Laurent de Wilde ‘New Monk Trio’ (Gazebo) 4/5

In this year of tributes to Thelonius Monk, the name of French pianist Laurent de Wilde occupies a special place because not only is he a long-term devotee of Monk, but he has also written a highly innovative book on him. What impresses here is that de Wilde knows the music of Monk inside out and uses that knowledge base as the stepping stone to revisiting some of the classic compositions and infusing them with his own mark, and that makes for some highly entertaining re-workings of the standards. This is most certainly the case of ‘Round Midnight’, which is performed here at an entirely different tempo. First of all, the bass line operates in modal mode and there is a build up of tension on drums and the leader deploying the inside of the piano to create a unique sound. Then, the music suddenly gains in intensity and the trio collectively go up several gears. This is a lovely departure from the usual interpretations, and is both well thought and executed. Elsewhere, de Wilde similarly recreates on well known pieces such as, ‘Monk’s Mood’, ‘Pannonica’, and ‘Four In One’. In places, there is a sparseness to the approach that is appealing, with an apparent simplicity and repetition of the piano, with bass and drums working in tandem, before the pianist eventually opens up and adds his own personal touch. Best of all, is a lovely, flowing interpretation of ‘Coming On The Hudson’, which is a fast-paced waltz, with de Wilde at his most refined. A fine individual tribute and one that Monk would surely have approved of. Monk à la française? Mais si.

Tim Stenhouse

Crack Of Dawn ‘Spotlight’ (G-THREE) 5/5

This year has been one of the most traumatic of my adult life, my wife being diagnosed with Cancer twice and undergoing two horrendous operations, as I write this I’m in the midst of an extended period of compassionate leave in an effort to care for her. All appears to be going well but the hunt for the music has been put on the back burner, likewise I’m only snatching twenty minutes here and there in my sanctuary at the top of the stairs, I simply don’t appear to have any time. But when albums like this one arrive I simply had to make some time and get to know it. From the off, it sounds like an old friend, musically modern but with a carbon footprint firmly in 1976, the year of the fabulous Epic Records 45 “It’s Alright” backed with a superb version of “Move Any Mountains”. Throughout, the sound is that of the better end of mid 70s disco with huge doses of soul. The original group had lead vocals J W McGhee and today we have the fabulous voice of one Michael Dunston, and doesn’t he sound at home with this lot.

As with all downloads there is no information as to who’s doing what but the good news is a physical CD is on the way, in fact mine is on order already from Simply Soul Records (plug plug). I have managed to source the musicians from that site; Guitarist and producer Carl Harvey has been lead guitarist with Toots & the Maytals since their 1980 “Live at Hammersmith” album, sharing in their Grammy win in 2004. His work with Toots & the Maytals included world tour support slots with the likes of Rolling Stones and Santana. Also aboard is Rupert Harvey, founder of Canada’s most successful reggae band, Messenjah, not to mention sax player Alvin Jones; trombonist Trevor Daley who has played with reggae behemoths, Third World; the Latin tones of trumpeter Alexis Baro; keyboardist Bela Hayman; drummer Carl Otway, bassist Charles Sinclair who has played with Al Green. Soul radio have been all over “Season’s For Love” and “Your Love”, two very charismatic dancers which could easily make a quality 45.

They have revisited “It’s Alright” and it’s a cracking version too, superb choppy dancer, of course the music is real, with fat slapping percussion, thumping bass and those horns. The only slowie on the album is the title track and it’s a slow grower but when it get’s there you just have to revisit it time and time again. “Ol SKool” is just that ‘chacking’ guitar, sweeping strings, thumping percussion, it has that back in the day feel and the vocals give us a history lesson of this great music, the rare groove sound of “Keep the Faith” is another grower which showcases the groups harmonies, there are no duff tracks on here, you need this, you really do.

Brian Goucher

Ruth Brown ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid R&B) 4/5

Singer Ruth Brown was an R & B/jump blues singer who reached her zenith in the late 1950’s and then suddenly faded into obscurity in the 1960’s when her style of singing became regarded somewhat passé with the advent of modern soul music, yet without her efforts and those of like minded singers, soul music would probably have never come into being.

