04th Mar2017

Tim Kliphuis Trio and Orchestra ‘Reflecting the Seasons’ (Sony Classical) 4/5

by ukvibe

Nigel Kennedy’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s ‘The four seasons’ became a best seller back in the 1980s and ever since the violinist has flirted with jazz, world roots and classical projects to critical acclaim. How, though, might the Vivaldi opus work as a fusion of folk, jazz and classical idioms? This is the conundrum that Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis set himself with his trio made up of guitarist NIgel Clark and double bassist Roy Percy, supplemented by additional strings as and where required. The result is a delicate balance of improvisation and a more faithful representation of Vivaldi’s work that will probably have classical music pundits fuming, but is likely to appeal to a wider audience that simply wants to hear quality music.
A graduate of the Amsterdam Conservatoire, Kliphuis had a chance encounter with maestro jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli that entirely changed his outlook on music and led to the Dutchman becoming deeply interested in improvisational music. To be clear, this is not a jazzed up take on Vivaldi that Jacques Loussier might have attempted. Rather, it is a combination of country folk, meets swing jazz and with classical elements that all come together cohesively.

In 1999, Kliphuis joined Belgian jazz manouche (gypsy jazz) guitarist Fapy Lafertin and started exploring this guitar tradition. This experience has unquestionably rubbed off on Kliphuis who on, ‘Summer II’, tears into a straight ahead swing performance after the solo double bass intro whereas, ‘Summer I’ comes across as the kind of vehicle that Grappelli would have excelled on. The much loved, ‘Spring I’, receives an uptempo country folk reading with improvised sections while on ‘Autumn II’, one can certainly hear the influence of Django Reinhardt with plucked violin strings. In a more meditative mood, ‘Spring II’ is more faithful to the classical baroque tradition, though where the violin plays a solo.

Is it classical? Jazz and non-classical critics would most likely reply: does it matter? Particularly if a personalised interpretation helps to enhance the quality of the music and offer new perspectives. In this endeavour, the music contained within wins out handsomely and even purists are left to dwell on how this differs from the original. Tim Kliphuis has ince performed with some of the jazz guitar greats and these include among others, Herb Geller, Bucky Pizzarelli and Martin Taylor, not forgetting one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, Les Paul.

Tim Stenhouse

03rd Mar2017

Carminho ‘Canta Tom Jobim’ (Warner Portugal) 4/5

by ukvibe

Portugese fado and Brazilian bossa nova are normally perceived as entirely separate music forms, though of course the historical links between the two countries go back several centuries. To this writer’s knowledge, this is the first project to devote itself entirely to fado interpretations of the Jobim songbook, though there must surely exist other individual songs of Jobim that have been recorded by fado singers over time.
Twenty-eight year old singer Carminhohas largely remained faithful to the originals, but cleverly reflected on how this can be adapted to the fado idiom, and invited some major league Brazilian singers who know exactly how Jobim should be sung and performed. To assist greatly in proceedings, the authentic Brazilian instrumentation of Jobim family members Paulo on guitar and Daniel on piano with Paulo Braga on drums and the magnificent cello and arrangements of Jacques Morelenbaum adds a dose of Carioca magic.
The pairing of Carminho with Marisa Monte works best of all and in, ‘Estrada do sol’, you have a potential hit single for the lusophone market. This surely calls for a duet project. Monte’s voice is not unlike the purity of sound that emanates from Gal Costa and it is the sheer vulnerability here that is so emotive and appealing. Jobim has always been a master of the melancholic and this is beautifully illustrated on, ‘Falando do amor’, where Carminho duets with the poet-singer-songwriter extraordinaire, Chico Burque. For uplifting music, the opener, ‘A felicidade’ could hardly be bettered and, ‘O grande amor’ is virtually as enticing. A gorgeous piano intro to the classic, ‘Wave’, is embellished by some beautiful harmony vocals. This project is no less than a musical love letter to Tom Jobim and one can but imagine Tom somewhere in heaven, probably dancing a little samba to the music.

