Alice Coltrane ‘World Sprituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’ CD/2LP/DIG (Luaka Bop) 4/5

Spiritual jazz has its seminal influences and arguably Alice Coltrane is one of the key musicians to have influenced a new generation of jazz musicians who have taken on that mantle. This collection of audio cassette recordings is taken from the masters and it should be stated from the outset that this is not really a jazz release in the sense of the Impulse albums that Alice Coltrane recorded. Rather, it is devotional music that draws upon Indian classical and that of the African-American Baptist church with the use of idiosyncratic instrumentation. As a whole, one can convincingly argue that this is spiritual music in the literal sense with vocal chanting and repetitive riffs throughout, and as such worthy of attention in presenting a more panoramic collage of how jazz and spiritual music fit together.

Dating between 1982-1995, this music is about as far away from commercial considerations as one can possibly imagine and was only available on local audio cassettes. However, it does make for a cohesive whole, and thus provides a tantalising glimpse into what motivated Alice Coltrane as a human being, especially her deeply held religious beliefs and her role as a swami in Los Angeles where she served for over three decades and where the music contained within was recorded. The uplifting nature of the music is emphasized from the opening piece, ‘Om Rama’, with the use of synthesizer to add layered texture to proceedings, and with gospel inflections in the form of a call and response male lead that gels together beautifully. Coltrane was very much a product of a Baptist upbringing and her conversion to a more Eastern looking spiritual life did not discard some of her earlier influences. Of great interest to fans of her Impulse period is the radical re-working of, ‘Journey to Satchidananda’, that frankly sounds here as though it is an entirely new composition.

One can only speculate on how John Coltrane might have sounded had he lived on into the 1970s. Quite possibly, with the more commercial side of jazz coming to the fore with jazz-fusion, he might have retreated into a similar music environment. Alice Coltrane was pioneering in her use of instrumentation (Dorothy Ashby was another such musician on the harp), and here one hears her performing on a simple organ (not of the Hammond variety, though) and harmonium. It is pity that her piano skills are absent and even her harp playing is largely invisible. Combining those with spiritual sounds, as on some of the Impulse albums, was a thrilling listening experience. However, this release offers other options and the music is on less enticing for all that.

Luka Bop is to be commended for releasing this music, and it certainly makes a fascinating companion to the spiritual jazz sounds of John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders and others. This release will appeal as much to devotee of world roots music as it will to strictly jazz fans. It is to be hoped that this will inspire other companies to release interview and musical material by Alice Coltrane, most particularly the radio interview with Marion McPartland that was briefly released on CD. The musician passed away in January 2007 aged seventy.

Tim Stenhouse

Daryl Runswick – The Jazz Years 2CD (ASC) 5/5

There was a time in the 1970’s when Daryl Runswick was the man to watch on double bass. This double CD charts that period when he was most active in jazz. He was held in high esteem equally by his musical peers and jazz fans. Over the years he has worked with the cream of the British jazz crop. Indeed, we have saxophonist Bobby Wellins to thank for encouraging him to enter the jazz world full time, as Runswick was all set to become a producer at BBC Radio 3. What a loss that would have been. However, Runswick was not lost to the BBC entirely, as your reviewer remembers many times that he would be featured in many and various jazz groupings on BBC’s Jazz Club.

So eponymous was Runswick that it would be almost impossible to document on CD every jazz setting that he found himself in. These recordings concentrate largely on groups under Daryl’s leadership.

This compilation covers the period 1970-1978 – a period in British contemporary jazz that was particularly fertile with musicians such as John Taylor, John Surman and Mike Gibbs, to name just three consolidating on foundations laid in the late 1960’s.

All of the pieces were recorded in pubs and clubs with no intention that they should ever be released commercially. Despite this, the recording quality is very good and the musicianship is perhaps of a more elevated standard than if the participants were expecting to be immortalised on vinyl.
CD one opens with five pieces from the Runswick Quartet from November 1973. This group was interesting as it included the veteran Don Rendell on flute, tenor and soprano saxophones alongside Alan Branscombe, a pianist of a slightly later generation also featuring the then fashionable Fender Rhodes electric piano, together with the young Turks, Spike Wells at the drums and Runswick.

