Boz Scaggs ‘Middle Man’ / ‘Other Roads’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

Best known in the UK for his mid-1970’s opus, ‘Silk degrees’, that remains a stylistic and commercial high point, Boz Scaggs struggled to free himself from the shackles of that successful album, one of a host that Scaggs recorded from the underrated Johnny Bristol produced 1974 recording, ‘Slow dance’, onwards. This pairing of albums showcases both his ‘blue eyed’ soul side and the rockier edges. The latter was always there from the start when he recorded back in 1969 a self-titled debut steeped in the blues and with Duane Allman on guitar. Released in 1980, ‘Middle man’, starts off in a similar vein to ‘Silk degrees’ with a single in, ‘Jojo’, that could easily have featured on the 1976 album and is perfect fodder for the West coast ‘too slow to disco’ idiom of recent years. Another deeply melodic number is, ‘Simone’, which has arguably the strongest hook of any of the songs on offer. More rocked-tinged influences emerge elsewhere with, ‘Angel you’, and Carlos Santana guests on guitar on, ‘You can have me any time’. The second album, ‘Other roads’, dates from 1988 and the who’s who of studio musicians are on board including jazz bassist Marcus Miller (then an integral part of the Miles Davis band), several members of the Toto band, and with background vocalists of the calibre of Bobby Caldwell and James Ingram. Produced this time round by Stewart Levine (who had on his roster at various times Joe Cocker, the late Hugh Masekela and even Simply Red), the hit single, ‘Heart of mine’, typifies a new genre, adult contemporary for later evening listening. While it is the earlier to mid-1970’s period that is Scaggs’ most creative, this pairing will appeal to fans of the singer who wish to find the next place on from ‘Silk degrees’.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Mr M’s Wigan Casino Northern Soul Oldies Room 1974-1981’ 3CD (Soul Time) 4/5

The phenomenon that is northern soul has been fertile terrain for re-issues in the last decade or more, but where this latest compilation scores highly is in the personalised chronicling of the scene by DJ Dave Evison, who was one of the most active and influential of soul DJ’s and it is worth acquiring for his testimony alone. That is to be found firstly in the third CD which amounts to a radio-style interview on how the adjacent Mr M’s room at Wigan Casino started, and the different sounds that originated from the evenings there. Secondly, the lavish and extensive inner sleeve leaves no stone unturned with individual notes on each of the 45’s, with labels, photos of the punters on the dancefloor and even badges all represented in their glory.

From a purely musical perspective, northern soul sometimes sprung surprise tracks that one might not immediately associate with the scene. For example, a later jazz dance favourite in Mel Tormé’s, ‘Comin’ home’, or a Herbie Mann instrumental, ‘Philly Dog’, became hits at Mr M’s, as did the swamp soul of Tony Joe White’s immortal, ‘Polk salad Annie’. On the other hand, some of the all-time great soul vocalists are showcased and these include the Chicago sound of Gene Chandler and a fine, ‘There was a time’, a 1970’s comeback for Don Covay on, ‘It’s better to have (and don’t need)’, or even the seriously under-estimated singer-songwriter talents of Phillip Mitchell on , ‘Free for all (winner takes all)’. More pleasant, if equally unexpected surprises, come from a Little Richard contribution, ‘Poor dog (who can;t wag his own tail)’, while UK mod soul is represented by the unlikely named, Wynder K. Frog and, ‘Green door’. Among other contributors, feature the recently deceased Bunny Sigler, instrumentalist Boots Randolph, and the blue-eyed soul of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons with the anthemic, ‘The night’. Long-time devotees may have the majority of these songs, but still require the conversation on the third CD. For the rest, this is a useful social history of the northern soul era at its zenith.

Tim Stenhouse

I Marc 4 ‘Nelson Psychout – Original Library Music From The Vaults Of Nelson Records’ LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 3/5

