Dave Stryker ‘Strykin’ Ahead’ CD (Strikezone) 5/5

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the music of guitarist Dave Stryker. He seems to be releasing albums at a great rate of knots at the moment and here’s another.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that this music will not set the world alight. But that doesn’t mean that it is anything less than accomplished. Stryker sticks with the format that he has used on his previous most recent releases, adhering to the motto ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Here we have a selection of original compositions and reharmonised standards from the jazz and show tunes songbooks. It’s the clever reharmonisations that I like so much. Not to mention the punning titles that he gives his albums. His regular band-mates are here; Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Jared Gold on organ and the gloriously named McClenty Hunter on drums.

The set opens with ‘Shadowboxing’, a tricky little theme which soon settles into a swinging, bluesy groove. This serves as an introduction to the talents of the band members who all acquit themselves well.

‘Footprints’, the familiar Wayne Shorter piece is up next and the theme surreptitiously emerges after a clever introduction from the guitarist.
Stryker writes attractive themes and ‘New You’ is no exception.

This group is particularly proficient on ballads and it is interesting to hear how the familiar melody of ‘Passion Flower’ evolves. The listener is drawn into the tapestry of sound created by these master musicians.

‘Strykin’ Ahead’ is an up-tempo swinger and certainly delivers the goods.

‘Blues Down Deep’ is exactly what you would imagine. A blues taken at a very relaxed tempo, again something that these musicians excel at.
Next is an eight minute exposition of ‘Joy Spring’. Again, the musicians are able to bring something fresh to their reading of this familiar jazz standard.

‘Who Can I Turn To’, another familiar song is cast in new clothing to great effect and to me sounds quite joyous.

The album concludes with ‘Donna Lee’. One would think there was little new to be said about this tune, but once again, the band manage to put a new slant on familiar, almost hackneyed material.

Dave Stryker and friends have once again produced a most enjoyable set on modern mainstream jazz which I hope will be popular with jazz enthusiasts. Stryker is certainly a talent deserving of wider recognition. Perhaps this album will go some way to garnering a wider audience for the man from West Orange, New Jersey.

Alan Musson

Hampshire and Foat ‘Galaxies Like Grains of Sand’ LP/CD/DIG (Athens Of The North) 4/5

Have you ever missed someone so much that it actually hurts? Well, if you have, my advice would be don’t sit on your own listening to this album late at night with nothing but a large glass of whisky to keep you company. It’ll only make the pain even worse. If on the other hand, you’ve had a great weekend and you want to round off your Sunday night in style with a nice slow drink and some melancholic cosmic grooves, then this is the album to put a contented smile on your face.

Pianist Greg Foat has teamed up with multi instrumentalist Warren Hampshire to collaborate on “Galaxies Like Grains of Sand”. With touches of folk, Jazz, Americana, contemporary classical and chill-out minimalism, this is an album of gorgeous soundscapes, filmic in quality, uber-cool in outlook. Think maybe Zero7, Cinematic Orchestra, Eno, Ennio Morricone and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. It’s like a 60’s Italian film soundtrack wrapped softly in a rarely heard 70’s and 80’s subtle electronica-based atmospheric chill-out album.

Recorded all analogue onto 2″ multitrack in Edinburgh, mixed down by Mattias Glava at his studio in Gothenburg, then mastered and cut in Helsinki, this album is a truly European affair. Musicians include Clark Tracey on drums, Philip Achille on bass, Konrad Wisniewski and Rob Mach on tenor sax, Trevor Walker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Julian Appleyard on oboe, Kate Miguda and Sinead Gallagher on viola, Justyna Jablonska-Edmonds on cello and Feargus Hetherington on violin. Warren Hampshire plays guitar, Autoharp and vibraphone. Greg Foat plays piano, keyboards and vibraphone.

Each of the 8 tracks has its own feel and consciousness, with everything fitting nicely together as a whole. Stand-outs include the title track, with its echoes of a “Low” era Bowie/Eno piece, combining with a hidden landscape of rocky mountainous outcrops and a worn-out Mexican gunslinger hanging up his guns in favour of a Spanish guitar, reflecting on the unseen nature of things, the futility of his life, and the grains of sand that fell through his hour-glass way too quickly. “Lullaby” evokes thoughts of love and loss, watching the waves come in on some long forgotten shore. I have to confess I don’t know if it’s a trumpet or flugelhorn, but the delivery of said instrument on “How the nights can fly” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I have ever heard. What a stunning piece of music. Strings and brass combine with such emotional power that it makes my heart flip.

