Mulatu Astatké ‘Mulatu of Ethiopia’ LP/CD/Dig (Strut) 5/5

Formerly only available as a vinyl re-issue, Strut have seen fit to make this highly influential album available in several formats and the listener is very much the winner. For those not already in the know, Ethiopian keyboardist Mulatu Astatké studied music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in the 1960s and while there soaked up myriad musical influences that ranged from the orchestral genius of Duke Ellington (a seminal influence upon Astatké) to the emerging sounds of Latin New York. Astatké regularly attended the mecca of Latin dance music at the Palladium as well as live jazz at the Village Gate and collectively began to form in his own mind a distinctive new pioneering sound which would come to be termed Ethio-jazz, the contents of which make up this album. Three key elements combine: Ethiopian; American; Puerto Rican.

Elements of 1960s psychedelic guitar surface on the lovely, ‘Mulatu’, with unison horns, percussion, a wailing saxophone solo and some haunting vibes. It is a sound like no other and over time has attracted attention way beyond the confines of music, with independent film director Jim Jarmusch picking up on the musician and basing the musical soundtrack to, ‘Broken flowers’, around it. The modal-flavoured, ‘Dewel’, is mightily impressive with an intro that John Coltrane could have conjured up, while the subtle use of layered textures takes a leaf out of the innovative work of Bobby Hutcherson. In general, the music is other worldly with a stunning Ethio-Latin workout on, ‘Chifara’, complete with Latin piano vamp, while the flute-led, ‘Kasalef ku-hulu’, is heavy on percussion.

The single CD edition, which forms the basis of the review here, interestingly includes both stereo and mono versions of the album. A lavish gatefold edition is equally available in extremely limited quantities.

[This album was also available separately on a very limited edition triple vinyl release]

Tim Stenhouse

Vibe Out: Argentina

Tracklist:

Agustín Pereyra Lucena – Espontaneo
Gato Barbieri with Lonnie Liston Smith – Merceditas
Luis Alberto Spinetta – Telgopor
Francisco Rivero – Buenos Aires – New York
Aaron Goldberg & Guillermo Klein – Human Feel
Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos – Ninos
Martín Robbio – Jocoso
Norris Trio – Transmisión Oral
Pablo Aslan – Derviche
Juan Carlos Cáceres – Cumtango
Gato Barbieri – To Be Continued
Hugo Fattoruso & Tomohiro Yahiro – La Papa
Fatto Maza Fatto – Cravo e Canela
Martín Robbio Trio & Los Guevarista – Elvin (Sir) Jones
Ara Tokatlian & Enrique Villegas – Maritimaria
Johnny Hodges with Lalo Schifrin – Buenos Aires Blues
Alex Conde – Think Of One
Pablo Ziegler Quartet – Michelangelo ’70
Pablo Ziegler – Imagenes 676
Adrián Iaies – Chiquilín of Bachín
Fefe Botti – Lavand
Richard Nant & Argentos – 70s
Agustín Pereyra Lucena – Guayabas
Mono Fontana – La Culpa No Se Lava Contra La Piedra

George Colligan ‘More Powerful’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Whirlwind Recordings are rapidly becoming the premier label in the UK for contemporary jazz both home-grown and also from ‘across the pond’. I imagine that UK based USA bassist and label boss Michael Janisch is utilising all of the contacts in his address book.

Colligan is a pianist and educator of some repute. He has been quite busy during his 47 years. This is his 28th CD release as band-leader and his debut for Whirlwind. He has more than 130 albums to his credit as accompanist and has had a long association with drum legend Jack DeJohnette. His band mates on this occasion are Linda Oh on bass, Rudy Royston on drums and Nicole Glover on tenor and soprano saxophones.

The album title and the cover art is as impressive as the music to be found within.

Colligan’s keyboard influences range from Chick Corea to Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner. Add to the mix Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and a liking for everything from show tunes to funk, from free improvisation to modern classical music and you have all the ingredients for today’s complete jazz pianist.

In terms of genre, Colligan is a jack of all trades and master of all of them. Readers might recall that he toured the UK with Andrew Bain’s ‘Embodied Hope’ band to great success last year.
The opening track ‘Whiffle Ball’ gets things off to a powerful start with swinging contemporary post-bop sounds and a declamatory statement from the drummer.

‘Waterfall Dreams’, in contrast, is rather more contemplative. It contains a fine showcase for the bassist.

‘Effortless’ is a trio outing. A complex piece of music and the Corea influence is in evidence here. The trio working as one to great effect.

Glover is a new name to me. I particularly enjoyed his centred, hard edged and powerful tone. Hear him at his best on ‘Today Again’. ‘Empty’ ventures into free-jazz territory and is another feature for Glover. ‘The Nash’ has echoes of another of Colligan’s influences in the form of Thelonious Monk. But a 21st Century Monk.