Italian library music is a specialist sub-genre for sure, but one that operated at a prolific level in the 1960’s and 1970’s, invariably in conjunction with the Italian film industry. However, this compilation features music that dates chronologically between 1970 and 1976, when the quartet were at their creative peak. In fact, Nelson records itself was only founded in 1970 by a quartet of musicians including Maurizioo Majorana on bass, Antonello Vannucchi on piano and Hammond organ, Roberto Podio on drums, and guitarist Carlo Pes. Collectively, the sound is early 1970’s psychedelic rock with a gentle nod towards jazz in places. That is amply illustrated on the laid back guitar lead on, ‘Leslie love’, which is also notable for some flute playing straight out of the Charles Lloyd/Roland Kirk drawer. On another number, ‘Underground’, the music hints at progressive rock and funk. Funkier beats are to be found on, the dissonant guitar and Hammond of, ‘Suoni distorti’. Fans of the Jean-Claude Vannier sound may be interested in the music as a whole, and the rolling bass line in, ‘Fast bass’, with psychedelic organ effects could just as easily have come from an early 1970’s French film soundtrack. While not groundbreaking in respect of the inventiveness of the music, it is very competently performed. I Marc 4 recorded some twenty albums in total between 1970 and 1980, and they are, perhaps, best remembered for their film soundtrack recording collaborations from the late 1960’s and 1970’s with Armando Trovajoli.

Tim Stenhouse

Saluki ‘Saluki’ LP (Round 2) 4/5

The breadth of influence provided by jazz is far fetching with the jazz-fusion world providing numerous opportunities for many creative musicians. Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s was a particular fertile environment and period which lead to a great deal of musical experimentation, and it’s here that we have the official reissue of Norwegian group Saluki and their self titled debut and only album, recorded in 1976 but released a year later in assumedly very limited numbers on the Oslo-based Compendium Records label.

Compendium has a very interesting history, in that, it began as a distributor of UK releases in Norway, then into an Oslo record store and later as a jazz-fusion influenced independent record label. In its original years of activity from 1974 to 1977 they had a catalogue of only 10 releases, including local girl Karin Krog and her collaboration with Archie Shep titled ‘Hi Fly’ in 1976, Oslo jazz-fusion outfit Vanessa with the in-demand ‘Black and White’ in 1977 and a more experimental album by Charles Austin and Joe Gallivan titled ‎’Peace On Earth’, also in 1977, which features choral vocals by UK Vibe darling Carmen Lundy, for what must be one of Carmen’s first ever recordings.

Saluki consisted of Freddy Dahl on vocals and guitar, Peter Berg Nilsen on saxophone, Kjell Rønningen on keyboards including some uncredited Hammond work, Sverre Beyer on electric bass and Bjørn Jenssen on drums and percussion. Supplementary saxophone by Erik Balke, trumpet by Petter Katraas and piano by Even Stormoen are augmented with vocals by the band and additional female vocalists Radka Toneff and Sylvi Lillegaard, both revered in Norway.

The album consists of eight jazz-rock, prog rock styled compositions, all written by or including members of the band, with opening track ‘Come Down’, a loose funky workout with its Clavinet keyboard licks, brash vocal lines and short jam-like solos, which do possess an AWB quality. ‘Autumn’ with its piano intro, builds to a sax duet before the male vocals emerge. The second half becomes a little more ‘proggy’ but still maintaining some jazz sensibilities.
‘The Awakening’ is probably best identified as being funky rock and again is reminiscent of Average White Band – an obvious reference point but a valid one here nonetheless. ‘Love To The Sun’ utilises a live recording of waves rolling onto a beach within the first three minutes before some heavy synth strings emerge and the rhythms change into an almost afro beat pattern, before it then deviates into a more chugging straight drum groove. The vocals are initially more blue-eyed soul than rock-n-roll, but later they lose their soulfulness.

‘Uranus In Cancer’ uses flange guitar processing before a sample ready drum groove appears at the halfway point of this 6-minute track. Saxophone parts are also present to ‘jazzify’ the piece, but the final third probably moves too close to prog rock for many jazz palettes. The short (1’51”) ‘Fantasy Suns’ is pretty forgetful but ‘Hidden Path III’, a fusion instrumental, with the keyboards playing the majority of the top lines and the guitar performing back up duties includes some decent saxophone and synth solos and is a solid 10 minute throwdown for the band with some great bass playing from Sverre Beyer. The uptempo ‘Take The Road Across The Bridge’ features some useful Hammond organ action to support the robust groove and brisk solos, with all band members contributing equally.

This Saluki debut is perhaps the most desirable releases from the Compendium label and has become a collectors piece of the progressive Norwegian jazz-rock scene with prices of the original vinyl fetching between £50-£100. The band spit up the same year as the album release, although many of the band members went on to continue their musical careers with other projects. At times, the guitar and vocal styling can veer a little too close to rock than jazz for my tastes, but it stops at becoming a full-out cape fest, but if you appreciate 1970s jazz-rock or jazz-fusion, then this vinyl only reissue via Norway’s Round 2 will appeal.