The opening track is a Runswick blues based on a lick often played by fellow pianist Wynton Kelly and named ‘Wyntones’. Here we get lovely flute from Rendell and a delightful solo from the pianist coping manfully with a less than perfect instrument. A delight for me is that the bassist is not submerged in the general sound mix as so often is the case in live recordings and indeed, turns in a wonderful solo.

The next piece is a Calypso, again written by Runswick. Here we get to hear Rendell’s tenor saxophone in full flight. The whole joyous performance is underpinned by Runswick’s bass.

‘Lainey’s Tune’ written for the bassist’s then wife, Elaine, is a more reflective piece and seems to take on a more contemporary persona with the introduction of the electric piano. Again, we are treated to a fabulous solo from the keyboardist and more tenor from Rendell.
‘Starkers’ is next – an upbeat tune with Rendell on soprano and more electronic wizardry from Branscombe, surely a forgotten master on his instrument. Wells is particularly busy on this piece too.

The longest of these pieces is the ‘standard’ ‘There is No Great Love’ clocking in at over seven minutes and featuring opening bass pyrotechnics before piano and drums enter on the melody statement. Thereafter it is swing all the way. Rendell delivers a typically questing solo, as does the bassist, before ending the piece by re-stating the melody.

All of this was recorded only two days after Runswick returned from Cleo Laine’s legendary ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’ tour, that album having been recorded in October 1973.

The Jimmy Webb tune ‘MacArthur Park’ follows and runs for over eighteen minutes. This is a feature for the London Jazz Four. Jim Phillip blows with vigour on soprano saxophone. A calm piano interlude follows before the pianist Mike McNaught ups the tempo once more. Philip switches to tenor for a more contemplative passage before the bassist takes centre stage for a fabulous arco passage. The piece ends with more frantic soprano saxophone with the band in full flight.

The mood changes again with Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without Her’. This time Philp shows his versatility on flute and is equally passionate as on soprano saxophone. Mention too should also be given to Mike Travis whose drumming is featured to good effect on this piece.
The oldest piece on the album actually pre-dates the 1970’s and is from 1967 and features Runswick singing a Clive James lyric to his own tune ‘Song of the Double Bass Player’.

Space doesn’t permit me to go into any greater depth other than to say, disk 2 contains a further eight tracks in similar vein including two tracks from a 1974 quartet session with musicians largely contemporary to Runswick, Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax and flute, Tony Hymas on keyboards with Spike Wells remaining from the previous incarnation of the quartet. Thereafter there are three tracks from a similar lineup but with Harold Fisher replacing Wells and the collection conclude with three pieces from a quartet featuring Alan Skidmore on tenor sax, Mick Pyne on piano and Fisher at the drums and dating from 1978. All exemplary performances.

Sadly for the jazz world, Runswick was shortly to forsake “the late nights and low pay of the jazz scene for the friendlier hours and greater security of the session world”. He finally hung up his bass in 1983 to join vocal group Electric Phoenix as their tenor singer and resident composer.

Alan Musson

Various ‘Keep It Light: A Panorama Of British Jazz – The Modernists’ 3CD (ÉL/Cherry Red) 4/5

For anyone who remembers the jazz being made at this time or anyone who is curious to hear what British jazz was like at the time, this is an indispensable release.

Clearly taking its influence from the modern jazz masters in the USA, one can start to hear British jazz forming its own identity.

Opening in upbeat manner with the Don Rendell Jazz Six and ‘Hit the Road to Dreamland’ with clear West Coast influences and the ghost of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan is never far away. More adventurous however is ‘Ignis Fatuus’ by the same group.