Tim Stenhouse

02nd Mar2017

Colin Vallon Trio ‘Danse’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

Swiss-French pianist Colin Vallon has made a name for himself firstly with the independent Hatology label in 2007 for whom he recorded, ‘Ailleurs’, before debuting on ECM in 2011 with ‘Rruga’. This new album marks his third for the label and was recorded in Lugano with the young accompanists, Patrice Moret on double bass and Julian Sartorius on drums and follows on from, ‘Le Vent’, from 2014.The reposing opener, ‘Sisyphe’, has been receiving regular radio exposure and is by far the strongest piece on the album while, ‘Morn’, has a truly hypnotic quality that is endearing. Another beautifully flowing number that has something of a classical music influence is, ‘Tsunami’, with fine and sensitive drumming from Sartorius. In reality, leader Vallon has been influenced to a large extent by contemporary music that encompasses Ligeti as much as Monk, and he has equally soaked up the lefter-leaning pop hues of both Bjork and Radiohead. A minimalist approach surfaces on the repetitive riffs from the rhythm section on, ‘Tinguely’, composed by Moret.
If the album tapers off somewhat in the second half, then with greater experience and wisdom, the trio will undoubtedly add greater variety to tempi and improve their already excellent compositional skills and this is indeed hinted at on the somewhat chaotic intro to, ‘L’onde’. This writer also warmed to the gentle rambling of, ‘Kid’. A promising new recording from a young trio that is heading in the right direction.

Tim Stenhouse

01st Mar2017

The Manhattans ‘I Kinda Miss You: The Anthology Columbia Records 1973-1987’ 2 CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

by ukvibe

Classic soul formation, The Manhattans, are something of an institution and can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Intruders, The O’Jays and The Temptations as a group that have stood the test of time remarkably well and have a clear musical identity, with a track record of consistently quality songs that they can justifiably be proud of. This anthology is the most comprehensive of any to date and takes the listener through the group’s early breakthrough until the late 1980s when lead singer Gerald Alston then set off on a solo career. 
If the 1973 debut for Columbia, ‘There’s no me without you’, showed plenty of early promise minus a hit single, then the template for their musical style was already starting to be cemented at this stage and the follow up album from 1974 included a catchy hook of a chorus in, ‘That’s how much I love you’, which hit the higher échelons of the R & B chart. Superb collective harmonies and the aching lead vocals of Gerald Alston were always likely to win through and the stunning, ‘Summertime in the city’, was a clear indication that everything was now in place with an epic sound including harp and Philly inspired voices. By the third album, simply titled, ‘The Manhattans’, from 1975, the group hit the big time with the popular love ballad, ‘Kiss and say goodbye’, which became a number one R & B hit and entered the top forty of adult contemporary music, a somewhat bizarre genre for sure, but clear evidence of the mass appeal of the group sound. This formula was added to with the 1976 album, ‘Feels so good’, with another hit in, ‘I kinda miss you’ while in ,’Hurt’, the baritone vocal intro hints at Barry White in his prime, before the sweetest of lead vocals takes over. proceedings.

The second CD updates the group history from the very beginning of the 1980s when The Manhattans changed producer to Leo Graham and this collaboration resulted in their major hit, ‘Shining star’. They enjoyed further success with a pared down and respectful update on Sam Cooke’s immortal ‘You send me’ which, in the use of bassline intro, predates the Commodores’ mid-1980s pop hit, Nightshift’ by a few years. Modern soul fans will immediately recognise the uptempo synth bass and gorgeous harmonies of, ‘Crazy’, which became a soul boy anthem in 1983, while their songwriting talents were not ignored for, ‘Just the lovely talking’, was reprised by an emerging soul singer called Whitney Houston who had a later hit with it. A mid-1980s duet with Regina Belle and produced by Bobby Womack, ‘Where did we go wrong?’, was a minor hit for the band. Extremely detailed inner sleeve notes come courtesy of Mojo and record Collector soul aficionado and writer, Charles Waring, and as ever lovingly supplemented by graphic illustrations of album covers, labels and photos.

