Antibalas ‘Where the Gods are in Peace’ LP/CD/DIG (Daptone) 3/5

Brooklyn-based Afro-Beat specialists, Antibalas, make a brave attempt at expanding their sound with three lengthy cuts, ranging between nine and fifteen minutes, that then sub-divide into separate movements. This is more an extended EP than a full blown album and weighs in at just thirty-five minutes. An obvious contender for single release is the opener, ‘Gold Rush’, and the inclusion of wah-wah guitar, funky organ with a clavinet feel and percussion makes this an instantly danceable number and one that should find favour with DJs.

The music loses its direction somewhat on the three part movement, ‘Tombstone’, with Afro-vocal chants giving way to heavy percussion, before guests Zap Mama enter in the second movement alongside a crescendo of sound effects. At times, the non-stop percussion does tend to grate, and the listener is left wondering how it all fits together as a cohesive whole.

If the music is atmospheric throughout, there is nonetheless a greater need to explain in simple terms to the listener what the narrative is and such is the complexity of the story line that one loses sight of the underlying theme of an ‘Afro-Western Trilogy’. Quite possibly, this is best sampled in a live context. Antibalas have served as a backing band for tribute shows devoted to the music of David Byrne and Talking Heads, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon.

Tim Stenhouse

Brenda Holloway ‘Spellbound: Rare and Unreleased Motown Gems’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

One of the finest female vocalists ever to grace the label, Brenda Holloway really should have been a far bigger star. It was the subject of much press rumour and speculation that the singer was a serious rival to Diana Ross and others for Berry Gordy’s affection between 1963 and 1966. Holloway gave the Motown boss a clear cut ultimatum that left him in no doubt: ‘Either I sing or I’m your mistress, but it is one or the other’. Gordy signed her up and housed her at his parents.

While the major hits such as, ‘Every little bit hurts’, ‘When I’m gone’ and, ‘Just look what you’ve done’, are all available elsewhere, this de facto mini anthology does the non-negligible service of offering up numerous unreleased songs. In spite of being a prolific singer during this period with over a hundred songs finding their way onto a plethora of re-issues, the performances here are of a universally high standard and one wonders why some were never issued at the time ,especially songs of the calibre of, ‘I’m spellbound’, ‘What good am I without you’, and ‘Don’t compare me with her’. Indeed, almost the total output on the second CD has previously been left on the tape shelves seemingly for posterity. Brenda Holloway was not a native of Detroit, born and raised in Watts, Los Angeles, but her voice was pure Motown. Compiled by Motown music aficionado Paul Nixon and with lengthy sleeve notes from noted UK Motown fanatic and former Blues and Soul writer Sharon Davis, this is a compilation that will appeal to both completists and those coming to the music of Brenda Holloway for the very first time.

Tim Stenhouse

Nico Wayne Toussaint ‘Plays James Cotton’ (Dixiefrog) 4/5

James Cotton was a Chicago and Delta blues musician who achieved a peak of popularity in the 1970s when he was already in his forties and came to fame, deputising for harmonica player Little Walter in Muddy Water’s band. Indeed, it was Cotton who suggested to Muddy that he add a new song to his repertoire: ‘Got My Mojo Working’. This became his signature tune. Cotton featured on a classic three-volume set from the 1960s, ‘Chicago Blues Today!’.

Taking an eight month break from music altogether in French Guyana, vocalist and harmonica player Nico Wayne Toussaint came back duly refreshed and sufficiently enthused to devote an album to the music and spirit of James Cotton, even though just five of the thirteen songs are actually composed by Cotton. Surrounded by an eight piece French band with vocalist Boney Field on hand, the music has a live audience feel (though this may actually have been added). Toussaint excels on the mid-tempo ‘Hard Time Blues’, with lovely clipped guitar work and New Orleans style piano from David Maxwell. In fact soul-blues of the New Orleans variety surfaces once more on ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’, with fine collective harmonies. More closely in keeping with Cotton is the fast-paced ‘Rocket 88’, with a catchy guitar riff.

Bilingual English and French sleeve notes and the usual attention to detail with an illustrative pull out gatefold sleeve.

Tim Stenhouse

Brian Owens ‘Soul of Cash’ LP/DIG (Ada Cole/Purpose Music Group) 4/5

Whilst researching this fabulous album I stumbled over an excellent informative review by Brenda Nelson-Strauss which you can read on the Black Grooves site. For my part I’m happy to review it from a soul boy’s point of view. First up, any review of a black soul man covering Johnnie Cash music isn’t going to be an easy sell, I’ve never heard a JC track that has ever registered any where in my head, so like some of you, I’ll be approaching this album as a Brian Owens album, having said that most soul boys have Clarence Carter, Joe Tex, Joe Simon, Eddie Hinton music in there collections, all of these guys and more were always happy with Country Music influences in their music and were all great story teller’s in their own right. You may remember I reviewed the utterly stunning “Beautiful Day” album here on UK Vibe and recently at the Soul4Real Weekender in Bilbao Spain I spun the title track at the welcome party which got a very positive, healthy response.