It’s not often that contemporary jazz contrives to be both powerful and accessible as is the case here. The power can sometimes be a little wearing on the listener. However there is no denying that this is exciting eventful music performed by musicians operating at the highest level of their craft. Their confidence is almost overwhelming, but they are at the peak of their creative powers. One is left with the feeling that the music is somewhere between being in the tradition and pushing powerfully towards things to come.

Alan Musson

Fraktal ‘Polarisation of Light’ (QFTF) 3/5

Fraktal’s debut album title, ‘Polarisation of Light’, has a rather scientific ring to it. It could lead listeners to the false assumption of being a sterile, heavy and brainy Jazz album. Where its protagonists, fresh out of school, present what they learned, deliberately avoiding to sound pleasing or accessible. But swiss born bandleader, composer, arranger and guitarist Jan Herzog presents his music in a genuine lively and stylish fashion. His compositions drive from the strong performances of his bandmates, who know how to make the most out of their individual showcases, yet manage to appear as a strong and unified group.

Herzog never seems to run out of ideas of how to set his players, or how to tell a story. Forming intimate and fragile instrumental settings, that wind to waves of sound and groove, drawn by a magnificent large ensemble. Simple and straight forward rhythmic and harmonic arrangements alter into complex, entangled tapestries of sound design. Above all, the beautiful and crystal voice of Andrea Nydegger and Christoph Mahnig’s well tempered trumpet.

Furthermore Herzog doesn’t miss the chance to prove himself as a fantastic guitar player with remarkable instrumental skills. His solo adventures are another picture book of prolific melodic invention. Fraktal is yet another great example for the admirable Swiss Jazz Scene. ‘Polarisation of Light’ shows a deep understanding for the possibilities of modern jazz.

SG

Vibe Out: ISRAEL

Tracklist:

Rimona Francis – Debka Druze
Ziv Ravitz – Avishkess
Itamar Borochov – Jaffa Tune
Avi Darash – Happiness
Shlomi Goldenberg – Blowing
Tete Montoliu Trio – Israel
Oran Etkin – Distant Sounds Of Change
Welch / Chatsav / Zelman – Na’ama feat. Faustina Abad
Jazz Work Shop – Hamichtav
Richard Davis – The Rabbi
Avrey Sharron – O Morro
Odeon – Alone
Talk – The Growl
Trio Shalva – Sova
Amos Hoffman – Abe Baby
Tammy Scheffer – I Can’t See You Now
Yotam – Bye Ya’ll
Nadav Remez – Untitled
Amit Friedman Sextet – The Archaeologist
Yaron Herman – Side Jump
Omer Klein – Mixtape

Tom Syson Sextet ‘Green’ (Private Press) 5/5

Although Tom Syson’s debut release is entitled ‘Green’, Tom himself has donned a coat of many musical colours to bring the listener a kaleidoscope of sound.

The opening track, ‘Constant’, although short, seems to act as a fanfare, introducing us to Tom’s abilities. Although the cover art on the CD depicts various blossoms, it is clear that Tom is certainly no shrinking violet. We have powerful declarations along with Rex Stewart like half-valve effects. But the trumpeter also has a strong grasp of the contemporary jazz trumpet language. He cites Blue Note recording artist Ambrose Akinmusire as an influence along with a master from an earlier generation – Dizzy Gillespie.

The second piece ‘Bamberg’ is a much more considered almost pastoral piece of work. Here the sextet work particularly well together. There is a sensitive solo from pianist David Ferris. At times, throughout the course of the album, I’m reminded of the work of fellow trumpeter Colin Steele.

Tom graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in 2015 and since then has dedicated himself to building a thriving jazz career and enhancing the jazz scene in his home county of Bedfordshire. However, he has retained and capitalized upon the links that he forged with fellow musicians on the thriving Birmingham jazz scene. The Sextet includes names familiar to Midlands audiences. In addition to David Ferris we hear from guitarist Ben Lee, himself a rising star of the local jazz scene, fellow Birmingham graduate and long-time collaborator, Vittorio Mura on tenor sax, the ubiquitous Jonathan Silk at the drums and the only non-Birmingham graduate in the group, Pete Hutchison on double bass. All of the musicians are well used to working together and clearly familiarity breeds content.

All ten compositions on the album are by Syson and each have a specific story attached. For instance, ‘Bamberg’, a town in Northern Bavaria, is a place with happy associations for Tom dating back to school music exchange visits. The title track ‘Green’ is named after a road leading to his home village, the song summing up the feeling one has when returning home. ‘Bluebells’ was written whilst sitting amongst them.

