Walter “Wolfman” Washington ‘My Future Is My Past’ LP/CD/DIG (Anti-) 5/5

For those of us who are familiar with Mr Washington, he’s a master of Funk, Blues and occasionally on his albums he provides scintillating soul music, he’s a hard one to pin down and over the years I’ve always felt he was being overlooked, there always seems to be someone new and shiny to take centre stage but never our Walter. I have a number of his albums on the shelves and several 45’s from well back in day, the albums then on Rounder Records ‘Wolf Tracks’ 1986, ‘Out of the Dark’ 1988 and ‘Wolf at the Door’ and ‘Funk is in the House’ from 1991. Mysteriously an album appeared on Pointblank in 1991 titled ‘Sada’, this didn’t appear to be promoted too well at the time as I remember having to search for it, eventually Jimmy at The Diskery in Birmingham found a copy for me.

In 1997 he found himself back in the studio in New Orleans, backed by his band, The Roadmasters, which resulted in a slew of real quality funk and soul tracks and then, well, nothing. If anyone doubts his credentials as a soul man then go grab a listen to “Please Come Back To Me” from the ‘Funk in the House’ album; a subtle horn laden dancer that I have played out with a very healthy reaction, I also sent the track over to Mick O’Donnell for his radio show, he’s played it many times to a very positive reaction. Indeed the ‘Wolf at the Door’ album is a fine soul album with funk undertones, it contains the beautiful balladry of “It Doesn’t Really Matter”, once heard never forgotten. It’s clear that having feet in all camps hasn’t helped his promotion, being unable to pigeon-hole I feel has cost this great man greatly. He could have been a superstar.

So what a fabulous surprise to have him back in the fray with this 10 track set but, right from the outset I have to tell you, the funk has gone, his voice is a deeper rougher tone, there are no dancers on this album, ballads galore, so if like me your into the slower tuneage then fill your boots, you’re in for a monster treat. As usual I’ll go straight to the track that has blown me away – “I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger” which he has turned it into a sparse organ drenched foot tapper, you get the impression the rest of the band are just waiting for the signal to blast through but it never comes, all very restrained, but other than Walter and his guitar that’s your lot, a masterpiece. You know I always try to give you some comparisons, well Ray Charles is all over this, the simply stunning “Even Now” is a haunting opus, again very sparse backdrop which Walter takes full advantage of vocally and lyrically, he’s joined by none other than Irma Thomas, which just puts the icing on a very soulful cake. Elsewhere he’s also joined by Ivan Neville and Jon Cleary. The beautiful “I Just Dropped By To Say Hello” has that infamous Jimmy Cobb feel, in fact I pulled the album and played “So Nobody Else Can Hear”. The album was produced by Ben Ellman of Galactic, and it’s Walter’s first album for Anti- Records. For some of us this is the album we have all been waiting for, waiting for him to slow it down and show his vocal prowess, we’ve always known it’s there, he’s always had it, clues are there for us all to hear on his previous album, well he’s pulled it off brilliantly and at 74 years of age let’s hope it ain’t too long before we hear from him again. Walter, thank-you.

Walter is currently on an extensive tour with still 26 dates across the States.

Brian Goucher

Tonbruket ‘Live Salvation’ (ACT) 3/5

Former EST bassist, Dan Berglund, returns with his band for a heady mixture of folk-tinged jazz and rock, and this live recording captures the band at the Bix Jazz Club in Stuttgart, and is a useful résumé of their career to date. The mastermind of the band is Berglund and this recording makes for an interesting postscript to the tenth anniversary of the tragic passing of Esbjörn Svensson and a separate 2 CD of this formation will shortly be available in these columns. An all original set of titles is evenly divided up between the quartet members, with tracks from the excellent ‘Dig It To The End’, receiving the Lion’s share of the pieces reworked in a live setting. Of interest are the exciting readings of both ‘Gripe’ and ‘Balloons’, but the concise interpretation of ‘Dig It To The End’ works extremely well. Of the other numbers, the near fourteen minute, ‘Vinegar Heart’, does go on a tad too long, and this is not a band that is set up to improvise at length, competent though the musicians individually undoubtedly are. As an aside from the music itself, the creative cover art from Jesper Waldersten is noteworthy, and not without recalling the much earlier efforts on the Verve and Columbia labels of one David Stone Martin. Music and visual art can co-exist in harmony, and this demonstrates how.