Owens, the son of preacher out of Ferguson, Missouri had stumbled over the music of Cash via TV. There are some truly fine moments on here, like ‘Walk The Line’, a bass driven, horn laden dancer that could quite easily do the business on a dance floor near you. His version of ‘Cry Cry Cry’ is very much more to my taste, a guitar driven, head nodding ballad which seeps into your head, very Stax/Atlantic sounding. Now then, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ is a monster crossover dancer with a huge potential, should it find its way onto soul radio. I went off and listened to the original and I have to say this is easily the better version, which may not sit too cosy with Country Music enthusiasts as it appears to be an anthem in that genre. ‘Long Black Veil’ is a thinking man’s lumbering ballad with deft musicianship which is kept to the very minimum. ‘Man in Black’ is a full-on retro sounding on-the-four’s dancer which sounds so so good, it’s not mock Motown but it ain’t a million miles away, love the gentle horns caressing the percussion, some fabulous backing from The Vaughn’s who really do get to let you know they are there, utterly superb.

The top track on here is an Owens original which is steeped in Doo Wop but with a country sounding pedal steel guitar. The song tells us that there ain’t that much of gap between real country and soul music, with one line standing tall “We all sing the blues” with vocals shared between Owens, Rissi Palmer and Robert Randolph. An album that is essential in my world, and then some, and available on Vinyl and digital download.

Brian Goucher

Bobby Reed & The Surpize Band CD/DIG (Private Press) 3/5

Let’s get the negatives out of the way, I know very few people who claim to be into soul music who will be able to embrace this quite superb long player, you see it’s the blues, RnB, Soul and Jazz with occasional Doo Wop inflections, big band too, it’s got the bloody lot. Take the deep soul opus, ‘Worried Dream’, not a horn in sight but it has one heavy lead guitar for company, with Reed singing like his life depends on it. Straight then to the mellow Doo Wop of ‘I’m Going Back’, with its ever present tinkling ivories, again he’s straining at the leash telling his woman he’s going back to what he used to do. The track that’s crept up on the outside rail is the heavenly blues of ‘Be With Me’. Drenched in horns, bass lead guitar and the kind of vocal we got used to from BB King.

There are a couple of serious rocking dancers on here too, which will take a couple of plays to sink in, Jazzy, Bluesy with a touch of Soul, almost a big band sound, they sound great loud. Of course the musicianship is second to none and you would expect that with over 50 years experience in the business. The mid tempo, ‘Why Did You Have To Lie’, is another grower, listen if your looking for something a tad different but still want that black vocal then grab a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

I wonder if he’s the same singer that sang ‘The Time is Right For Love’. If you get to read this Bobby let me know.

Brian Goucher

Vibe Out: FINLAND

Track list:

Jaska Lukkarinen Trio – Flow On
Aki Rissanen – New Life And Other Beginnings
Alexi Tuomarila – Vagabond
Joonas Leppänen – Homecoming
Olli Hirvonen – N.E.B
Sun Trio – Peace
Bowman Trio – Bowman Cigarrettes
Jimi Tenor & Umo – Naulamatto
Eero Koivistoinen Quartet – Relations
Aki Rissanen / Jussi Lehtonen Quartet – Scriabin
Jukka Eskola – Teddy’s Stretch
Kvalda – Paha Paiva
Warp! with Verneri Pohjola – Haute Couture
Teemu Viinikainen – Sneaking Part I
Kari Heinilä – Lill’ Lisa
Juhani Aaltonen Trio – Hymn
Trio Töykeät – One for Halen I
Heikki Sarmanto & UMO Jazz Orchestra – Return to Life
Elonkorjuu – Hey Brother
Olli Ahvenlahti – Breeze
Jukka Tolonen Band – Tiger
Carita Holmström – Still I Feel Sorry For You
Woodoo – Woodoo-Teema

Christian McBride Big Band ‘Bringin’ It’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Mack Avenue) 5/5

Better known as a virtuoso bassist who has performed with everyone from Kenny Garrett to Diana Krall, Christian McBride the arranger and big band leader comes of age on this superb outing that name checks the modernist greats of the 1960s, but adds something fresh into the mix and demonstrates a true flair for adventurous larger ensemble performance. Among a host of young musicians, the participation of altoist Steve Wilson, tenorist Ron Blake and the vocals of Melissa Walker make this a special treat. Stylistically, this big band owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis band, and it takes just as many chances in terms of the repertoire and treatment.

