukvibe

Here is a much anticipated release that delivers with an almighty righteous punch of authenticity. Picture the idyllic scene. Overlooking the hills of Kingston, assemble a number of the crème de la crème of reggae singers from the classic roots era with a smattering of the younger generation to reinvigorate proceedings accordingly. Then record organically with a pared down instrumentation and let mother nature and skilled musicianship take care of the rest. The result is this consummately produced take on the roots reggae tradition, with more than a few surprises in the ever inventive re-interpretations of classic numbers. Chapter Two records are no less than the expert team from Makasound in Paris and they know a good reggae tune like they know a vintage cheese and wine or two from their native land.
The mighty roots harmonies of The Viceroys get proceedings off to a most dignified start with acoustic guitar and percussive accompaniment to, ‘Love is the key’, and with the glorious sound of crickets in the background. A stunning way to begin. Ken Boothe is an institution on the reggae map and the lovely piano vamp and heavyweight percussion lead into a wonderful take on, ‘Let the water run dry’, one of two offerings, the other being a sumptuous reading of the all-time favourite, ‘Artibella’. A real favourite of this writer is the glorious revisiting of ‘Slaving’ by seminal roots bassist Lloyd Parks. What makes this version stand out is the heady mix of strummed guitar, collective wordless vocals and percussion which together makes for a wonderful alternative to the Glenn Brown classic interpretation. Sadly, that title has never been more relevant with modern day slavery all around us.
Cult singer Kiddus I is one of the overlooked talents of roots reggae in the 1970s and so it comes as a most pleasant surprise to hear that he is still in top form on, ‘Jah power, Jah glory’. Equally respected and acclaimed is former lead singer of the Congos, Cedric Myton, who contributes the excellent, ‘Youthman’. Another veteran roots singer worthy of attention, and one whom the Makasound label did so much to promote, is Winston McAnuff and he excels as ever on ‘Secret’.

Among the younger generation. Kush McAnuff has featured previously on Chapter Two releases and here he fronts a strong uptempo roots number, ‘Back to I roots’, where horns (or are those keyboards, perhaps, reproducing the sound of horn instruments?), piano and percussion all combine to good effect. New names to this writer include Derajah, Steve Newland and Bo-Pee whose excellent, ‘Thanks and praises’, ends the album on a natural high.

In a world where roots reggae is sometimes forgotten and regarded as a distant relic of the past, it is heartwarming to know that a specialist record label is doing its utmost to showcase the sub-genre and actively promote the representation of the music in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Absolutely first class information on the recording itself and revealing that to be a story worthy of recounting in its own regard.

That France has played an important role in the promotion of reggae music is beyond doubt. As if to demonstrate the argument, an accompanying short film documentary is available too. The various artists will come together at the prestigious and recently built Philharmonie de Paris to perform on 22 April and from the same month onwards – there has never been a better time to visit Paris, but avoid those April showers all the same! This new release deserves to be a hit with a live follow-up to boot.

Tim Stenhouse

12th Mar2017

Maxime Fougères Trio ‘Guitar Reflections Vol. 2’ (Gaya Music Production) 3/5

by ukvibe

This guitar, bass, drums trio is headed up by French guitarist Maxime Fougères and features Antoine Paganotti and Yoni Zelnik. 2012 saw the release of Fougères’ first album, “Guitar Reflections”, a tribute to Duke Ellington. “Guitar Reflections Vol 2” includes 10 tracks which are a combination of original compositions and the music of Wayne Shorter, arranged and adapted by Fougères for the trio. Together the trio explore both harmonically and rhythmically Shorter’s music, paying homage to the jazz legend and taking influence from him for their own writing and performing. Fougères enjoys a nice, easy-going style to his playing that appears to suit his bassist and drummer particularly well. That said, the trio do find their own spark on tracks like “Heads Up” where the changes in style and sound work especially well, offering the listener something fresh and inspiring. In general however, as good as the trio’s performance is on this recording, the moments of originality, freedom and expression are little too few and far between. The hard driving “Iris” got me excited though, with the bass and drums creating a great groove for Fougères to solo over. It’s clear to see that the trio have tried to take their music out of the box at times, incorporating different guitar sounds and techniques, styles, colours and textures, along with changes of mood, but in general, although this does offer some nice variation for the listener’s ear, the resulting music is good, but seems to lack that special quality that leads it towards making it great.

Classic Shorter tunes such as “Juju” and “Night Dreamer” are interpreted in a sensitive way, but for this listener lack any real punch or new-found zest. These are nice interpretations that the trio have given a different lilt to, but almost inevitably, when compared to Shorter’s originals, they don’t seem to have a great deal to say, and they certainly don’t have the feel or innovative edge and emotional reaction that I get from listening to the master’s original tunes, even now, so many years after they were first written and recorded by Shorter.