This is a 3 CD anthology of British modern jazz spanning the decade from the mid-fifties until eclipsed by the advent of The Beatles, R&B and Beat.
The early jazz modernists of the late 1940’s such as Johnny Dankworth were clearly influenced by such American masters as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. The rise of the modernists coincided with the opening of the original Ronnie Scott’s Club in Gerrard Street in London’s famed Soho district and saw the birth of a new generation of exceptional musicians who were to create a musical identity for British jazz, laying the foundations for what was to come in the late 1960’s and beyond.

This three-disc set includes so many gems from the period that it is impossible to comment on them all and so I’ll pick a few personal highlights to give a flavour of what you can expect to hear.

‘Bellini’ by vocalist Annie Ross with the Tony Kinsey Quintet follows with clever contemporary references in the lyrics.

Its not until disk two that we start to hear true originality with the emergence of the Joe Harriott Quintet. Four tracks from the quintet are included here.

Featured artists include Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Deuchar, Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey, Tony Crombie, Cleo Laine, Jack Parnell, Humphrey Lyttelton, and many more.

Although it is good to have this collection available and it is a valuable document of what was happening in British jazz at the time, I feel that this was a period when the British musicians had not yet established an identifiable sound which one could call ‘British’. Except perhaps with the exception of Joe Harriott and Stan Tracey, many of the other artists featured here were still in the shadow of their American counterparts. The really exciting times for British jazz were just months away and it would be good to have those moments documented too, perhaps in a companion set.
Much of the emphasis here is placed on the big bands of the time, perhaps to the detriment of those more adventurous musicians of the next generation of musicians who were just starting to emerge onto the scene.

Alan Musson

Damien Chazelle Soundtrack ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’ (Editions Milan Music) 3/5

This is the music to a new film soundtrack, and only part of it is jazz, while the rest is light western classical with elements of jazz instrumentation. At is best, the most draws inspiration from the sounds of Louis Armstrong circa 1930 with, ‘Cincinnati’, featuring vocals and trumpet playing, while, ‘Love in the fall’, comprises a piano jazz trio plus male vocalist. The female vocals are those of an actress who is trying her hand at singing rather than a seasoned professional and it is in this vein that one should approach the quasi-spoken delivery of, ‘It happened at dawn’. A duet between electric piano and vibraphone is an interesting diversion. Elsewhere, think of a Woody Allen soundtrack with classical influences, and piccolo soloing with accompanying strings.

With just under half an hour’s music, this release could certainly benefit from more examples of jazz-related content. Otherwise, a pleasant, if unexceptional listening experience.

Tim Stenhouse

Albert King ‘On My Merry Way – Singles As & Bs: The Earliest Sessions of the Guitar 1954-1962’ (Jasmine) 4/5

Blues guitar legend Albert King was born in Indianola, Mississippi, back in 1923, but his earliest recordings date from 1953 in Chicago. In fact it was blues bassist Willie Dixon who encouraged King to audition for Parrot records, owned by Chicago DJ, Al Benson. The first 45 is included here, with, ‘Be on your merry way’, and ‘Bad luck blues’, a fine A/B side combination to commence what would turn out to be a glittering career. However, despite the presence of both Dixon and guitarist Elmore James, the 45 was not in fact an immediate success. This, even though Chess records would eventually buy the titles and release these and other songs on the album, ‘Door to door’, which shared six titles on one side with Otis Rush.

If the first single was a respectable seller, it did not earn King a follow-up session with Parrot records and, instead, Albert King moved on in 1956 to St. Louis where he began playing regular gigs on the local circuit and honed his guitar skills. Indeed it was during this period that King came across what would become his signature guitar, the Gibson Flying, that he would rename ‘Lucy’. King came back to the recording studio with a significantly enhanced personal sound on the guitar and the resulting early 1960s 45, ‘Don’t throw your love on me so strong’, became a minor R & B hit in 1961, and was released on King records that same year. Elsewhere, ten unissued tracks (five apiece from Parrot and Bobbin records) are the main source of interest for aficionados, and of note here is the Albert King reading of Tampa Red’s, ‘Little boy blue’. Three songs from the ‘Door to Door’ album are included and, aside from the compilation title track, they include, ‘Bad luck’ and ‘Murder’.