Damian Wilkes

Brad Garton and Dave Soldier ‘The Brainwave Music Project’ (Mulatta) 4/5

A snail is close to reaching a lettuce leaf, only to be stood on. It could almost taste the succulent greenery.

An agoraphobic juggler, trying to impress her friends, is suddenly afflicted with the power of flight, and lands onto a tightrope. She does not stop juggling.

Meanwhile, ten Native Americans meet ten Ancient Romans at a beach resort, have a fantastic time, and remain lifelong friends. They never miss each other’s birthdays, but cannot read the cards they receive.

The images passing through my mind whilst listening to Brad Garton and David Soldier’s new album are as random and sporadic as the music itself, which is precisely the point.

In 2008, Garton, Director of Computer Music at Colombia University, and neurophysiologist-cum-composer Soldier (a.k.a. Sulzer, a.k.a. the person who built giant instruments for Thai elephants), began developing software which could generate music from brain patterns. Using Electroencephalographs (now to be shortened as EEG’s) to measure brainwaves, the data is outputted sonically, translating a stream of numbers into sound.

Cut to ten years later, the result is ‘The Brainwave Music Project’, 58 minutes of complete auditory madness. Four soloists – Dan Trueman, Margaret Lancaster, Terry Pender, and William Hooker – duel with their own waveforms. Linked up to the EEG, each musician, equipped with their respective instruments of the hardanger fiddle, flute, mandolin, or the trap drum, interpret the peaks and troughs, whilst the EEG creates music of its own.

Gabbling terror on Harajuku Hiccups gives way to moody Serotonin, whilst the later antidote Histamine evokes peaceful lulls of parting clouds and shining sun, only for the peace to be broken by the rolling thunder of Initiates, and then drenched by the ensuing irrational downpours of Rational Entities.

One can imagine David Lynch sticking this on, kicking back in an easy chair, dreaming up his next feature whilst his pet log whispers sweet nothings in his ear. It’s human music at its purest form, displaying the true nature of our untameable minds.

The Brainwave Project is made by the brain, for the brain, so don’t worry if you don’t enjoy it, your grey matter will be having a rollercoaster of a time. It’s a fascinating, high concept album with a truly unique construction. Give it a listen, and see where the cranium-composed cacophony takes you.

Sam Turnell

James Payne ‘Love Talk (Ecko’s From The Past)’ (Snake Free) 3/5

Well 2018 just meandered in musically the way 2017 ended, more soul records coming through the door than the postie can handle and the wants list, in terms of new material, just growing daily – don’t you just love this world of ours?

James Payne is one of black America’s journey men, having been given his first guitar at the age of 9 and been on one hell of a journey ever since, which saw him join numerous gospel groups from and around Mobile Alabama. Not one of life’s prolific recorders of music but has earned his living playing a myriad of live gigs touring with the Blues Unlimited Band and with his good friend, southern soul legend Mr David Brinston. By 2001 he was an artist with the Mr Tee Record Company performing with his own band, The Justice Show Band, travelling on to Jacksonville and eventually to Florida. In 2001 he had a hit single, “Fat Woman”, with the full length CD appearing shortly after.

And so to this tasty 11 tracker, the usual warning with southern soul albums applies, no real instruments, and at times a sparse production, but all this allows us to listen to his smoky lived in vocals that occasionally wander off key, there are a couple of scintillating downlow ballads on here one of which, “I Ain’t Gonna Cry No More”, could just be destined for further exposure on the Soul Discovery and Soul Sermon soul shows, it’s early yet but it could make it through the year as a constant play here as it’s so so good and then we slip effortlessly into “Love Talk” which is perfect radio fodder, the production on both these is top notch and couldn’t be bettered really. Upping the pace a cracking stroller which also got the nod here “If It Feels Good”, and if you fancy shaking your tail feathers then jump on “Two Good Women” a feel good dancer. Staying in that groove we have “My Outside Woman”, and mellowing out slightly we have “I Never Take A Day Off”, of the other tracks they all have something to offer. For me a great way to kick off the year.

Brian Goucher

LyricL ‘UnequiVocaL’ (Tokyo Dawn) 5/5

Since 2001 her voice has graced many a release, appearing on various artist compilations, singles and 12″ platters, many collaborations within an array of musical directions across a big pool of record labels which culminated in her debut album release back in 2011 which was entitled ‘Amazed’ after which she continued her steadfast collaborations and appearances on V/A albums most notably on the compilations released by the Tokyo Dawn records label such as their ‘The Move Volume 2’ and ‘The Heart Volume 4’ long players.