DJs have immediately picked up on the delicious reading of Wes Montgomery’s ‘Full House’, and Rodney Jones on guitar does a fine job of communicating the vibrancy of the original with soul-jazz heaven guaranteed on a full swinging interpretation. This writer has his own favourite in a sumptuous take on McCoy Tyner’s opus, ‘Sahara’, and the free from intro, then develops into an expansive modal piece with lengthy brass soloing and some fine flute work from Wilson. That modal feel is continued on piano on the ballad ‘I Thought About You’, with a lovely restrained trumpet solo from Brandon Lee. Vocalist Melissa Walker impresses on ‘Upside Down’, not the Chic organisation classic for Diana Ross, but rather a lively Latin-influenced number where Walker comes across as a composite of Carmen Lundy and Sarah Vaughan, but with just enough to differentiate her voice.

Baptist church spirit overwhelms the listener on hearing ‘Used Ta’ Could’, and this is skilfully evoked by use of hand claps and solo saxophone, with Lalo Schifrin’s masterful arrangements possibly influencing McBride here. Elsewhere, crisp Basie-esque horn arrangements hint at a band leader who has closely studied the masters, but is now fully ready to make his own imprint on the art of big band jazz.

Quite simply one of the most enjoyable new jazz albums of the year and every repeated listen yields new pleasures.

Tim Stenhouse

Harry South Big Band ‘The Songbook’ 4CD (Rhythm & Blues) 5/5

British jazz has rightly over the last fifteen years or so started to receive its due with a series of groundbreaking re-issues and this must rate among the very best and most deserved, for Harry South has wrongly been overlooked and yet his contribution virtually defines British jazz in the late 1950 and especially throughout the 1960s, from arranging for Tubby Hayes to Georgie Fame. A cast of thousands could almost be individually name checked here because South had his hand in numerous musical pies and this is where this exhaustive and lovingly assembled anthology wins hands down over any previous attempt to chronologically examine his work.

The first CD focuses on the bop era of the mid-late 1950’s and this was a period when British big band jazz was emerging from the shackles of the swing dance bands. A new generation of younger musicians were on the block and intent on putting into practice the modernist revolution that had crossed the Atlantic. By the early 1960s, the Harry South sound had become more clearly defined and this was reflected in South’s work as a sideman pianist on the modal-flavoured ‘Minor Incident’, for the Dick Morrissey quartet, and on the lengthy soloing to ‘Closing Time’, where he paired up with Tubby Hayes and the latter is in particularly scintillating form here. World roots explorations were already being undertaken by South in 1964 on the Indo-Jazz number, ‘Raja’, with Hayes reverting to flute, and some fine hi-hat cymbals work. By 1967, the Iberian peninsula was a new source of inspiration with the humorously titled, ‘Costa Fortuna’, a live recording that finds the big band at their absolute peak.

If one had to make any parallel with the strictly piano playing side of Harry South, then it might be Horace Parlan insofar as South has a strong blues-inflected background, but was resolutely modern in outlook and open to external influences. Where this anthology is so strong is in unearthing hitherto unissued performances and these are, on occasion, equal to those officially on record. One superlative example is the Eastern feel to, ‘Unidentified track 2’, which has echoes of ‘Kind of Blues’, but then departs into something akin to a journey into the Orient.

Form the later period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, South was astute enough to enlist some of the then young Turks and these included fellow pianist Mick Pyne, reedists Alan Skidmore and Kenny Wheeler, and collectively their looser and more free-form big band structure offered something new, as on the excellent, ‘Down the Line’. On the fourth CD, the music goes all the way up to Harry South’s passing with a sumptuous 1990 National Youth Jazz Orchestra rendition of ‘Southern Horizons’, a stunning composition by South that originally featured on a big band album fronted by Joe Harriott (not available here, but re-issued on CD). This new decade witnessed yet more new talent, with Gerard Presencer and Dennis Rollins starring in the youth orchestra tribute to the now ageing master.

One minor gripe from an otherwise exemplary and lavishly illustrated inner sleeve. Neophytes to South’s work would appreciate a simple discography even if the original vinyl is now near impossibly to find, and although this release was initially released on vinyl for Record Store Day, a parallel vinyl re-issue programme of Harry South’s work would be most welcome. A candidate for best UK jazz re-issue of the year.

Tim Stenhouse

The Heliosonic Tone-Tette, Scott Robinson & Marshall Allen ‘Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1’ CD/DIG (ScienSonic Laboratories) 4/5

History has it that on 20th April 1965, Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra assembled in New York at RLA Studios on the Upper West Side with engineer Richard L. Alderson to record ‘The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra’ – one of Sun-Ra’s most acclaimed projects. The recordings were later presented in two volumes and released in 1965 and 1966 respectively on ESP Disk. The album added another layer to the evolution of jazz with its use of unusual instrumentation, combined with the juxtaposition of how improvisation and composition can be used aesthetically in jazz, underpinned by the forward thinking Arkestra which included Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson, who helped Sun Ra to expound on the burgeoning free jazz movement of the time. Fast forward 50 years to the day of those RLA sessions, and on 20th April 2015, ScienSonic Laboratories gathered a high calibre group of musicians that aimed to utilise the spirit of those original recordings to create an ambitious project that would capture the essence of ‘The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra’, and thankfully not to remake it.