This four album re-issue serves partly as a de facto ‘Greatest hits’ package for neophytes, with the odd early omission excepted, and serves as a showcase of her original album content for Atlantic records, including the wonderful 1959 outing, ‘Last date with Ruth Brown’, which was recorded when the singer was arguably at her zenith. This album captures Brown at her very best and is an atmospheric blues and R & B recording when urban black music was still at a crossroads with Ray Charles leading the way. In some ways, Ruth Brown can be seen as pre-dating Aretha Franklin as the ‘Queen of soul’ and it was the former wore the moniker of, ‘Miss Rhythm’.

It is important to stress from the outset that rhythm and blues is not simply an urban offshoot of the country blues, but rather a new emerging style that encapsulated and took on board the faster paced rhythms of life in the city, and indeed this reflected the mass migration of African-Americans from the southern states to the north. Black audiences referred to such singers as ‘jump’ or ‘jive’, the original master being Louis Jordan in the 1940’s and Ruth Brown very much fits into that mould. Indeed Ruth Brown continued that pioneering sound and scored major hits up until the 1960’s when urban black music was in transition with the advent of Motown and other like-minded independent labels.

Of interest to jazz fans will be ‘Late date with Ruth Brown’, which features may well loved jazz standards and these include memorable renditions of, ‘You and the night and the music’, ‘You’d be so nice to come home to’, and a Gershwin classic in, ‘I loves you Porgy’. However, most satisfying to these ears are the albums that are more of a cohesive individual package than a mere collection of 45s and add on’s. This is the case of ‘Ruth Brown Rock and roll’, which is a collection of both 45’s and E.P.’s from the early period of her career on Atlantic. These include the memorable ‘Daddy, daddy’, ‘Mama, he treats your daughter mean’, ‘So long’, and a gentle nod to the emerging then mambo craze with ‘Mambo baby’. Of historical note to readers is that Ruth Brown was the first major artist to be championed when the then fledgling Atlantic label was launched in 1949. In fact, she came with the personal recommendation of no less than Duke Ellington.

Tim Stenhouse

Ludere ‘Retratos’ (Blaxtream) 5/5

Ludere are Brazilian quartet that have been active over the last few years with ‘Retratos’ being their latest release as a foursome. But this is contemporary Jazz from Brazil rather than being Brazilian Jazz music, and thus, Ludere are more in tune with what is happening in the US and Europe, but that’s not to say that their own South American roots are not important or present, but this is not a bossa nova or samba record. Lead by pianist Philippe Baden Powell, (son of legendary Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino), who is joined by Rubinho Antunes on trumpet, Daniel de Paula on drums and Bruno Barbosa on bass, with guitarist Vinicius Gomes featured on two of the eight tracks.

The set begins with ‘Magma’, which additionally utilises string arrangements (via Miltinho Bergo, Hugo Novaes, Daniel Fernandes and Ladson Mendes) and some fluid drumming with a slight drum & bass feel together with edgy bass playing and complementary piano elements to create the most dramatic and textured piece of the album. This is then followed by ‘Reconciliacao’, with Vinicius Gomes’ guitar parts adding a nice balance to this almost funky workout for the band. ‘Morro’, which again features Vinicius Gomes, is more of a head nod affair with its downbeat BPM and loose but sparse rhythm allowing both pianist Philippe Baden Powell and trumpeter Rubinho Antunes space to navigate through, which then builds to a more frantic tempo and denser arrangement for the final minute or so.

‘Origami’ possesses more of a ballad quality, incorporating again some gorgeous strings which compliments the other elements, but the piano and trumpet interplay is very effective, although, the bass solo is probably too short and could have been extended, but this was maybe due to its four and a half minute song length. And as the name suggests, ‘Afro Tamba’ is more Afrocentric within its approach and could be described as a jazz dancer with its uptempo rhythm track, which contains both melodic and more staccato trumpet playing from Rubinho Antunes, combined with Philippe’s complementary piano movements. ‘Espaco-Tempo’ possesses a hypnotic piano groove before Rubinho’s brass contribution provides a layer of fluid trumpet improvisational work alongside a pulsating bass and drum backbone. And both the final two tracks, ‘Retratos’ and ‘Indica’, continue with a similar temperament but with slightly more attitude.