Tim Stenhouse

Jessica Lauren ‘Almería’ LP/CD/DIG (Freestyle) 4/5

From Freestyle Records we have Jessica Lauren’s new album, ‘Almería’. The reference to the Spanish city gives you an idea of the cultural location of the this music but it doesn’t stop at Mediterranean influences. Each track explores a different aspect of world music and latin jazz and can easily switch from Brazil to Turkey and anywhere in between.

The album opens with a lusciously recorded grand piano playing a deceptive introduction giving nothing more than movements of fifths. It’s not until the drums and vocals start that you get a sense of what is about to come. The piece slowly unravels to introduce double bass, baritone sax and rich percussion. Introductions have been made and we now experience the true sound of this collective. It’s a fun sound and although there’s a lot going on rhythmically, Jessica manages to keep her minimalist approach to composition with floating lines and hypnotic grooves. There’s some simple, emotive playing from Jessica here and great use of space. The vocals are sweet and soulful in a Angélique Kidjo kind of way.

I enjoyed the extended technique of baritone saxophonist Tamar ‘Collocutor’ Osborn. The use of harmonics and micro tones on the bari sends the music further East and changes the geography from Afro Jazz to a more worldly sound. The solos tend to stay relatively diatonic which along with mostly common time rhythms, helps with the accessibility of the album. I would personally like to hear more harmonic contrast but then my ear likes to be taken on journeys in that way.

Percussion has a big part to play on this album and the task is taken on successfully by Richard Ọlátúndé Baker, Phillip Harper and drummer Cosimo Keita Cadore. There’s a great mix of ethnic instruments, pitched percussion and polyrhythmic interplay.

A stand out player is bassist Neville Malcoms. His tone and stability ground the group and adds bags of groove.

There’s a nice 7 in a bar feel in the third track ‘Amalfi’ and the overall feel is reminiscent to the laid back latin jazz of the 1960’s and Henry Mancini’s film scores.

The music spins between club like grooves (which are crying out for some inventive remixes), lesser known Blue Note albums of the sixties and the cultural melting pot of inner city London. Whilst not ‘staying put’ in any one genre, the mix of world music is refreshing and nicely produced. The fusion of styles mixed with a smattering of jazz and the keyboard led harmony is pleasant and conjures feelings of summer vibes which I think is the aim.

Leaving the introduction to ‘Chocolate Con Churros’ allows us a more intimate introduction to the group. The ‘live’ sound and organic nature of this tune is a great addition to the album but perhaps feels more like a bonus track. Especially when followed by the atmospheric and structured last track, ‘Argentina’. This is a beautiful melody and the subtlety in Jessica’s touch is exquisite. Slightly let down by the recording quality compared to the rest of the tracks but its a nice closure to a fun and thoughtful album.