And so as darkness draws in, the deepest of blue fills the night sky and once more my whisky glass needs refilling. Think I’ll put this album on one more time, I’m in that kind of mood now.

Mike Gates

New Simplicity Trio ‘Common Spaces’ CD/DIG (Babel Label) 5/5

The avowed intent of New Simplicity Trio is to place an emphasis on groove and melody. The Trio intends their tunes to be memorable and capable of being whistled and hummed.

The ‘simplicity’ is that of melody and harmony. Things not always apparent in the music of their contemporaries. The trio consists of Bruno Heinen on piano, Henrik Jensen on bass and Antonio Fusco at the drums. The Trio have been in existence since 2014 and since then have honed their craft in live performance. There seems to be no one individual who could be called a leader. The group interplay is something akin to that of the great Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian. Their interplay also brings to mind the music of the wonderful Peter Erskine Trio with John Taylor on the piano stool. All of the members of the trio contribute compositions. Having mentioned the more obvious musical reference points, it seems clear that they have managed to forge an original group voice. Something that is very difficult to do in the seemingly over crowded world of the contemporary jazz trio.

Interestingly, Heinen showed his affinity with the music of Bill Evans on an earlier release ‘Postcard to Bill Evans’. The music appeals on different levels. Perhaps as polite background music, but this is to do the music a disservice, as repeated listening reveal, somewhat counter-intuitively, hidden depths to the music. The listener might fall into the trap of thinking that this might be cool, uninvolving music. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is some quite involving and high spirited soloing on offer throughout the album. Don’t confuse simplicity with being uninvolving. There are actually plenty of complex passages to enjoy.

The opening track ‘Groovy’ is well-named but it also has a sort of off kilter funkiness, before settling into a slightly more rhapsodic mode for a time and then the intensity slowly builds, giving way to an accomplished and quite lengthy drum solo. In contrast ‘Riccardo’s Room’ opens with a delicate riff from the bassist, before piano and drums join in a delicate dialogue. This is a true musical earworm of a tune. ‘Around Milan’ is a wonderfully introspective theme. Again played with great delicacy by the pianist. Then around two minutes in bass and drums are there supporting and commenting on the pianists statements. Jensen provides a magnificently sonorous solo. ‘Across the Pond’ follows in similar mood and is, for me, the most outstanding piece on the album, bringing to mind the best of the more introspective European jazz trios currently in vogue.

There is so much to enjoy that it is difficult to draw attention to all of the highlights, such as the masterful bass playing on ‘Orient Express’. On this piece, as on several of the other pieces, I’m reminded of the early work of pianist Howard Riley. Perhaps in the way that both Riley and Heinen seem to tread the path between melody and abstraction.

The album concludes with ‘The Seagull’ where the trio seem to be having lots of fun in a tango-like performance. Fusco is particularly outstanding here. All but one of the ten tracks come from within the trio. The exception is a very individual reading of Mingus’s ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. The musicians clearly love what they are doing and their enjoyment and good humour are evident throughout the album. Check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Alan Musson

Jamie Saft Trio ‘Loneliness Road’ 2LP/CD/DIG (RareNoise) 5/5

I do like pleasant surprises. None more so than when I put on an album with no particular expectations and am blown away by the music I’m listening to. And so we have pianist Jamie Saft’s latest release, “Loneliness Road”. Saft is perhaps best known for his work with John Zorn, with whom he has recorded several albums that often push the avant-garde buttons to the extreme. And so to hear the pianist performing such a subtle set of jazz tunes alongside bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte is quite a turn-up. But that’s not all. More surprises ensue, with the legendary rock singer Iggy Pop adding his deep, incisive vocal hues to three of the tunes on this session. Iggy Pop!? Really!? Well yes, and what a revelation it is. The Stooges front-man delivers his lines with such an air of authority that it sends a chill down my spine. Distinctively audacious and beautifully executed.