Albert King would later join Stax records where he would enjoy his greatest success with songs as immortal as, ‘Born under a bad sign’, and, ‘I’ll play the blues for you’. He died in 1992 following a major heart attack, but continued to be a seminal influences on blues guitarists old and new alike.

Tim Stenhouse

Major Lance ‘Ain’t No Soul (In These Old Shoes): The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-67’ (Soul Music/Sony Legacy) 4/5

A major figure on the northern soul scene in the UK and much-loved among soul aficionados across the board, Major Lance enjoyed his greatest success with Okeh records in the mid-1960s and this is the focus of this expanded double CD anthology. Moreover, it is a compilation that improves upon previous efforts that have tended to be single LP./CD offerings of approximately sixteen or so songs. The new re-issue offers a comprehensive selection of fifty-three songs and draws upon the authoritative writing of Chicago soul writer Robert Pruter.

What may surprise some is that for a period in the 1960s, Major Lance was second only to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions in terms of soul selling ability in the Windy City. However, there was a close connection between Lance and Mayfield and it was indeed the latter wrote a large number of songs that Lance subsequently covered, and some of these were backed by members of the impressions on backing vocals. Equally, however, Major Lance drew inspiration from the ace Motown songwriting talents of Norman Whitfield, William Stephenson, Clarence Paul and not forgetting Marvin Gaye. Producers varied, but included the likes of Johnny Pate, Carl Davis (later of The Chi-Lites, Curtis Mayfield and Ted Cooper).

Sweet harmonies predominate with, ‘Gonna get married’, ‘Sweet music’ and the ever catchy, ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’, just some of the choicier songs on offer as well as the famous number that is the title of the compilation. Creditable alternatives to Impressions’ originals include a shuffling rhythm to, ‘It’s all right’. An interesting aside is a reading of a Latin soul classic in, ‘Watusi’, which, here, has far more of an R & B than a strictly Latin flavour.

Of course, some were tailor made for the dancefloors of northern soul such as the stomping, ‘Investigate’, while uptempo numbers such as, ‘Delilah’, featured inventive piano licks. This writer especially warmed to the understated hues of, ‘Think nothing bout it’, and the lush production of, ‘Without a doubt’. Johnny Pate was always a classy producer and this is showcased on the gorgeous bass to the mid-tempo, ‘Gotta get away’ from 1965. Lance’s somewhat gentle vocal delivery was ideally suited to the medium tempo songs. While there might be other candidates for the mantle of Chicago’s greatest ever soul vocalist, with Curtis Mayfield in prime position, and Gene Chandler and Walter Jackson, close behind, Major Lance will be forever associated with the 1960s Chicago soul sound and this overarching anthology does an excellent job of illustrating the key songs in his career.

Detailed liner notes are written by Clive Anderson who leaves no stone unturned.

Tim Stenhouse

King Curtis ‘Soul Twistin’ with the King!’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Better know for his sideman duties with Aretha Franklin, rhythm and blues saxophonist King Curtis (aka Curtis Ousley), recorded some memorable sides as a leader and, while, ‘Memphis Soul Stew’, will remain his most impressive and lasting legacy, this new re-issue pulls together some fascinating music that draws heavily on the ‘twist’ dance craze that spread like wildfire across the United States around 1960 and beyond.

The complete, ‘Soul Twist’ album makes up for the first part of the CD and includes Curtis’ own take on soul-jazz titan Cannonball Adderley’s, ‘Sack o’ woe’ and here tenor and guitar combine to provide a lighter version that has a prominent piano vamp. Ray Charles scored a major hit with, ‘What I’d say’, and King Curtis offers up a hi-hat cymbal rendition with a meaty tenor solo in ‘Part 2’. The album also includes a self-penned hit 45 that went to number one in the R & B chart in 1962, ‘Soul Twist’.