Jay Riley

Harold Vick ‘Don’t Look Back’ LP (Strata East/Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Multi-reedist Harold Vick was born in 1936 in North Carolina and his early influences were those of his piano playing cousin. However, his talents as a student of psychology were duly noted and he enrolled at Howard University, Washington D.C.. By his third year there, it was becoming apparent, however, that music was rapidly taking over his life and he gave up any thought of becoming a clinical psychologist in order to join the R & B band of Red Prysock, and in this capacity Vick accompanied some of the finest blues singers, from Ruth Brown to Lloyd Price. Thereafter Harold Vick moved to New York where he gained useful experience with bop trumpeter Howard McGhee and drummer Philly Joe Jones. His very first album as a leader dates from 1963 on Blue Note, ‘Steppin’ Out’ which is regarded as something of a classic with a stellar line-up of Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Grant Green on guitar and ‘Big’ John Patton on Hammond organ. Four years later, and from a composition perspective, Vick was in altogether different territory on ‘The Caribbean Suite’, a progressive big band effort with Bobby Hutcherson in attendance on vibraphone, Blue Mitchell returning, and Montego Joe and others on percussion. This was a sign that Harold Vick was veering away from the standard combos and was indeed exploring deeper jazz grooves. His exploration came to fruition on the 1974 recording for independent label, Strata East, and this is the latest re-issue in an ongoing series from vinyl specialists Pure Pleasure. An extended brass section comprising Virgil Jones on trumpet and flugelhorn, George Davis on flute, Kiame Zawadi on euphonium, Joe Bonner on piano (a regular with Pharoah Sanders among others), Sam Jones on bass and the great Billy Hart on drums (later the preferred drummer of spiritual jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd), and not forgetting the added percussion of Jimmy Hopps. The music is hard-hitting, uncompromising and unrelenting throughout, and the cover says it all. Classic 1970’s attire, with jacket and balaclava and a saxophone in hand. If the Latin-flavoured ‘Señor Zamora’ is an immediate winner with both percussionists excelling, then it is the less obvious material that requires a few listens to sink in that truly impresses here. That includes the lyrical ‘Melody For Bu’ and the multi-layered piece, ‘Prayer’, that features Vick on clarinet, flute and tenor, while Joe Bonner operates here on Fender Rhodes. For his best tenor solo, ‘Lucille’, is hard to better. Interestingly, the title track would be reprised on the Shirley Scott album referred to below.

Harold Vick would record in a sideman capacity the same year for Strata East on, ‘Shirley Scott’s, ‘One for me’, and once again this recording eschews the stereotypical organ combo sound, and is far more in tune with the heavier Larry Young sound, and is even a tad sinister in parts. Strata East was not out to score a million seller gimmicky record. However, its canon of work stands the test of time and the re-issue of ‘Don’t Look Back’ is a timely reminder of what independent jazz labels were capable of, in an era where fusion and rock dominated , and acoustic jazz was (wrongly) perceived as old-hat and regressive. This album is a firm riposte to any such viewpoint.

Tim Stenhouse

Haji Mike ‘XXVIII’ (Power of Words) 5/5

Dub Poetry and Life Commentary is an art form that has often been undervalued throughout the world of reggae music and it’s sub genres.

Three decades on, and entering his 58th year, entertaining not only his fellow Cypriots, but also intertwined throughout the Mediterranean. I present observer/commentator, reasoner, professor of philosophy and dub poet Haji Mike, who since 1990 has been creating, collaborating and touring his works throughout Europe including Germany, England, France and Ireland with stints in Jamaica and beyond.

He has collaborated with countless musicians and bands, producers and DJs, he has made music with words in his native language, he has supported the cause for unification of the divided Cyprus, he and his fellow Cypriots so justifiably push, he lived in London for some years enabling him to enter the radio broadcast arena and gain friendship and links with many vintage veterans of the reggae scene both in the UK and Jamaica.

Today, almost three decades on – well 28 years to be exact – and his latest long player entitled XXVIII is here.. Although his back catalogue extends to many a release with vinyl 12″ and 7″ records, tape cassettes and collaborative digital EP releases including one-off excursions over the years there have been 4 albums that when played back to back showcase the diversity and creativity of this wordsmith combining both his wry wit, serious heartfelt commentaries and life stories that have been on the whole delivered over a reggae and dub backdrop with occasional and delightful forays into jazz and acoustic ambient leanings.

From the classic album ‘Virtual Oasis’ in collaboration with Dub Caravan (2009) to the vintage sounding UK roots style CD ‘Midnight Stories At 3am’ in collaboration with Manchester’s The Breadwinners (2015) to the deluxe lo fi portfolio styled double album and CD ‘One Summer’ with Kingdom Signal (2017) to this brand new offering XXVIII in collaboration with Cyprus dub artist producer Med Dred, every Haji Mike album is different in their respective musical and mix style deliveries yet after just a few seconds of listening to a new release it immediately says to the listener “This is Haji Mike, stay tuned” and to this day the listener has never been let down, it’s hard to decide on what his best album is, it’s easier with many other artists releases to name ‘a best album’ from their catalogs perhaps because other artist releases have a ‘samey’ sounding album after album mentality with no progessivness or indeed retro progressiveness, with Haji Mike album releases one gets something uniquely different every time and this way of entertaining our ears has stood him in good stead over the years to become a well-respected artist within the underground and uptown dub poetry scene and sound system arenas.