“Loneliness Road” draws its inspiration from a varied cross-section of American music, from the likes of Bob Dylan, The Band, Pharoah Sanders and Bill Evans. What is immediately evident is the naturalness and sensitivity with which the trio performs these tunes. The vibe is predominantly laid-back and cool, with moments of expansiveness and engrossing improvisation. But the tune itself is always at the forefront of the mind, and the subtlety with which the trio cajole and entice fresh ideas from these musical pieces, rewards the listener with what sounds like an intimate and personal musical journey.

Iggy Pop’s voice is raw and emotive. Maybe not for everyone, but having now turned 70, for me his vocal delivery here on the three tracks “Loneliness Road”, “Don’t Lose Yourself” and “Everyday” is quite startling. There’s an organic feel to the whole proceedings, his voice fitting perfectly with the contemporary piano/bass/drums that sit together so wonderfully well.

But it’s the trio itself that take centre stage. One of the noticeable things here is how no one musician takes the obvious lead over the others. This is a trio in the truest sense, each musician being incredibly individually gifted, but working together in unison to create a ‘oneness’ that just sings with clarity, understanding and an effortless intensity. “Ten Nights” opens the set, a stunning piece of delightfully interwoven colour and texture. There’s an ethereal, unrushed depth of beauty to “Bookmarking”, whilst melancholy reigns on the downtempo “Pinkus”. Across the whole album there is a rare depth and sincerity that lets out a gentle, soft light, the sound of the trio warm and welcoming, breathing new life into the songs it performs, and quietly yet assuredly standing heads and shoulders out from the crowd.

Mike Gates

Christian Sands ‘Reach’ (Mack Avenue) 4/5

Young pianist Christian Sands is a talent to watch out for and this largely original set, bar two carefully selected adaptations of classic soul numbers, is co-produced by another Christian, namely bassist McBride, and drummer Al Foster. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland guests on four numbers.

Pianistic influences seem to include both Bud Powell and Chick Corea, and there is in fact a tribute to the latter on, ‘Armando’s song’, which is a thinly disguised homage to Corea’s very own 1970s opus, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, but what is interesting here is that the composition is performed by Sands as a straight ahead piano trio number without any hint of Latinization. That said, Sands is interested in how Latin music and jazz interweave and overarches one another and he does explore Latin rhythms and more specifically their connection to Africa on, ‘¡Oyemé!’, which showcases some lovely bass and percussion work.

Elsewhere, bop hues are evident on, ‘Bud’s tune’, this time in reference to the great Bud Powell and this piece is performed by the trio with blues inflections from the leader and some fine polyrhythmic licks from the drummer. An interesting choice of standards emerges on, ‘Use me’, the Bill Withers’ song which is taken here at a relaxed mid-tempo with a jazz-rock tinged guitar solo from Gilad Hekselman, who features on three numbers, and is very much in the vein of John Scofield. The album ends with a ballad, co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, ‘Somewhere out there’, that is again a piano trio with great subtlety on bass and the softest of percussion. Christian Sands is a new name with a promising feature and this recording will certainly enhance his growing reputation.

Tim Stenhouse

Kevin Eubanks ‘East West Time Line’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

It may surprise some to learn that guitarist Kevin Eubanks, the elder brother of trombonist Robin, is now sixty years of age. Earlier on his career he had a brief stint as part of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, but as of 1983 the Berkley school graduate has led his own group. If the early leader albums verged on fusion for the GRP label, then they became more mainstream in outlook as Eubanks’ music progressed with heavyweight musicians featured including bassist Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis, Ralph Moore, and not forgetting his own brother, Robin. In the early 1990s, Kevin Eubanks was signed to the re-activated Blue Note label which was promoting neo-bop and his recordings here included the participation of bassist Dave Holland, who likewise features on the first line-up of musicians on this new album.

The recording was in essence made in both Los Angeles and New York and features two contrasting line-ups with an all-star building including Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Dave Holland, while the second features regular band members including Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and saxophonist Bill Pierce, who is excellent throughout. This writer preferred the second of the line-ups insofar as with the first the sound of the guitar tends to get lost in a sea of virtuosity whereas with the second, the leader is properly showcased and finally has an opportunity to shine. Conceptually, Eubanks has reverted back to the old days of vinyl with clearly distinctive ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides. On a CD, that translates into a first part of original compositions and a second of standards. In truth, the latter are the more interesting to listen to and, while the originals are pleasant, they are not that inspirational and it is to the treatment of standards that the listener’s attention focuses on primarily.