Quartets can he loaded to emphasise one particular player over others but ‘Retratos’ is perfectly balanced to allow equal contributions from all members, so it’s definitely a team effort. The writing, arrangements and structures are excellent, as is the musicianship – but this is a very modern record. Time signatures are rarely in 4/4 common time and many of the solos are not in obvious structural positions, plus, it’s obviously apparent and welcomed that improvisation is key to the album. The additional string sections and the extra guitarist work by Vinicius Gomes broadens the depth of the compositions, and it should also be noted that the second half of the set is ‘heavier’ than the first half. But this is definitely an album worth seeking out. Information is light or in Portuguese but there is nothing to dislike here. A few tour dates in the UK or Europe would be welcomed and further support their fan base outside of Brazil.

Damian Wilkes

Sinne Eeg ‘Dreams’ (Stunt) 4/5

Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg may be a little known name to many outside her native land and Scandinavia more generally, but in her country of birth she has enhanced her reputation considerably and is now confident enough to record this album in Brooklyn, New York, with an all-American band bar her fellow Dane, Jacob Christofferson, on piano. Well known accompanist include Joey Baron on drums and Scott Colley on the bass, while Larry Koonse takes care of guitar duties. A new and interesting voice to these ears, Eeg possesses an authentically American jazz vocalist voice with no obvious hint of a Scandinavian accent. An inventive take on the Cole Porter classic, ‘What is this thing called love’, features some delightful scatting from the singer and an extended piano solo from Christofferson. The voice in general is at once flexible and throaty in parts and clear in others. While the great American Songbook comprises part of the repertoire, there are nonetheless five originals which bodes well for the future of her songwriting craft. An intimate reading of the opener, ‘The bitter end’, features both a strong bass and drum beat, while the contemporary themed original, ‘Aleppo’, is notable for some especially Brad Mehldau-esque phrasings from Christofferson, and he well and truly takes off and positively shines here. This writer especially warmed to the intimacy of the guitar driven piece, ‘Head over heels’, and both the bass and drums provide just the right hint of intimacy in the background, before the piano enters sporadically. Some might be surprised to learn that this is in fact the ninth album in total by Eeg, and she certainly seems totally at ease in this setting. Another evergreen piece, the Rodgers and Hart song, ‘Falling in love with love’, creates an intimate setting with bass, guitar and drums working in tandem, and that intimacy is added to and embellished by the exquisite phrasings of the vocalist who, in addition, engages in an extended scatting interlude. There is a depth to the voice that, in parts at least. recalls the great Sarah Vaughan, without ever trying to be a copycat soundalike. Possessing a flexible and throaty voice that has real depth to it, Sinne Eeg seems set to become a significant player on the jazz vocalist circuit and this fine recording will contribute significantly to enhancing her credentials. With liner notes by noted jazz writer Neil Tesser, this is indeed a fine introduction to the singer and one that is sure to bolster her international profile. This is an Artist share funded album and the singer deserves great credit for assembling such a fine cast. Sinne Eeg is both an interesting and appealing voice to these ears.