Here we have an album dripping in lyrical intensity over a backdrop melange of happy dancing jivers, thought provokers and serious rootsy one drop specials kicking off with the album opener a track entitled ‘Friend’ which is a reworking -and a far superior arrangement- of an old track that Haji recorded many moons ago with a dub riddim producer named Bandulu Dub during a collaborative project which incidentally was almost lost to time by being deleted from the hard drive only to be rescued in reasonable quality some moons after so it is nice for Haji to have re visited this piece and expand on the original concept of it in tandem with Med Dred’s accompaniment, an upbeatish tempo and very melodic piece with what appears to be a french accordian giving the hookline during the chorus. It’s a peace and harmony tune, a reminder lyrically with Haji pointing out the downsides of division and its somewhat constructed reality.

Then we go party mode with a full on soca inspired bright ska acoustic guitar led ‘CY2JA’ celebrating the links with Cyprus and JA with its infectious foot tapping jive revisiting Haji’s famed ‘Vraggamuffin’ riddim style, a good fun floor filler with full on happyness, this followed by another old piece from archive which was an earlier collaboration between Haji and Med Dred a track called ‘No Nazzi’ originally released on a reggae compilation some years ago and now given a second outing and remastered for XXVIII and it sounds large.
It is however the next seven tracks that allow the album to fully kick in and lay down its roots firmly and it does so commencing with the track ‘Only Jah Can Judge Me’ with its infectious horn led hooks, deep down bass, playful hi hat shuffles and a very nice snare drum setting fully complimenting Haji’s laid back vocal delivery and equally so with its follow on piece dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg who left us in 1991 entitled ‘Pipe Of Peace’ “We must be united, smoke from the same pipe of peace” and then we uptempo 80s dancehall style with a very recognisable riddim hook ‘Reggae So Sweet’ with its three section ‘large bathroom sound’ psychedelic flutey bridge that wonderfully gives a contrast to the minimalist main riddim The two tracks entitled ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ backed by their respective intoxicating riddim tracks pay a personal tribute from Haji to his parents.

The high piece of the album and fittingly its playout track ‘Ten Commandments Of Dub’ is a vintage steppers sounding witty instruction, I am drawn to Commandment 5 as Haji states -and I am smiling in absolute agreement on this one- “Talking of machines, one is not to partake in autotune vocals, in the dub arena, dub is about the Ital, the diversity of sound, the versatility and pushing the envelope to the max is not about everybody sounding like a chipmunk” and of course there are nine other dub commandments to entertain you during this outing, a crucial tune.

Possibly his most cohesive album to date both lyrically and musically and it has to be said musically fine with a nine out of nine.
A ten vocal track traditional running time album complete with three bonus dubs, although a slight concern is that perhaps there has been a bit of a missed opportunity mixing the three bonus dubs.
Big sounds from Cyprus town coming to chop ya down, this is no candyfloss situation. Uptempo, downtempo, outernational quality. XXVIII is released on Power Of Words record label. Sound collaboration and mastering by Med Dred.

Gibsy Rhodes

Kyriakos Sfetsas ‘Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol.1’ LP/CD/DIG (Teranga Beat) 5/5

Some music is quite obviously from a certain era. The sound, the feel, the style; all combine to make the listener sit up and think ‘that has to be from…’ And so it is the case with this release. As soon as the music hits your ears you’re taken back to the 70’s in all its glorious prog-rock-jazz-folk technicolour.

Kyriakos Sfetsas grew up on the island of Lefkada where he studied classical music from an early age at the local conservatory. At the same time he was genuinely connected to traditional music and especially to the sound of the clarinet, the lead instrument in the region’s folk music. From a young age Sfetsas would perform with Gypsy orchestras in local feasts. It was this experience that inspired him to create the GFO after his return from Paris in 1975. Sfetsas founded the orchestra while working at the National Radio, an orchestra comprised mostly of members of the Variety Music Orchestra, who had a solid background in both classical and traditional music.