Stylistically, Kevin Eubanks belongs firmly in the Wes Montgomery tradition and it is that sound that is heard on one of the strongest re-workings, on, ‘What’s going on?’, with a lovely solo from Pierce who is listed as being on tenor saxophone, but surely sounds like it is actually on soprano. Eubanks adopts a straight ahead approach and offers up some tasty guitar licks here.

An interest in Latin music is one characteristic of the selections made here and this includes a creditable reading of Ray Bryant’s memorable, ‘Cubano Chant’, which received blistering renditions back in the late 1950s from both Art Blakey and Cal Tjader. On this new interpretation, Eubanks starts off with a gentle guitar solo, but then the piece takes on an altogether different life and becomes a fast-paced number. Chick Corea is well known for his love of Latin music and there is something of a Latin jam session quality to the version of his, ‘Captain Señor Mouse’. Duke Ellington’s, ‘Take the Coltrane’, is given a whole new lease of life with Latin percussion, a catchy bass riff, and this writer warmed to the simple playing of the theme from Pierce. Another standard, this time a ballad, ‘My one and only love’, once again is notable for some fine soprano work from Bill Pierce.

If anything, on this recording, Kevin Eubanks seems to have ben caught between two distinctive and separate ideas, and for a future recording he would be better served devoting an entire album to the Latin jazz repertoire which he clearly has a genuine passion for.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Funky Chimes: Belgian Grooves From The 70s’ Ltd Edition 2CD/2xLP/ (Sdban) 4/5

Independent Belgian label Sdban made something of a reputation with their wonderful exploration of Belgian jazz earlier on in the year with, ‘Let’s get swinging: modern jazz in Belgium 1950-1980’, and this new anthology retains the extremely high standard with de-luxe packaging in mini gatefold sleeve and a plethora of information about individual tracks and musicians. It also features full colour original covers which help bring the music to life.

The tone this time is on music from the funkier side of the tracks from the 1970s and that means trawling through library music albums, 45s and the like to unearth some supremely rare grooves. Compiled by Stefan Vandenberghe, this is definitely music you are unlikely to have heard previously, but it has a strong funk and jazz flavour.

Guitarist Grant Green and his late period recordings on Blue Note were probably an inspiration for the guitar riff grooves of, ‘Barabajazagal’, from the obscure artiste known as Flying Guitar, beating Prince to the title of alternative sounding professional nom de plume by a couple of decades. Psychedelic accompaniment make this an interesting piece. More serious jazz credentials emerge on a pianist and arranger, Francis Coppieters, who recorded primarily library music, but was both a creative and gifted musician and joining him on vibes is none other than Fats Sadi whose name is all over that previous jazz compilation. Here they perform on what has been adopted as the title track of the compilation as a whole, and this is very much in keeping with the jazzier content of the previous anthology.

A piece that hip-hop samplers might want to check out is, ‘Travelling on rhythms’, with a sound is that of a jazzy big band meets Les McCann over a percussive rhythm and going under the unlikely sounding name of Bud Hunga and his Diplomatic Music. Modal bass line and drum patterns are a feature of Indo-Jazz fusion Belgian style by a group called Kandahar and the track, ‘The fancy yodel’, with guitar and brass leading the way. In a more contemporary jazz-funk idiom, SSO (The Soul Sensation Orchestra) produce something that takes on board the street of ‘Shaft’, the lush strings of Barry White and some trumpet soloing straight out of the Freddie Hubbard school. One of the most melodic of the funk-tinged tunes is actually in a more laid back vein and deploys a lovely flute on a groove that seems to last forever in, ‘Scratch my back (Pt. 1 and 2)’ by the Soul Scratchers and this opens up the first CD. Incredibly, this was the band’s only ever 45 and as such is extremely rare to find.

The emphasis throughout is on creating funky rhythms, inspired largely by what was happening over the pond in the United States and, ‘Tiger walk’, by the Peter Lain Orchestra borrows heavily from the melody of Herbie Hancock’s, ‘Watermelon man’, but then gives the music a distinctive film soundtrack flavour with an assortment of sound effects cropping up in the background. As the music progresses through the second CD, the odd name of wider note emerges such as fusion guitarist Philip Catherine who is much respected on the French jazz scene and here offers up, ‘Give it up or turn it alone’, which is an unusual 45 release taken from a 1972 album on Warner, ‘Stream’, and significantly featured on electric piano is none other than Marc Moulin, a key musician who sparked a wider interest in Belgian music from the 1970s.