“Guitar Reflections Vol 2” isn’t a greatly memorable album, but it does have some nice interplay between the musicians alongside some quality soloing. In the end though, it lacks any real punch or innovation. It is however, an enjoyable listen, and one can only applaud Fougères for attempting to interpret the music of Wayne Sorter, perhaps surprisingly in a guitar trio format, even if the results don’t hit the heights one might have hoped for.

Mike Gates

09th Mar2017

Siks Haedo ‘Ready To Travel’ (Plaza Mayor Company) 4/5

by ukvibe

Siks Haedo is a project led by guitarist and composer Hispano-Argentine, Diego Lipnizky. Having relocated from Spain to Paris in 2012, the change of city and life gave rise to the formation of this wonderful sextet and the following year heralded their debut release “Influencias”. This second album takes the listener on an uplifting journey between jazz, classical and African music, but with the emphasis very much on the jazz element. The guitarist is joined by Olivier Bridot on trumpet and bugle, Carlos Mejias on alto saxophone, Francois Faure on piano, Laurent Salzard on bass, and Stéphane Adsuar on drums.The album features six compositions, all worthy of note. The opener “Dernier Train”, begins in slightly melancholic mood with a haunting bass riff, slowly joined by guitar, piano and drums, setting a gentle tone. The tune then morphs as the guitar leads us into an incredibly gorgeous melody that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Wonderful harmonies between trumpet and sax are a feature throughout the recording, offering up some of the sweetest sounds I have heard this year.
Diego Lipnizky’s compositions are top notch, but it is the trumpet playing of Olivier Bridot that steels the show for me. He has a natural, instinctive way of performing that works stunningly alongside the rest of the band.

“Brian De Nice” has a welcoming groove to it, creating its own lush summer landscape as it goes. There’s a section in this track where the piano mirrors a chord progression offered up by the guitar, and the resulting feel is just so deeply rewarding. It’s moments like this that make me truly happy when listening to music.

“20 km avant l’andalousie” sings out with grace and style as the trumpet and sax once more produce lovely harmonies. Carlos Mejias takes the lead solo on alto sax with verve and skill, words I could use for so much of this recording. An innovative solo from Lipnizky ensues, with creative support from the rhythm section.

“News from Naghreb” begins with an Arabic feel as the solo bass creates an atmosphere of Middle Eastern textures and colours. A haunting bugle leads us into the tune itself, with repeating motifs cascading over progressive chord changes. The sextet work together intelligently with intuition and poise.

A jazzier, funkier tone can be heard on “Chasing Bona”, as the musicians skip and dance their way through this tune with glee. The subtle twists and turns of the composition allows the soloists the freedom to improvise whilst keeping hold of the tune itself.

The final track “Welcome to Sotolongo” represents perhaps the most straight-ahead jazz tune on the album. There’s a distinct Afro-Caribbean flavour pushing through, with fine soloing from each of the band members, bringing proceedings to a close with a memorable, lively, upbeat tempo.

“Ready to travel” is a warm, nourishing album that is rich in style and has that feel-good factor about it that just oozes class. Every tune has something delightful about it and I have found myself pressing the play button again and again on this one. Very enjoyable music indeed.

Mike Gates

08th Mar2017

Baba Zula ‘XX’ 2CD/2LP (Glitterbeat) 3/5

by ukvibe

World fusion does not come more eclectic than this new offering. In fact it is a compilation of a group from Turkey that have been in existence for twenty years and combine harder edged psycho-rock with Jamaican dub. If this musical meeting of West and East sounds appealing, then it is a left-field excursion worth investigating. The brainchild of musicians, electric saz player Osman Morat Ertel and Levent Akman, the Anatolian folk tradition has been given a thoroughly modern update here and what results is a twenty-first century sound that draws equally upon film and theatre influences.In essence, the songs contained within are re-interpretations of numbers from previous albums and are well known to Turkish natives. While it has to be stated that the Turkish component is a little difficult to fathom for someone without any prior knowledge of Turkish rock and folk, or even the language itself, with repeated listens the disparate sounds do gradually come together. Melodic vocals permeate, ‘Essential things’, which has a strong steppers beat and what sounds something like a sitar, but is in fact the electric oud. Instrumental folk-jazz and the sound of the saz come together on, ‘We fell in love with you’ (t.v. version)’.

The more reggae oriented pieces have been attracting plenty of airplay on the specialist radio channels and it certainly does have an authentic flavour, the band having worked previously with Mad Professor and Sly and Robbie, as well as with a Turkish opera singer, which gives you some idea of the eclectic approach adopted throughout this set.

This writer found the rock element a little grating in places and best sampled in small doses, but the underlying rationale is one of a greater openness towards the world and, in planet full of narrow-minded tribalism, that is an approach to life that one can fully endorse and subscribe to. Instrumental Turkish folk music is still awaiting a truly comprehensive international retrospective, but in the meantime this pioneering music should be supported.