Perhaps the most adventurous track on the album is ‘Raindrops’ featuring vocalist Lauren Kinsella and which depicts Syson’s struggles with anxiety and how it has affected him.

All of the pieces create very evocative pictures in sound. I particularly enjoyed ‘Far From Boundaries New’ with exceptional playing all round with Syson and Mura in particular building up a fine head of steam.

The leader and Silk flex their musical muscles on ‘Leroy the Tiger’.

In addition to leading his own Sextet, Syson is also a member of the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra which also has a recording out. The sextet will be touring extensively over the next two months and so there will be ample opportunity to hear them in action playing the wonderful music from this recording.

Alan Musson

Tour dates:

Thursday 1 June – Kingston Upon Thames – Ram Jam Club, 46 Richmond Road KT2 5EE

Friday 9 June – Bedford – Quarry Theatre, 26 St Peter’s Street MK40 2NN – Album Launch

Friday 23 June – Glasgow Jazz Festival – Dukes Bar, 41 Old Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G3, 8RB

Monday 26 June – Manchester – Wonder Inn, 29 Shudehill, United Kingdom M4 2AF

Friday 30 June – Birmingham – Symphony Hall Foyer, The International Convention Centre, Broad St, B1 2EA

Sunday 2 July – London – Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden NW1 7AN

Sunday 23 July – Southampton Modern Jazz Club – The Talking Heads 16-22 The Polygon SO15 2BN

Tuesday 25 July – Birmingham – Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth B12 0NH

Weds 26 July – Leeds – LS6 café bar, 16 Headingly Lane LS6 2AS

Sunday 6 August – Manchester Jazz Festival – Salon Perdu Spiegeltent, Albert Square M60 2LA

Vibe Out: FRANCE

Tracklist:

Éric Legnini – The Parkway feat. Michelle Willis
Aqua Bassino – Jay’s Vibes
Philippe Petit / Miroslav Vitous – Swing 89
MeTaL-O-PHoNe – Robosticks
Yaron Herman Trio – Isobel
Lionel Belmondo / Hymne Au Soleil – Priere Pour Le Salut De Mon Ame
Paris Jazz Underground – Pollock
Stéphane Kerecki Trio – Lunatic
Stéphane Belmondo – Turn Around Go Deep
Florian Pellissier Quintet – Valse pour Helene
Permutants – La promenade de Devil (Live)
Edmond Bilal Band – M’Brabouch
Ahmad Jamal – Marseille feat. Abd Al Malik
Laurent Marode – Wives and Lovers
Christophe Wallemme – Opus 5
Note Forget – Et la nuit irisée
Alexis Avakian – Hi Dream
Adrien Chicot – Backpack
Silent Poets – Check L’Intellect
Troublemakers – God Bless Billie
Thomas De Pourquery Supersonic – Sons of Love
Anthony Jambon Group – Day Off
Josiah Woodson – 4_Terre
Rupture – Alice aux Miroirs

Burning Sounds Latest

Mighty Maytones ‘Madness’/’Boat to Zion’ (Burning Sounds) 5/5

Twinkle Brothers ‘Rasta Pon Top’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

Linval Thompson ‘Rocking Vibration’/’Love is the Question’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

The Burning Sounds label was one of the major roots reggae players in the UK in the 1970s and the re-issuing for the very first time on CD (a limited number did come out via Trojan, but this was by no means comprehensive) is a welcome addition to the catalogue, especially at a time when roots reggae releases are somewhat thin on the ground, at least albums. What is more, the new re-issues are terrific value for money since they invariably contain two albums on one CD, though the Twinkle Brothers album is an exception to that rule

Arguably, the pick of the bunch is the Mighty Maytones and the vocal duet of Vernon Buckley and Gladstone Grant enjoyed an early UK pop chart hit in the early 1970s with, ‘Black and white’. However, by the mid-1970s the sound was strictly roots and from this emerged one of the definitive examples of the genre in, ‘Madness’. The apocalyptic cover could just as easily symbolize the current schizophrenia in the world of politics. Recorded with a crack set of studio musicians under ace producer, Alvin ‘G.G’. Ranglin, this album is quite simply required listening for anyone who wishes to understand the socio-political undercurrent to reggae music in the 1970s and the lyrics are as prescient now as they were then.

Previously released on vinyl in the UK via Vista Sounds, ‘Rasta pon top’, is the debut album by the Twinkle Brothers, who are in reality the brother pairing of Norman Grant (drums and vocals) and Ralston grant (rhythm guitar and vocals). Their professional debuts go way back to 1962 and during the 1960s they cut several 45s for various producers including Duke Reid and Leslie Kong. This debut album, however, was released on their own Grounation label and is crammed with roots reggae delights, with key tracks including, ‘Give rasta praise’ and ‘Beat them Jah Jah’. While there are no extra songs on this re-issue, the four pages of historical background is extremely useful and the inner sleeve contains graphics of both the original Vista Sounds album cover and a long-lost gem in a 45 from the album that Rough Trade issued at the time.