London born writer, arranger, spoken word social commentator and singer, Lillian Mgbado, aka LyricL has released her next album and people, I have to say that this is one of the most encompassing albums that I have had the pleasure of being entertained by in a very long time, both lyrically and musically, with its low lighting -indeed candle lit-production warmth and LyricL’s passionate and soulful yet ultra serious spoken vocal deliveries, an MC of super high calibre, a commentator of the life, the lives that affect us all, love, dissatisfaction, violence, social breakdown, people, hope.

An eclectic pot pourri of progressive hip hop density, jazzy funk grooves and soul stirrings being the order of the day from the EPMD style 70s keyboard slung low groove of ‘Dreamstate’ featuring a rap collaboration with 3rd Person and Breakplus and the equally slung low of ‘Try’ with Enrico Delves and Stephen Bam Busette in attendance with its distinct Jamiroquai vibe and rollin’ riddim. Then we have a piece entitled ‘Appreshelove’ a vocal led instructive and statement with seductive club powered harmonies forming the hookline backdrop and LyricL confidently in spoken word throughout addressing relationships and loss which can be read in either its personal and/or in its social context as she states “So we’re connected, through different ways, artistically, spiritually, creatively, socially, culturally, lovingly, memorably, beautifully and wonderfully, So when you lose something you panic right? or you worry, blame yourself whilst tracing your steps and when you lose those that you love or are in love with or, someone, I guess its more of the same yet the feeling is far worse” said in clear and confident tones and one cannot help but simply listen to her voice intensely, a very addictive voice it has to be said.

The track ‘Appreshelove’ first appeared on Tokyo Dawn’s V/A compilation ‘The Move Vol 2’ back in September of last year and is included thankfully here featuring Stephen Bam Busette. Equally addictive is a piece entitled ‘Wanna Make’ again featuring Stephen Bam Busette, I wont quote from the song this time, you’ll simply have to listen to feel, I will say it’s driven by a classic dance groove and in my humble opinion should be the album’s single, a double A Side single, it’s short with a catchy chorus, and yet again, it’s her delivery, the voice. I have the video of this single already directed in my head as should be expected by a catchy piece like this, the other A side of this single would be a piece entitled ‘Expected’, a wonderful underground lazer light in a field moment with its dubby synth bass and swirling melody and again with an ultra catchy chorus, this piece featuring Daz-I-Kue. Pure Niceness.

Seriously, check it out and feel the lyrics. There are 16 tracks on this album, I could go on, but I want to listen again. This album is ever so luxurious, not in dreammy la la land fashion, it is Seriously luxurious and it hits home and it absolutely warrants 72 minutes of your time and thoughts. In fact, play it twice through in one session. Released on Tokyo Dawn Records. Pure production. Feel it.

Gibsy Rhodes

Arnan Raz ‘Chains of Stories’ (Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit) 4/5

“Chains of Stories” is the follow-up to tenor saxophonist Arnan Raz’s excellent 2016 debut “Second to the left”. And a very accomplished album it is too. This release sees the Israeli born composer teaming up with alto saxophonist Eyal Hai, with Daniel Meron on piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass, and Dani Danor on drums.

There are two key features to this album; the pairing of the tenor and alto saxophonists, and the effortless approach to writing which enables a beautiful, thoughtful and engaging sound to flow from each of the saxophonists’ horns. The music has a gentle, sensitive feel to it, reflective in nature whilst at times still being inquisitively playful.

There’s a childlike innocence to the compositions, evidently poignant as Raz recalls: “When we were kids there was a game we used to play. It was called ‘Chains of Stories’. The first to go would write a sentence, fold it and pass it over to the next one, and they would write a new sentence without seeing what was written before. The game would continue the same way until everyone wrote their sentences. Then we would unfold the entire page and read aloud as one coherent story. When I wrote the title song for this album, I experimented and wrote one short phrase each day without over thinking it, waiting to see what would come out eventually. After a few weeks, I had an entire song written. Thinking of how I wrote the song, I realised it was written the same way that we used to play the game. This album is my chain of stories.”

It’s an interesting concept, and it might explain why some of the melodies and musical lines of notes are so surprising and delightful. There’s a natural beauty to my ears, accentuated by the quite remarkable harmonies provided by the two saxophonists. They accompany one another with such ease and precision, it really is a rare joy to behold. It’s subtle and at times spellbinding, a lovely intuitive sound that warms the heart.