Tim Stenhouse 

28th Feb2017

Ralph Towner ‘My Foolish Heart’ (ECM) 5/5

by ukvibe

One of the longest serving musicians on the ECM label, who has performed with the likes of Jan Garbarek, and others as well as with Oregon, Ralph Towner returns with a solo guitar project that has a quasi-live feel to the sound, yet still retains a wonderful intimacy. The project has as an underlying theme a warm tribute to the late great pianist Bill Evans, but is really a pretext for Towner to display his own dazzling virtuosity in a variety of musical settings and this he succeeds in accomplishing with aplomb. A folk feel is discernible on the opener, ‘Pilgrim’, and throughout the album, Towner delights in exploring the roots of different musical traditions, and on several pieces one can almost hear the nylon string guitar played flamenco style and there is both a finesse to and a freshness in the performances that is totally absorbing to the listener.
Towner was, as a then young pianist back in the 1960s, heavily influenced by the Bill Evans trio and their masterful interpretation of, ‘My foolish heart’, and hearing that reading had a major impact upon him. Thereafter, the twelve sting classical guitar became Ralph Towner’s main instrument of choice and is in fact the only non-original performed on this occasion. On ‘Dolomiti dance’, he seemingly goes back in time to the Elizabethan era and, perhaps, the music of John Dowland and approaches the music with great subtlety. Classical influences are not absent, especially on, ‘I’ll sing to you’, which could just as easily have been played by John Williams. There is fine comping from Towner on the pressing, ‘Saunter’, which at barely over the five minute mark is still the longest piece on the entire album while the guitarist’s dexterity is on show on, ‘Clarion call’, with fine interplay between his own hands. An exemplary ECM recording from a label that is enjoying renewed vitality. Ralph Towner is at his absolute best here.

Tim Stenhouse 

27th Feb2017

Søren Bebe Trio ‘Home’ (Private Press) 5/5

by ukvibe

It sometimes feels that we might drown under the almost constant deluge of wonderful music from so many Scandinavian piano jazz trios. Whilst most, if not all of it is worthy music, I often find it difficult to distinguish between the various trios. It seems to me that very few have developed distinct identities. Off the top of my head I can only think of EST and Tord Gustavsen. Then, along comes Søren Bebe. Søren seems to have assimilated the influence of Gustavsen to good effect and yet, to me at least, seems to have established that all important individual group sound, subtly different from the others.I’ve been aware of the trio’s music for some time, since hearing ‘A Song For You’ from 2012 and thereafter ‘Eva’ an album from 2013 featuring bassist Marc Johnson. For this release, alongside Bebe on piano we have Kasper Tagel on bass and regular drummer Anders Mogensen. The album was recorded in Copenhagen in 2015 and was mixed and mastered by Jan Erik Kongshaug at the famed Rainbow Studio in Oslo. It seems very fitting that the veteran sound engineer known for his work with ECM is on hand here.

The overarching feature of Bebe’s music is its lyricism. There is a clear lineage from Bill Evans to contemporary masters such as Keith Jarrett. Like, Gustavsen, there is often an emphasis on simple folk-like, almost mournful melodies.

The Danish pianist established the trio in 2007 and together they have released five previous albums.

The opening track ‘The Path Somewhere’ has an almost classical influence allied to a folk-like melody. Intensely melodic with bass and drums marking out a rhythmic pulse under the piano.

‘Tango for T’ follows and, like much of the album, it is very contemplative, and reveals its musical secrets gradually. Another melodic jewel.

One of the outstanding tracks for me is ‘A Simple Song’. It is exactly that. The trio asserts a hypnotic influence on the listener and it is impossible not to allow yourself to luxuriate in the soundscape that they create time and time again throughout the album.

This is not simply a pianist with rhythm section, each member of the trio is an equal partner in the music making and the trio breaths as one.

‘Look Out Now’ is another fantastic piece of music, seductive in its simplicity.

It would be easy to simply dismiss this as just an album of background music, but to do that would be to do the music and the musicians a grave disservice.

Along with the jazz music, Bebe has also produced a series of albums of music for Ballet classes. Listening to both it is clear that there are similarities between the two genres. Indeed, I suspect that Bebe sees no distinction between the two.

Bebe is justifiably proud of this album and has said that he considers it to be the trio’s “best album yet”. He goes on to say that “the record is the first time I’ve actually been true to my artistic vision. ‘Home’ is a quiet, slow album – the kind I’ve always wanted to make but didn’t have the guts to do.”

Listen to this album and you too, like me, will be transported to a better place.