This is an extremely well presented and worthwhile investigation of music you are likely never to have come across unless you are a specialist in obscure Belgian music from the era. For that reason alone, the music is worthy of your attention.

[There are also a series of five 7″ singles available]

Tim Stenhouse

Harvey Mason ‘Sho Nuff Groovin’ You: The Arista Records Anthology 1975-1981’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

In the 1970s drummer Harvey Mason was one of the top session musicians. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music and then of the New England Conservatory, Mason was well schooled and immediately put his knowledge base into practice when he moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and became the drummer in George Shearing’s band.

As early as 1973, Mason had become one of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters groundbreaking band and co-wrote, ‘Chameleon’, while for Grover Washington, he featured throughout on the fusion classic, ‘Mr Magic’. Elsewhere, the percussionist regularly filled in the drumming duties for mid-1970s Blue Note artists such as flautist Bobbi Humphrey and singer Marlena Shaw, and he fitted in just enough time to record on the label with both Donald Byrd and Bobby Hutcherson. Mason also found his way onto the 1975 ‘Mellow Madness’, album for Quincy Jones, the title track of which has become something of a summer rare groove tune of sorts and heavily sampled.

As a leader in his own right, Harvey Mason recorded several albums for the Arista label between 1975 and 1981, and this is what this anthology focuses attention on with excellent liner notes to unravel how his career unfolded. in fact, the Arista connection came about after Mason was invited to play on the Brecker Brothers debut album for the label and label boss Clive Davis enquired as to whether Mason had contemplated a solo career.

Soul fans will always treasure a track that surfaced in 1977 with the lead vocals of Merry Clayton, and that is the unmistakable groove of, ‘Til you take my love’, which has a strong Earth, Wind and Fire influence in the horn section and use of percussion. Arguably, it is Mason’s finest moment in the soul idiom. Another key number is the collective vocal led, ‘Say it again’, from 1979 and this featured the wonderful percussion breakdown of guest musician Sheila E, five years before she hit the big time as part of Prince’s band. A 12″ disco tune, ‘Groovin’ you’, again used collective male vocals and is notable for the inclusion of Ray Parker Jr. on guitar and Richard Tee on keyboards, but for this writer, the catchy, ‘How does it feel’, is the strongest of the dance floor outings. At various times, Harvey Mason, by virtue of his jazz credentials, was able to call upon the talents of the best session musicians in the business. Some of the lesser known songs are among the most interesting, with the mid-tempo, ‘Pack up your bags’, a personal favourite of this writer with veteran Dorothy Ashby on harp (she would record on Stevie Wonder’s, Songs in the key of life’) and Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist, A; McKay. On several tracks, the Seawind Horns are featured and they provide some jazzy context as on the instrumental, ‘The maze’, which is a jazz-fusion oriented piece and with no less than Greg Phillinganes on keyboards (the preferred keyboardist of Michael Jackson).

The second CD has a wonderful and epic eight minute cover of Marvin Gaye’s, ‘What’s goin’ on’, which is a real highlight, arguably the best of any of the jazz-inflected numbers on the anthology. Here, the lengthy intro leads into an epic instrumental take with George Benson on guitar, the late Jorge Dalto on piano, and this was recorded the year after Benson’s epic, Breezin’ album, on which Mason was the featured drummer and also performed on vibes! In an altogether moodier vein, ‘Modaji’, has a strong jazz element equally with the Fender Rhodes of Dave Grusin and the flute playing of Hubert Laws. Upon hearing, ‘When I’m with you’, the sound of George Benson was surely on Harvey Mason’s mind and the version here is a live recorded one, which is an instrumental with the great Motown bassist James Jamerson and featuring guitar solos from both Ray Parker Jr. and Mike Sembello.