Tim Stenhouse

07th Mar2017

Barb Jungr ‘Every Grain of Sand’ 15th Anniversay Edition LP/CD (Linn) 4/5

by ukvibe

Combining cabaret, theatre and music has been a key ingredient to Barb Jungr’s career to date, and this timely re-issue of arguably her strongest album (elsewhere she has interpreted the music of Jacques Brel and Nina Simone) coincides with the fifteenth anniversary of the original release. The Dylan songbook only continues to rise in stature with time and the excellent ACE compilation, ‘Black America sings Dylan’, showcased just how differently musicians could interpret his music. In the case of Jungr, she skilfully reworks the songs in ways that you might never have thought imaginable where folk and jazz interweave effortlessly with the chanson tradition. Jungr is very ably assisted in bringing the project to fruition by her long-time pianist and collaborator Simon Wallace, with jazzy licks provided by saxophonist Mark Lockheart who has equally carved out his own parallel career with some excellent solo work.
If the tone is gentle and refined on the gospel-tinged piano and vocals of, ‘I’ll be your baby tonight’, then the tempo goes up a notch or two on the accordion led, ‘Things have changed’. Above all else, the singer’s love of Dylan’s repertoire comes shining through, as illustrated on the lovely reading of, ‘I want you’. A personal favourite interpretation of this writer arrives in the shape of the jazz-inflected take on, ‘If not for you’, with the subtle use of strings and the delicate soprano saxophone musings of Lockheart.

New sleeve notes by Barb Jungr reminisce on the original 2002 recording and help place the music in a wider historical context. A lengthy UK tour commences in March and goes on all the way into May with tour dates at venues as far apart as the Pizza Express in London on 29 March and her native north-west at the Plaza in Stockport on 21 April.The European dimension to the tour kicks off with a concert in Berlin on 6 March. 

Tim Stenhouse

06th Mar2017

Yotam Silberstein ‘The Village’ (Jazz & People) 3/5

by ukvibe

Guitarist/composer Yotam Silberstein’s fifth release as leader is a quartet outing with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. The New York based Tel-Aviv born guitarist has brought together many influences for this recording, including music from the Middle East, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Uruguay; all forged together into a likeable jazz setting that makes for a pleasant listen.
The musicianship throughout this session is impeccable, perhaps not surprising given the quality of the rhythm section at hand. “I was so happy in the studio looking around and seeing my band members who are each virtuosos on their instruments, and dear friends; they understand and support my musical vision and play my music as if they wrote it!” says Silberstein. And indeed, there is a wonderful cohesion to the music being performed with excellent interplay and soloing from all four musicians. Silberstein himself has a wonderful feel for the traditional language of jazz guitar, bringing to mind thoughts of Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. His South American influences shine brightly throughout this album, resulting in a light and harmonious nature to the performance.

Whilst the quality of the musicianship throughout “The Village” is never in question, the compositions are not always the strongest point. It’s all a little too familiar and lacking in surprises, but it does hinge together well, even if this listener found himself wandering off at times. That said, there is plenty to enjoy, with tunes like the delicious “Fuzz” and the gorgeous “Stav” adding a touch of undoubted class and skill to the proceedings. These two tracks in particular prove that Silberstein has a splendid talent, one which allows his band the freedom to express themselves on a more emotional level, not just a technical one. “October” reflects well the fact that it was written on a beautiful Autumn day, and the rhythmic, infectious qualities of “Parabens” and “Milonga Girls” provide excitement and joy to the ear.

Perhaps not an album that will stay near the front of the CD player for years to come, “The Village” is nonetheless a fine recording, with some lovely highlights, especially for any jazz guitar officianados out there.

Mike Gates

05th Mar2017

Pauline Ganty ‘Après’ LP/CD/DIG (QFTF) 4/5

by ukvibe

Après is a warm winter release. Full of light and heart. Pauline Ganty’s songs feel like a lush breeze. “Under the stars, someone’s dancing”. The opening song “Under The Moon” is an airy Bossa like pop song. A percussive piano vamp is grooving along and the melody develops. Pauline Ganty exceeds all expectations.

She carries her songs through a weightless wide, fantastic story space. Attached only to the essentials of meaningful music and songwriting. Strong lyrics, outstanding singing, great arrangements and a stunning band. Pauline Ganty voice and appearance is a mixture of a young Anita O’Day and Norah Jones.

All songs are originals of the 31 year old Swiss-French artist. Except for “Way to Blue”, a cover of a Nick Drake Song, which comes in a moody romantic timbre, reminiscent of an epic James Bond title song.

Without effort she manages her band mates. Three of Switzerland’s most well known jazz prodigies; Dominic Egli on Drums, Noé Macary playing Piano and Fabien Iannone featured on double bass. The technical supremacy of this band get’s right to the heart of the music. No pretentiousness, or macho show off. Each solo spot is another egoless statement contributing to Ganty’s musical direction and vision.

Even the saddest ballads on Après sound like Pauline Ganty is singing with a smile. It’s that sense of wisdom and foresight that she carries in her voice. Pauline Ganty takes you by the hand and installs sense and hope in each song. 

This is a well thought through feel good album, no matter how dark times might get. After winter must always come spring.