Finally, producer and singer Linval Thompson is showcased from his period as a lead singer and we hear the contrasting sides to his career, both as a roots singer and as one of love songs. Thompson is, perhaps, best known in Europe for his anthem to ganja, ‘I love marijuana’, from 1978 and both albums here date from the same year. Recorded at a combination of Channel One studios and King Tubby’s, featuring the highly innovative rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, ‘Rocking vibration’, captures Thompson at his roots zenith, while the second album, ‘Live is the question’, still features a roots reggae instrumental accompaniment, but with secular lyrics. Linval Thompson was one of those musicians who effortlessly straddled the transition from roots reggae to dancehall and, in truth, he could operate equally effectively in either. As a producer, Linval Thompson would go on to enjoy his biggest hit for Freddie McGregor in 1982 with, ‘Big ship’.

Tim Stenhouse

Lars Danielsson ‘Liberetto III’ (ACT) 4/5

Bassist Lars Danielsson has built up a reputation as one of the finest jazz musicians in Scandinavia and this new release merely enhances that point of view. The band have been together since 2012, but there is one departure and new arrival in the piano spot. Tigran has departed to engage on his own career, but in his place is one of the most impressive pianists to emerge in French-Caribbean Grégory Privat. His contribution along with the all round excellence of the main quartet is one of many highlights on this wonderfully cohesive recording that has a Spanish undercurrent, yet with several nods to Scandinavian and American jazz influences. The band members include John Parricelli on guitar, EST drummer/percussionist Magnus Öström and, boosting the original line-up, an unusual horn combination that works extremely well of trumpeter Arne Henriksen (who has recorded with ECM) and oboist d’amore Björn Bohlin, while Dominic Miller operates on largely acoustic guitar. All the original compositions are penned by the leader and impressive they are too.

An absolute treat is the piece, ‘Dawn Dreamer’, which owes a debt of gratitude to EST and is the prettiest of melodies with fine work in tandem between piano and guitar, and the most delicate of solos from Privat. That EST melodicism is equally present on, ‘Lviv’, with lovely phrasing once again from Privat. This writer especially warmed to the combination of Mediterranean as well as Scandinavian influences, and it is indeed the former that are heard on the graceful, ‘Mr Miller’, with the drumming immediately evoking Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’. Meanwhile, echoes of Paco de Lucía surface on the flamenco guitar driven mid-tempo piece, ‘Taksim by Night’, while more obviously, ‘Sonata in Spain’, is a gorgeous flowing number with an empathetic rapport between piano and guitar and flamenco flavours abound here too.

More reposing hues are to be found on, ‘Agnus Dei’, with trumpet and English horn deployed in unison and with wordless vocals, or at least a sound resembling the human voice. On the opener, ‘Preludium’, trumpet and oboe d’armore feed off one another in some excellent trading of notes. Quite simply, this is one of the strongest new releases of the year thus far and is bursting at the seams with Mediterranean influences that effortlessly fuse with the native Scandinavian folk music that Lars Danielsson has grown up with.

Tim Stenhouse

Jørgen Emborg Quartet feat. Mathias Heise ‘What’s left?’ (Stunt) 3/5

Danish pianist and all round keyboardist Jørgen Emborg has been composing and performing since the 1970s, but in the 1980s was the principal writer for the jazz-rock group Frontline. However, his more straight ahead jazz credentials were earned as a member of both the Danish Radio Big band and the Swedish Tolvan Big Band. Here, we find him in a smaller chamber group setting with harmonica player Mathias Heise on an all original set of compositions. rather than being an exotic add-on to proceedings, the sound of the harmonica is an integral part of the band sound and offering sympathetic support are Peter Hansen on bass and Karsten Bagge on drums.

In general, the pieces are deeply melodic with the leader standing out. This writer appreciated the freshness of approach on, ‘Sudden exit’, with some lovely blues inflections. The playing on the ballad, ‘Wait for the sign’, is both refined and sensitive with piano and harmonica combining well. In contrast, the opener, ‘Snowballs and sleigh bells’, is bright and breezy in outlook. Toots Thielmans has clearly been an influence on the thinking of both Emborg and more particularly, Heise. It comes as little surprise, then, that homage should be paid to the sadly departed Belgian musician with, ‘Song for Toots’. Nothing too revolutionary here, but an extremely enjoyable listening experience nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993