Excellent graphics with numerous single label covers, with photos of Mason and various guests round off what is a most a deserved tribute to the production and performance talents of drummer Harvey Mason. Unquestionably one of the unsung heroes of the 1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Angela Bofill ‘I Try: The Anthology 1978-1993’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

A limited and elite number of soul vocalists have the technique to operate in either jazz or soul idioms and this is the case historically for Aretha Franklin (even though she was primarily known as a soul singer, and of course she was equally at ease and adept in gospel and blues), and for singers in the 1970s such as Jean Carn and Phyllis Hyman, while in the 1980s Anita Baker made her career out of combining soul and jazz hues. More recently, Gregory Porter has demonstrated that the two elements are by no means mutually exclusive and that together with respect and sincerity, you can attract a wider listening audience. In the case of singer Angela Bofill, however, she could and probably should have reached a wider audience, and this over-arching anthology does at least go some way to rectifying her under-representation among the crème de la crème of soul singers.

Hailing from the Bronx, and with Puerto Rican ancestry (she was a close childhood friend of the sadly departed flautist, Dave Valentin). Angela Bofill could have gone in an entirely different direction and sung in Spanish on more traditional-flavoured Latin folk (akin to say Chicano singer Linda Ronstadt), or even commercially-oriented salsa material. However, her voice was so naturally rich and versatile, that Bofill instead opted to study music formally and Latin music’s loss was soul music’s undisputed gain.Her debut album in 1978 for Arista, ‘Angie’, provided all the evidence needed of that natural talent (it is incidentally available separately in its entirety on CD) and from that, the jazzy-tinged soul groove of, ‘This time I’ll be sweeter’, is a tasteful and sophisticated performance that quite simply stands the test of time, and in some ways prefigures the kind of material that Anita Baker would cover some five years later. In Bofill’s case, she had the misfortune of commencing her career at a time when real soul singing music was considered passé and even the likes of Aretha Franklin and Bobby Womack struggled to get themselves heard. Another example from that first album of note is, ‘Under the moon and over the sky’. The album just made it into the top twenty of the US R & B charts for what proved to be a most promising debut.

The second album, ‘Angel of the night’ (1979), arrived just a year later as disco was now on the wane. Once again, a similar style and accompaniment was adopted, typified by a quality intimate ballad such as, ‘I try’. Here, her voice is heard at its glorious purest and there was really no need to embellish it. With fine tenor saxophone accompaniment, this was music for a mature audience and it succeeded where the predecessor had failed in landing a place in the top ten of the R & B chart. The title track made a minor ripple in the R & B singles chart, but no more than that.

A two year gap resulted in the release of 1981s, ‘Something about you’, and her name was beginning to be more familiar to soul fans. While it did not fare any better than the previous album, it did at least cement her reputation as a singer who did not need to rely on short-term fads for popularity and once again the choice of songs was tasteful and in keeping with what had preceded. The singles released off the new album fare more strongly this time, with, ‘Something about you’, just outside the top twenty of the R & B charts, and, ‘Holdin’ out for love’, just outside the top thirty. Clearly, she was on the cusp of reaching a larger audience.

In the UK, that breakthrough album came with, ‘Too tough’, from 1983, and the long version of the title track was a significant hit on the UK soul charts, while in the US it scored highly in both the dance and R & B charts. Angela Bofill hit the dance floors with this song, co-written by Narada Michael Walden, who had produced Stacy Lattisaw and Sister Sledge and the picture cover edition featured Bofill in exotic looking pose with a passing hint to the 1930s in fashion. Her photogenic looks did the promotion of the single no harm at all. Bofill’s soul credentials were still very much to the fore, as illustrated on a terrific cover of Ashford and Simpson’s penned, ‘Ain’t nothing like the real thing’, on which she duets convincingly with blued-eyed soulster Boz Scaggs. Boosted by the stronger album sales, a second single, ‘Tonight I give in’, went to just outside the top ten of the R & B chart, and this was arguably Angela Bofill’s most complete and well-rounded album in her career to date.

A follow up album followed swiftly with Narada Michael Walden firmly in the producers seat and, ‘Special delivery’, was a reasonable dance chart success, though to these ears veering more towards the pop market which is presumably where Arista believed Bofill was heading. A duet with Johnny Mathis on, ‘You’re a special part of me’, was further evidence that the label was striving to open up Angela Bofill’s music to a non-specialist audience, but as a whole the album was unsatisfying.