Tim Stenhouse

Sarah Vaughan ‘After Hours’ (Columbia/Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Part of the re-issue series that UK company Pure Pleasure are engaged in, this is not to be confused with a later original release of the same name from 1961 on Roulette with a different set of songs altogether. This Columbia album originally came out as an LP in 1961, when Vaughan’s career was still ascending and it features in mono sound some of the classic early Columbia sides that Sarah Vaughan recorded for the label during her formative years between 1949 and 1951. They were invariably backed by a variety of orchestras that featured both woodwind and string accompaniments, and were aimed to attract a wider audience beyond the strictly defined jazz audience. As such they differ from the smaller group combos that Vaughan recorded for in the mid-late 1950’s. For all that, the distinctive voice was already in place. Sarah Vaughan recorded several of these numbers on numerous occasions, yet the interpretations here have a special feel and invariably are performed at a slower tempo than what might one normally expect. This is the case for example of, ‘Summertime’, which features a strong bass line intro complete with both strings and brass, and the slinky piano touches hint at a more classically oriented interpretation. Interestingly, the introduction to, ‘Perdido’, has a strong big band flavour à la Ellington which should come as little surprise since it was composed by a trombonist in the Ellington band, Juan Tizol, and the natural deepness of Sarah Vaughan’s voice is ideally suited to interpreting this song. Here, the vocal gymnastics of the singer are given full reign and the brassy big band arrangements are matched by the lead singer’s vocal gymnastics. Hollywood-esque ballads are possibly the objective on ‘Thinking Of You’, where the lush orchestration and background piano make for an intriguing combination. The vocal gymnastics are pure Sassy. Taken at a more leisurely tempo than per usual, ‘Just Friends’ is embellished by the lushness of the strings. A real favourite that has stood the test of time is ‘Black Coffee’, with oboe and strings featuring in the intro, and the Joe Lippman Orchestra accompanying Sassy on what proves to be a somewhat restrained interpretation and a fine alternative to the Peggy Lee interpretation of the song. On the immortal Gershwin number, ‘Summertime’, Sarah Vaughan succeeds in interpreting the song from both a classical and jazz perspective. Meanwhile on, ‘Just friends’, it is in fact the lushness of the string accompaniment that impresses, and this proves to be a most restrained interpretation of the song. The only pity from this otherwise excellent selection is that the eight sides that were recorded with the Jimmy Jones band and featured an octet with the then young Miles Davis are not included here. While this is by no means the complete selection of Columbia sides, and there exist vinyl offers from the 1970’s that incorporate a wider range of the Columbia years, this nonetheless more compact selection has its own compensations and delights, and as an introduction to the sound of the young Sassy, it comes highly recommended.

Tim Stenhouse

Bill Evans ‘Symbiosis’ (MPS) 4/5

As part of the extensive re-investigation of this wonderful label from the Bavarian black forest, a trio plus extended brass album by the one and only Bill Evans. If the psychedelic orange cover hints at something slightly more avant-garde, then the music contained within is utterly timeless and in keeping with his canon of work, which in practice means a firm emphasis on the highest quality of music, with the deftest of touches, and a gentle nod to the classical influences of Debussy and Ravel, among others. The recording is noteworthy also because it reunited Evans in 1974 with composer and arranger Claus Ogerman who had first collaborated with the pianist on a 1965 Verve album recording and this proved to be their third and ultimately final collaboration, and what a fitting and stunning finale. Making up the rest of the rhythm section are Marty Morell on drums, Eddie Gomez on bass while Evans himself alternates between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. An extended brass line-up includes Jerry Dodgion, Hubert Laws and Phil Woods, with Ralph MacDonald beefing up the percussion.

Divided up into two major movements, this has the detailed preparation of a classical symphony, even if the execution is wholly improvised jazz. The music transcends several contrasting moods and in some respects, the Tranquillo of the second movement (Largo) serves as a means of releasing the tension that builds up in the first. Orchestra and piano oscillate and work in tandem on various parts, and Evans is truly in his element on the second movement. Great credit is due to Ogerman for such an impressive orchestral arrangement and this enables Evans to concentrate on establishing the main themes and to truly thrilling effect.

As with the other re-issues in the series, superb attention to detail in terms of the sleeve covers and overall both the presentation and impeccable quality of sound are on a par with Japanese re-issues. For some this is an album that will require several listens, especially if you are accustomed to the smaller group settings in which Evans normally operated. For others, it is quite simply their favourite Bill Evans recording of all-time and it is a serious contender. This reviewer rates it only marginally below a five, given the superlative live trio recordings that are his finest recordings of all. The good news is that with repeated listening, the album more than repays the investment of time and it is one of Evans’ most impressive studio albums.

Tim Stenhouse

Ella Fitzgerald ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ LP only (MPS) 4/5