In fact the whole ‘twist’ music and dance phenomenon came about somewhat by accident since the song was originally a B-side to a Hank Ballard 45 that nobody paid any attention to until Chubby Checker heard it, re-recorded it as an A-side and scored a major hit in the process. King Curtis certainly milked the dance craze for all it’s worth and the blues-driven number, ‘Twistin’ with the King’, features some tasty guitar licks.

A second selection of an album Curtis recorded with girl group The Shirelles adds variety to proceedings (and with thirty tracks in total, you do need some vocals to complement the numerous instrumentals). The best of these songs to this writer’s ears is, ‘I still want you’.

The final part of the CD is made up of King Curtis providing instrumental support to an album ostensibly under the leadership of dance teacher Albert Murray and once again devoted to the twist dance craze. A latin-soul gem in, ‘Midnight blue’, is not in fact the more famous Kenny Burrell composition, but rather a Curtis original. Of interest also is a take on, ‘Alright, you win’, which Nancy Wilson would transform into a swinging jazz number.

It should be stated from the outset that the music contained within emphasizes the fun nature of King Curtis’ music and pre-dates his recordings for Atco. The saxophonist would die in tragic circumstances in 1971, aged just thirty-seven.

Tim Stenhouse

Olli Hirvonen ‘New Helsinki’ CD/DIG (Edition) 4/5

Formed in 2008, Edition Records describes itself as a “..British record label with a European sensibility and global presence”. This statement tells us not only about their roots, but also something about their vision and the scale of their ambition. A distinctly European approach is nothing new and is quite bold considering it puts them up against more established counterparts like ECM and ACT. Edition’s impact has been significant and demonstrates that their strap line is more than just words. In the past 12 months alone, albums by Jasper Høiby, Eyolf Dale, Verneri Pohjola and Alexi Tuomarila have been given top marks here at UK Vibe. The label also had three albums in Jazzwise’s top 20 of the year, including their number one pick, “One” by Tim Garland.

Olli Hirvonen is further evidence of the strength within Edition’s roster. Winner of Artist of the Year at the Pori Jazz Festival 2011 and more recently the Jazz Guitar competition at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival, Hirvonen moved to New York from his native Finland in 2011 to complete his formal musical education, staying on past graduation to mix it in Jazz’s capital.

This is Hirvonen’s second album. His debut, “Detachment”, revealed a talent for composition and catchy riffs, but for me it felt like it paid a little too much respect to the tradition of jazz guitar. “New Helsinki” is quite different. Not only does it marry Hirvonen’s past with his present in space and time, but musically as well, revealing a rockier side to his sound revealing earlier influences. As a creative statement it’s bold and forward sounding. Hirvonen fuses jazz and rock, in the way of the likes of Larry Coryell, but with a contemporary edge.

This vision is apparent from the outset. “ARPS” builds quickly round a fast, infectious, circulating theme into neat overlapping layers of Hirvonen’s rocky guitar licks and pianist Luke Marantz’s elegant phrasing. Think of contrasts that work – I can’t get past salted caramel – and you get the idea.
The sense of drive, powered by a machine-gun rhythm is even more apparent on longer tracks like “Gravity”, “Fundamental” and “Absolute”. Here there is more scope for soloing; Hirvonen is generous in his arrangements giving the other front of stage players, Marantz on piano and Rhodes, Walter Smith III on tenor sax and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, room to add their own voices, introducing different textures and tones to the arrangements. Smith III plays with a passion and spirit that reminds me of Kamasi Washington. Oh, and if the O’Farrill name may ring a bell; it’s because he’s from good Jazz stock, the son of pianist and composer Arturo and grandson of bandleader Chico.

“Fundamental”, as the title suggests, is focussed, raw and direct, energetic, urgent and quite funky. “Absolute” creates tension as it builds feverishly and then just as you think Hirvonen is going to let rip with the mother of all guitar solos he drops the tempo into a blissfully open and mellowed out finale. The interest and variety within this tune alone are worth the price of admission.