By now, Angela Bofill was being marketed essentially as a dance floor singer, which severely limited her real talent, but she was with a voice so naturally blessed, able to adapt to. From, ‘Let me be the one”, in 1984, an extended remix of, ‘Can’t slow down’, is included, and it was a modest success. With the benefit of hindsight, one cannot but conclude that something of the individualism of the singer was lost in this attempt to rebrand her sound and she was certainly not alone in this respect. A final album for Arista fared less well and there was an inevitability that the tenure at the label would end. In actual fact, it would be some eight years before Angela Bofill resurfaced, this time on the Jive label, and in 1993 she offered a new album, ‘I wanna love somebody’, that fared modestly well just breaking outside of the R & B top fifty and of which the title track was released as a single as was, ‘Heavenly love’. In between, Bofill,m who had earned the respect of her fellow musicians, guested on Stanley Clarke’s 1986 album, ‘Hideaway’, with, ‘Where do we go’. Clearly, while the mainstream music industry had begun to tire of her and the lack of a major hit, musicians still placed their faith in the quality of her voice which remained undiminished.

Sadly, Angela Bofill’s singing career was cut short in 2006 when she suffered a stroke that both impaired her ability to speak and left one side of her body paralysed. She was especially saddened by the passing of her friend Dave Valentin earlier this year. Her musical legacy remains, but it is a tale of a mis-represented career that should have been infinitely richer given the beauty of the voice that she was born with and which was subsequently carefully honed and crafted.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Inner Peace: Rare Spiritual Funk And Jazz Gems – The Supreme Sound Of Producer Bob Shad’ (Wewantsounds) LP/2CD 5/5

Spiritual jazz is not necessarily an easy term to pin down, though the roots and sources of the sub-genre are. In the case of Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, this emerged at a time of fluctuation in the development and fortunes of jazz. This excellent compilation focuses on a fixed and short time period between 1971 and 1973 when new groups and fusion sounds were challenging traditional conceptions of jazz. These included then new groups such as Weather Report and Return to Forever. Meanwhile Donald Byrd was funkifying the jazz world on the prestigious Blue Note label with his seminal, ‘Black Byrd’, and Herbie Hancock was in the process of making an important transition from the density of his Mwandishi band to the funkier climbs of the Headhunters in 1974. Miles Davis, on the other hand, was exploring world beats and jazz on, ‘On the Corner’, complete with streetwise cover graphics. Carlos Santana was arguably experiencing a spiritual jazz awakening on his, ‘Caravanserai’ album, and this neatly brings us on to the compilation in hand because that recording featured the relatively unknown reeds man Hadley Caliman.

Here, Caliman is leader on a funky jazz number that wins the contest for best track title hands down, ‘Cigar Eddie’. As a whole, this is very much a showcasing of the jazz side to Mainstream and its major strength is to delve deeper and beneath the surface to uncover some real gems and highlight some of the more obscure names who deserve to be better known. A real discovery to this writer was the Eastern-flavoured flute by Pete Yellen – a sedately paced, ‘Mebakush’. More needs to be heard of this musician if the rest is anything near as good as this scintillating piece. Modal bass and piano combine on Buddy Terry’s offering that also happens to be the name to which this compilation borrows the title. Bob Shad clearly had a deft ear for horn arrangements and these permeate the tracks here. Fine and lyrical horn ensemble playing plus percussion is a feature of the, ‘Senyah’, contribution from drumming legend Roy Haynes and the classic guitar riff and fender have grace many a hip-hop sample. Tenorist Harold Land was a long-time collaborator of Bobby Hutcherson in the late 1960s, but had branched out as a leader and the west coast musician excels on the intriguingly titled, ‘In the back, in the corner, in the dark’, which has something of an updated Blue Note groove. The same in fact can be said of LaMont Johnson’s, ‘Libras longing’, though in this instance it is Horace Silver who is the more obvious influence and there is a meaty trumpet solo from Sal Marquez that recalls Woody Shaw with the Horace Silver band circa the ‘Cape Verdean Blues’ period.

While Fender Rhodes predominate, the funkier edge of the Hammond organ is present on Charles Williams’, ‘Iron Jaws’, and this could easily be taken from a film soundtrack with influences including Charles Earland as much as Jimmy Smith. The compilation ends on a percussive, if all too brief note, with drummer Shelly Manne’s percussion-led, ‘Infinity’. All in all, a fine example of how jazz could progress on an independent label in the early 1970s and an ideal follow-up to the previous compilation of jazz-oriented material from Mainstream, ‘Feeling Good’.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993