Listening to this album reminds me in a way of Keith Jarrett’s classic album “My Song”. A soft and quiet tone is the overriding feel of the recording, as is heard on several tunes here, “Her Story”, and “Soul Talk” being prime examples. Yet there are times when the saxophonists stretch out and flex their musical muscles, “His Story” being a piece of music where the musicians do take things off on a slightly more adventurous tangent. Another reference point might be Brad Mehldau’s “Highway Rider”. Gorgeous piano melodies underpin some emotive horn playing. “Two Worlds One Soul” along with the title track are both tunes that focus the mind with their intelligent writing, whilst retaining an element of dreamy wistfulness.

“Chains of Stories” is a lovely recording, one which will stand the test of time. Arnan Raz continues to provide us with skilfully crafted, exquisitely executed music. It’s a different vibe to “Second to the left” but I really like that, and I for one can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Mike Gates

Stephane Nisol ‘Trafic d’Influences’ (Aurasky Music) 3/5

There are moments on saxophonist Stephane Nisol’s Trafic d’Influences which could slide right into Jacques Tati’s final film. The last in the tetralogy of Monsieur Hulot outings, Trafic see’s the bumbling protagonist transporting his innovative motorhome from Paris to an automobile show in Amsterdam. It’s a farcical affair, full of insights and car crashes that only long distance journeys can arouse.

The album begins with the switching of a radio. You can almost see Monsieur Hulot, hat firmly on his head, tapping his pipe on the outside of his door whilst he flits to a station of his satisfaction.

Happy, he puts the motorhome in gear and pulls off. The drumming in Lou Maë acts as a perfect representation of a sputtering engine, working hard to carry the heavy load of Monsieur Hulot’s holiday provisions. A bell rings two-thirds of the way through the song; a cyclist has been comically forced off the road, landing in a hedge. Unaware of the incident, Hulot drives on. The cyclist waves his fist.

Track three, Magatte, and we’re really rolling; wheels smoothly go around. This is open road, not a care in the world music. Hulot looks out of the window at a passing van, the driver of which is relieving his nose of obstacles. Today, Hulot cannot be disgusted by such an action, he is enjoying the drive too much. Premier Jour De Printemps plays on.

Some way into the journey, right at the point of the DJ selecting Elia as his next track, it begins to rain. Hulot passes a couple, huddled together, trying to escape the downpour. They left the house without a coat or umbrella; the forecast didn’t suggest rain. The windscreen wipers go back and forth.

Finally, sunshine, happiness resumes. But, little does Hulot know, around the next few bends a farmer is having a hard time controlling his sheep. They are blocking the road, stumbling in time to La Panthère Bleue. Monsieur Hulot slams onto his breaks. A line of cars in waiting forms. The farmer looks exasperated, but eventually clears the road with the Hulot’s help.

He jumps back into the motorhome; the traffic is now moving steadily along. City roads morph into country lanes. Hulot relaxes, going right over a red light at a crossroad. Two oncoming vehicles collide, at the exact moment symbols crash in the title track, Trafic d’Influences. Again, our man Hulot doesn’t know of the carnage he has left. He drives on. Amsterdam is now on the signposts.

On an unpopulated stretch of motorway, blue skies above, grass lands to the left and right, Monsieur Hulot’s mind drifts to the plains of the savanna. Gazelles run around his head. His air freshener is Parfum d’Afrique, it is also the standout track on the record.

However, the reverie is short lived. Another turning, another jam. A lorry carrying multi-coloured rubber ducks has overturned. This time Hulot is far back in the line. He tries to remain patient, but can see the frustration of the people around him. Histoire Secrète plays to his sadness.

Obstruction cleared, he sets off again. As he passes, the driver of the lorry asks him to roll down his window, which he does, and is handed a little rubber duck. He places it affectionately on the dashboard; the singer on Couleurs d’Automne serenades, saying ‘look into my eyes, and you will see, my love is still there.’

The song continues as Monsieur Hulot arrives in Amsterdam and finds the automobile show. He parks, steps out of the motorhome, and puts the little rubber duck in his jacket pocket. The last he hears before he closes the door, marking the end of his journey, is the contemplative Après Minuit.

The radio continues to play. The battery of the motorhome runs flat.

Sam Turnell

Astral Travelling Since 1993