Alan Musson

23rd Feb2017

Chameleon ‘Chameleon: Expanded Edition’ (BBR) 4/5

by ukvibe

One of the lost treasures of the disco era, Chameleon were a one album outfit produced by and featuring two jazz instrumentalists in multi-reed player Azar Lawrence and trombonist Fred Wesley, the latter of whom was an integral member of the James Brown organisation and offshoots, the J.B’s. Lawrence had performed as part of McCoy Tyner’s band and with the more obscure sounding formation that comprised the mid-1970s period in Miles Davis’ career, on ‘Dark Magus’ from 1974. He led a parallel career as a leader on the jazz label Prestige and recorded two well received albums that long-term fans of spiritual jazz have warmed to. Both ‘New age’, featuring the vocals of Jean Carn, and ‘Summer Solstice’, are richly deserving of a re-issue at some stage.While this self-titled album release on Elektra records from 1979 was clearly aimed at the dancefloor, the quality of musicians on board elevated this album above the rest, and alongside elongated disco numbers, are jazz-tinged funk numbers, such as, ‘Mysteryoso’, which takes a leaf out of the Herbie Hancock Headhunters era. Elsewhere, there are contemplative soul songs with fine accompaniment from the likes of Gerald ‘Get down’ Brown on bass and Ronald Brune on drums. The pick of these is, ‘Game of life’, sung by Earl Alexander who doubles up on guitar.

As a memorable bonus, the two disco-oriented numbers are included in their full length 12″ versions and probably worth the purchase of the CD alone. While ‘Get up’ is the more conventional of the two dance tracks, ‘We’ll be dancin’ was the late 1970s in microcosm with beefy percussion including the obligatory syndrums and a stunning percussive breakdown, a fine horn section that included Earth, Wind and Fire hornman Andrew Woolfolk and the smooth lead vocals of Delbert Taylor. An underground disco hit for sure and one that thankfully has stood the test of time remarkably well.

To this writer’s knowledge, no follow up record was issued so this is all we have to represent the band and the liner notes written by Christian John Wilkane feature an interview with Azar Lawrence. A worthy re-issue item that would be all too easy to overlook.

Tim Stenhouse

22nd Feb2017

Graham Central Station ‘Now Do U Wanta Dance’ / ‘My Radio Sounds Good to Me’ / ‘Star Walk’ 2CD (Soul Music) 3/5

by ukvibe

Heavily influenced by the music of Sly and the Family Stone when for a brief period funk and rock seemingly met in perfect harmony as did the existence of a truly multi-racial band, Graham Central Station was created by bassist Larry Graham in 1974 and made a self-tilted debut for Warner that year. This latest collection of three albums on two CDs takes the story that little bit further to 1977 when funk was facing a major challenge to its throne with disco in the ascendency.
The first album is notable for two covers that demonstrated Graham’s ability to ire-interpret and indeed stretch out a famous original. Attempting Al Green’s anthemic opus, ‘Love and happiness’, was no easy task, but the bassline is a whole lot funkier and the music grittier than the lushness and warmth of the textured original. A fine alternative reading, then. Equally, Bobby Bland had cut, ‘Lead me on’ as a southern soul-blues number, but Graham sought to create a more laid back version with hammond organ incorporated. Both covers were minor hits. Where Graham really got himself caught in a musical spider’s web is with a track such as, ‘Earthquake’. There was certainly no doubting the virtuosity of the bass playing, or of the instrumentation in general, but something was simply being lost in the musicality with far too great an emphasis on rock-tinged guitar.

A 1978 produced album by jazz veteran Benny Golson provided a new path for Graham with, ‘Is it love?’, a ballad with a guitar intro straight out of the Isley Brothers repertoire and this again scored minor chart success. However, even here, the non-distinctive pop-rock of ‘Have faith in me’ was simply out of tune with the times. On the other hand. ‘Saving my love for you’ could just as easily be an early Prince song and it is clear that Prince was influenced by the high falsetto harmonies on evidence here and these are reminiscent of the early 1980s work of the sadly departed Purple One. In fact, even some of the titles come across as Prince-like, with ‘Now-do-u-wanna dance?’ a perfect illustration.

By 1979, Graham was clearly struggling to re-invent himself and a new album, ‘Star walk’, was co-produced by the Philly International musicians Bobby Martin and Ron Kersey. From this the disco hit, ‘(You’re a) foxy lady’, was a short-term solution, but both disco and Graham could not survive on this alone. As a whole, funk-rock was already in the mid-late 1970s starting to sound dated and adding disco into the equation (the very last Parliament album being a prime example) was a hazardous enterprise at the best of times. While this offering represents value for money in terms of time, the music itself does not represent either Larry Graham, or his band at their best. The voice in particular sounds warbled in places, though Graham was clearly making progress and would have the last laugh when he scored a major soul and pop hit with the 1980 love ballad, ‘One in a million you’.