By the end of the 1960’s, jazz was struggling to attract the same level of support as at the beginning of the decade with rock music in the ascendancy and jazz-rock in embryonic form was about to emerge. Into this context, jazz singers were expanding their repertoire to keep up with the times. Frank Sinatra hit the big time again with, ‘My way’, but Ella Fitzgerald chose an unexpected route with a cover of the Cream classic, ‘Sunshine of your love’. With a rocking beat courtesy of the great Ed Thigpen on drums that took a healthy leaf out of the James Brown school of percussion, but with her tried and trusted accompanist on piano, Tommy Flanagan, and Frank De La Rosa on bass, this late 1960’s album was a one-off in the Ella pantheon of works, but one that a younger generation has grown to love and be an entrance point to her music. Interestingly, it is also a live date, though you would scarcely know because any audience sound has been edited out. Aside from the uptempo and downright raunchy title track, Ella interprets then contemporary songwriters with a Lennon and McCartney number, ‘Hey Jude’, but it is her versions of Hal David and Burt Bacharach songs that impresses, with a lovely ‘This Girl’s In Love With You’, and the tender ‘A House Is Not A Home’. The latter is quite different from the later Luther Vandross reading. Her old favourites are not forsaken for all that, with Duke Ellington’s ‘Love You Madly’ featured. A swinging ‘Alright, Okay, You Win’ rivals that of Nancy Wilson. A priceless document of Ella Fitzgerald still in fine fettle.

Tim Stenhouse

Enrico Pieranunzi ‘Yesterdays’ (Stunt) 4/5

Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi is one of the most respected among European jazz pianists, and has performed with some distinguished U.S. and European formations, and this live recording at the Copenhagen Jazz House actually dates from some twenty years ago, yet has never previously been issued. Its release celebrates a short-lived trio with the Danish duo of bassist Mats Vinding and drummer Alex Riel. Largely devoted to the standard repertoire. the music is anything but formulaic and the evergreen pieces chosen are merely the pretext for some wonderfully inventive transformations. A case in point is the elongated and utterly transformed take on Jerome Kern’s ‘Yesterdays’, which develops into an eleven minute opus. Unquestionably, a personal favourite remains the playful reading of Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, where in the intro, piano and bass engage in some delightful trade-offs and the relaxed mood is akin to that of a rehearsal. Pieranunzi has long venerated the piano genius of Bill Evans and a genuinely heartfelt tribute can be heard on ‘My Foolish Heart’, a number that Evans so adored. Further evidence of the trio’s affinity for ballads is found on ‘My Funny Valentine’. A terrific surprise of a recording that few heard live first time round. Quality music seldom dates and this trio should definitely get together again some time soon.

Tim Stenhouse

Michel Sardou ‘Le Choix Du Fou’ (Universal France/Blue Wrasse) 4/5

Something of a musical institution in his native France, Michel Sardou is quite simply one of the major singer-songwriters to emerge in the late 1960’s and especially the 1970’s when his impressionistic and often poetic interpretations, with concept albums including a fine evocation of Connemara in Ireland, ‘Les lacs du Connemara’, which remains one of his endearing works and was a major hit single in 1981. The content ranges widely from love songs such as the early hit, ‘La maladie d’amour’, to far more socio-political concerns, including the plight of Muslim women in the Islamic world, ‘Les musulmanes’, to controversial subject matter such as colonialism and especially US foreign policy of which he has been critical in the past.

While some may find the orchestrations a tad grandiose and overpowering, especially the powerful love ballads, there is no doubting the sincerity of the singer being one of the finest interpreters of other composers songs. His singer-songwriting collaboration which stretch over several decades, but this is actually the very last studio recording he will make before officially retiring, now seventy years of age.

For this final recording, Sardou faithfully oscillates between major orchestrations and more intimate folk-tinged numbers. One song that immediately caught this writer’s ear was the accordion-led plus strings, ‘San Lorenzo’, which has an underlying nod to the tango tradition and conjurs up life in Buenos Aires. Ecological issues are the order of the day on ‘La colline du soif’ (The thirsty hill) which features a blues-inflected guitar that morphs into a rock-tinged number. His romantic side is not forgotten with ‘Je t’aime’, a duet between the vocalist and a cellist. If any song typifies his craft then ‘Pour moi, elle a toujours 20 ans’ skilfully pays homage to a woman in his life who will forever remain youthful. Another sparse sounding love ballad comes in the form of the whimsical ‘Qui m’aime me tue’ (Whoever loves me kills me), with just piano and vocal combining most effectively.

His coterie of long-term fans will be at home with this release and it should be stated to a wider international reading audience that Michel Sardou remains extremely popular. In 2001 he sold out eighteen consecutive nights at the Palais Omnisports of Paris-Bercy arena which is some achievement. He is renowned throughout the francophone world, and interestingly in the Netherlands, where he went to the number one spot with ‘Les lacs du Connemara’.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993