The project was the brainchild of label owner and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, who assembled an all-star cast of players, including the aforementioned Marshall Allen, who as of May 2017 is 93 years young, longtime Arkestra member Danny Ray Thompson (sax, bassoon), trombonist Frank Lacy, trumpeter Philip Harper, bassist Pat O’Leary, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, bass trombonist Tim Newman, drummer Matt Wilson, bass clarinetist JD Parran, with Scott Robinson being the conduit for the record. The original engineer of the 1965 ‘Heliocentric’ sessions, Richard Alderson, was also recruiting to handle the technical aspects of this historic recording, which took place at ScienSonic Laboratories (Robinson’s converted garage), which is also home to an extensive collection of obscure musical instruments and unconventional sound creation devices, including the original bass marimba used by Sun Ra himself on ‘Heliocentric Worlds’.

The album itself comprises of 11 compositions with a total running time edging just over 60 minutes, with individual running times varying from 1 minute to 9 minutes and Allen, Thompson and Robinson being major contributors to the feel of the project. This included Marshall Allen playing alto saxophone and EVI (electronic valve instrument, but technically speaking a synthesiser), but also for the first time on a recording, piano and bass marimba – the one previously owned by Sun Ra. The 11 parts are all titled ‘Heliotone…’ and then numbered ‘1a’ to ‘7’, but they are definitely separate pieces that contain individual themes rather than segueing into each other. And analysing ‘tracks’ as one does with more conventional releases does not suit projects of this nature. This is a more visceral experience as opposed to the sonic cherry picking that we all now do when listening to music – myself included, therefore, exploring singular elements is futile here. A longer listening investment is required and with repeated plays one does begin to familiarise and better understand the layers of sonic embellishments provided.

The free jazz idiom is easy to dismiss – even within jazz circles. But nonetheless, I would argue that this is quite an accessible album. It could be described as having a soundtrack quality due to how dynamic and textured it is and ‘Heliosonic Toneways’ could easily be a soundtrack to a contemporary indie movie. There’s some frantic free playing next to atmospherics and soundscapes, some interesting ensemble conversations next to individual personal statements. The album is sonically very rich, the playing is exceptional and the recording and mixing quality is of high standard, plus, there was apparently enough material recorded during the session for another future volume.

Since the passing of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore (d. 1995), Marshall Allen, a World War II vet who joined Sun Ra in 1958, has led the Arkestra during their constant recording and touring schedules. This extraordinary individual has had a remarkable career stretching over 60 years, and it’s here we have the opportunity again to celebrate his work alongside Danny Ray Thompson and the other musicians involved. The spirit of Sun Ra and the Arkestra is definitely here.

Damian Wilkes

Vijay Iyer Sextet ‘Far From Over’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Indian-American jazz pianist, Vijay Iyer, returns with an album, his fifth in total for ECM, that at once looks forward to acoustic-electronica fusions and goes all the way back to the acoustic improvisational work of the mid-1960’s Miles Davis quintet. For the former, shorter pieces such as, ‘End of the Tunnel’, indicate a clear desire to explore beyond the traditional confines of even modern jazz with the use of electronica, and having an academic background in mathematics doubtless helps stimulate the mind in diverging ways. Complex structures seem to be a defining quality of the Vijay Iyer sound, and the leader performs on Fender, in part at least, to communicate his thoughts more effectively.

However, as a whole, the feel of this all original set is the more risqué side of acoustic with a nod to the future. The slow burner, ‘Nope’, for example, has a funkier edge to it and Iyer is ably assisted by the crisp drumming of Tyshawn Sorey and the sure double bass work of Stephan Crump. Some have likened this band to a latter day take on the Jazz Messengers, and as complimentary as that may sound, even the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter did not take the music of that formation in such radical directions.

Where this recording has the edge over others previously is in the challenging brass section comprising Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, and especially Steve Lehman on alto saxophone. The presence and contribution of the latter alone is akin to having Jackie McLean from his mid-1960’s Blue Note excursions on board and that makes for some thrilling music in places. Witness the slow piano intro to ‘Poles’, where there is a staccato alto attack from Lehman, or on the driving rhythm to the title track. That said, this quintet is capable of great reflection and this is illustrated on the reposing ‘Wake’, or on the eight and half minute meditation of ‘Threnody’, where Iyer the pianist takes an expansive solo.

Vijay Iyer is ideally suited to smaller ensemble work and this writer prefers this format to his previous flirts with electronica. He has become one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary jazz.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993