Tim Stenhouse

21st Feb2017

Wingfield / Reuter / Stavi / Sirkis ‘The Stone House’ (MoonJune) 2/5

by ukvibe

“The Stone House” features two of today’s most original, risk-taking guitarists; the UK’s Mark Wingfield and Germany’s Markus Reuter. They are joined for this session by Israeli born UK transplants, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Asaf Sirkis.
The concept behind this recording was to incorporate many of the elements which have drawn listeners to progressive music for decades, embracing a whole host of genre leaping influences, from free jazz, rock, ambient, psychedelic, trance, fusion and much more besides. The music on the album was completely improvised with none of the music written down or rehearsed. An ambitious project then, and one that when looking at the musicians involved really does whet the appetite.

Having listened to the album several times, whilst I can fully appreciate the undoubted skill of the musicians involved, I have to say I’m left a little cold by the resulting sound that courses it’s way through my ears and brain. A simplified explanation or summary of genre that forces its way from my lips, is ‘Stoner-Jazz’. Don’t get me wrong, there are some high points to the album, most notably Sirkis’ incredible drumming which makes the album worth a listen to in its own right. And the undoubted quality of the two electric guitarists, with sounds shifting effortlessly and effects ranging from harsh to even harsher to metal to grunge to ambient to vitriolic shape-shifting and back again, is very impressive. But overall, as much as it grieves me to say this, it just sounds soulless.

Perhaps in the grand theatre of invention, a key element sometimes gets forgotten. And that key element is that somewhere there needs to be either cohesion, or emotion, to enable the audience to ‘get’ what they are listening to. For me I’m not getting either of these things. I dare say that at the time the quartet felt it, but to my ears something somewhere has got lost in translation between the live session that makes up this album, and the audience who listen to it. Others will no doubt disagree, but I can only speak as I find.

Recording spontaneous and improvised music is a risk, one that to my mind will always be well worth taking. Sometimes the results will be nothing short of revelatory and astonishing. And sometimes it just doesn’t work as well for the listener as for the musicians giving their all on the music they are making. For me, although “The Stone House” is most certainly not without merit, it does fall into the latter of the two aforementioned categories.

Mike Gates

20th Feb2017

Chip Wickham ‘La Sombra’ LP/CD/DIG (Lovemonk) 3/5

by ukvibe

Flautist/saxophonist Roger “Chip” Wickham is a name you might be familiar with if you read liner notes. Since he started out playing in Manchester during the ‘90s, his credits include work with Rae and Christian, Eddie Roberts and Matthew Halsall as well as an album under the moniker Malena with partner Dan Broad. To date Wickham has only released a couple of singles in his own name, “La Sombra” is his first album. Currently based in Dubai, the album was recorded in Madrid, where he lived for some years. Musicians on the set are Gabriel Casanova on piano, David Salvador on double bass and Antonio “Pax” Álvarez on drums.
Much of Wickham’s previous work has been in a retro vein, Soul Jazz or vintage funk, and as a whole “La Sombra” takes us into similar areas. The title track is an enticing opener, one that primes and focuses the senses with its clean, soothing tones and an unhurried, lighter-than-air aura that encourages reflection and introspection. Wickham’s flute and pianist Casanova’s piano lines have enough about them to elevate and add colour to this mood in a spiritual way.

I first heard “La Sombra” last year and have been keen to hear more since. Unfortunately I have mixed feelings about the rest of the album. For me the sound, whilst admittedly rooted in Jazz of the ‘60s and ‘70s, is too derivative and lacking in individual, original touches. I find this particularly so on uptempo, Soul Jazz numbers like “Sling Shot” or “Red Planet”; compact, melodic tunes that are easy on the ear, but don’t really capture or maintain my interest. Elsewhere, down tempo tracks like “Pushed Too Far” and “Tokyo Slo Mo”, both of which have some nice work on the vibes, are pleasant enough, although I appreciate that in saying this I am damning them with faint praise. Neither has the impact of the title track.

If the retro scene is your bag then you will probably find plenty to like in this album, but for me I’m afraid that I can’t see beyond the title track.

Andy Hazell