Throughout Hirvonen demonstrates genuine skill and touch. Even within the rockier solos he plays without excess and with an intricate and intimate style that is both fluid and natural.

Edition Records strike again!

Andy Hazell

Nomade Orquestra ‘EntreMundos’ LP/CD/DIG (Far Out) 3/5

Sao Paulo-based collective Nomade Orquestra return with another self-produced recording that builds on their previous effort for Far Out, the self-titled debut from last year. Once again the musical influences are eclectic and take on board Afro-Brazilian, Indian and Ethio-jazz elements as well as 1960s film soundtracks and even contemporary hip-hop.

In parts the music can be quite dense and it does require a few listens for the whole to come together and for the listener to fully appreciate the multiple influences that have been weaved together. Psychedelic blues (harmonica) meets avant-garde with funk-tinged guitar on, ‘Rinoceronte blues’, which is an eclectic mix to say the least. This writer enjoyed the oriental feel to, ‘Terra fértil’, which is something of a dervish-like groove with soprano saxophone overlaid to excellent effect. For funkier flavours, ‘Madame Butterfly’, combines full-on brass (a five piece brass section) and sensitive keyboards. The explosion of styles come together on the rock-blues guitar soloing on, ‘Vale de boca seca’, with fender and collective horns, and a wonderful bass line underpinning it all. More intricate big band arrangements are a feature of, ‘Jardins de Zaira’, which has a strong psychedelic film soundtrack component, and with a flute solo incorporated.

With a UK tour looming, now is as good a time as any to check out the sounds of the Nomade Orquestra.

Tim Stenhouse

Lou Rawls ‘The Rarest Lou Rawls: In the Beginning 1959-1962’ 2CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Born in Chicago in 1935, Lou Rawls cut across black music boundaries and was equally adept at jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and smooth soul genres. This latest re-issue captures him early on in his career with some of the earliest, and thus rarest, 45s, paired with an EP of the ‘Black and Blue’ session on Capitol from 1962 and also including from the same year a gospel album Rawls recorded with the Pilgrim Travellers. Of interest with the pre-Capitol 45s are producers of the calibre of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. However, fans of rhythm and blues are more likely to warm to the production of H.B. Barnum for whom Rawls recorded, ‘That lucky old sun’, and ‘Above my head’. As a lovely addition, Rawls the background singer to the late, great Sam Cooke is included as a fascinating bonus on a 1962 RCA offering, ‘Bing it on home to me’.

Capitol released EPs to cater for the then burgeoning jukebox market that was key to attracting attention in the inner city areas and of these, ‘Everyday I have the blues’, ‘Kansas City’ and the boogie-woogie influenced, ‘Roll ’em Pete’, impress with big band accompaniment from musicians of the calibre of a young Joe Sample on piano, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes’ on Hammond organ, and Clifford Scott on saxophone.

CD2 focuses squarely on the two complete Capitol albums, with ‘Stormy Monday’, being regularly re-issued, but for anyone unaware, a definitive slice of soul-jazz with Les McCann Rawls’ co-companion throughout. Some of these readings have become the standard and blues and jazz never criss-crossed as effectively as here. From a heartwarming, ‘God bless the child’, and, ‘Willow weep for me’, to, ‘Ain’t nobody’s biz-ness if I do’, these interpretations have stood the test of time and then some. A rousing rendition of, ‘I’d’ rather drink muddy water’, rounds off a superb album. Last, but by no means least, Lou Rawls in gospel mode on, ‘The soul stirring gospel sounds of’, and here he excels on, ‘Wade in the water’, a composition that Ramsey Lewis would make a hit instrumental out of for Chess (via Cadet), ‘Motherless child’, and ‘Sweet chariot’.

The two-CD set covers the period just before Lou Rawls hit the big time in the United States, with the 1966 album, ‘Lou Rawls live’, that went to number four in the pop charts. If you do not already possess any of the aforementioned recordings, this re-issue is more than worth the purchasing price.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993