Jazz wasn’t at all fashionable in Greece at this time, yet Sfetsas, having received the first ever degree in percussion at Athens Conservatory, decided in 1976 to fulfil his vision of combining jazz with traditional Greek musical styles and decided to form a band which was called the Deftero Programma Jazz Band. It featured Terezakis on piano, Nikos Tatsis on guitar, Yorgos Theodoridis on bass, Manikas and Stelios Vihos on sax and Manthos Halkias on clarinet. Sfetsas wrote themes based on Greek traditional music which he would then set in this unique contemporary jazz style.

The recordings on this album, from 1976, form only a small part of the composer’s overall body of work with GFO, all of which being previously unreleased. The music was recorded Stereo on Reel Tape and with high standards for the time, with the current mastering process highlighting even more the quality of the recordings. Featuring some of Athen’s finest musicians of the time, the result is an intriguing and highly listenable mix of progressive jazz fusion.

The album opens with “Gypsy Pattern”, with its rousing intro playfully fooling the listener into thinking this could be a spiritual jazz kind of thing. Pretty soon though the composer reveals his true colours, with a funky back-beat offering a firm bedrock for some gypsy style sax and piano soloing. There’s an unmistakable Eastern identity pushing through, with the Greek musical traditions combining effortlessly with free-flowing jazz. A beautiful solo flute leads us into the much folkier “Morning Expectations”. As other instruments join the flute, it sounds more 17th century than 1970’s. Any such thoughts are soon blown rapidly away though, as a bluesy piano drives things back into the 20th century. And just when you think you know where you are, the traditional folk music enters to mix things up even more. This is like listening to a 70’s Jethro Tull album, only with an added contemporary jazz element. It’s funky, it’s groovy, but above all it’s unashamedly prog-folk-jazz. “Transition” is a touch more avant-garde, with a bolder, more abrasive musical attitude filling the spaces in between this traditional sounding folk tune. And then once again the mood changes, as the band create a sound more in tune with a 70’s Starsky and Hutch episode than a Greek anthem. The intrigue continues with the theatrical “On the Cliff”. This could well be music for an American/Japanese/Greek fusion spaghetti western b-movie. Clintiothopolis Eastwood rides in on his horse; the man with no name, metaphorically taking no prisoners. There’s also some lovely brass harmonies going on here, reminding me of Frank Zappa in his “Hot Rats” heyday. “Overturn” opens with a haunting solo sax. Piano takes over and leads the piece into its folk-rock overtures. Beautifully melodic, the music sparkles with ingenuity as it twists and turns, dancing with frivolity. The mesmerising opening to the final tune, “Towards the Castle”, highlights just how skilfully the composer blends contemporary jazz with Greek traditions. Almost inevitably, the jazz gives way to the folkier leanings of the composer, but the two genres are never at odds with one another, always delighting the listener with a flowery cross-pollination.

Greek Fusion Orchestra Volume 1 is a joy from start to finish. One wonders how many volumes there are to follow, but I personally cannot wait for the next one. This music makes for a very pleasant diversion from the more formulaic straight-ahead jazz that often gets released these days. It’s like a trip down memory lane for this middle aged prog-jazz-folk-rocker.

Mike Gates

Tyler Higgins ‘Blue Moods’ (Clean Feed) 2/5

Minimalist brush strokes from Zen Master Awakawa Yasuichi. The art of the Japanese haiku. Johnny Depp’s performance in “Dead Man”. Flying over Mount Everest. The simple beauty of watching a waterfall flow. Brad Mehldau in reflective mood. Bill Frisell’s thoughtful guitar ruminations. Nat Birchall’s spiritual jazz. Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now”. Any Jim Jarmusch movie. Tibetan singing bowls. The sound of one hand clapping. All of the above are excellent examples of the beauty and poignancy of ‘less is more’. Unfortunately this album is not one of them.

Known primarily as a guitarist, Tyler Higgins is a multi-instrumentalist and utilises many of his skills on “Blue Mood”. There’s a slow ‘n’ easy late night feel to the proceedings, with most of the recording led by the composer’s gentle, repetitive guitar licks. The Atlanta native’s approach is an intuitive synthesis of traditional folk, blues, and jazz material through the filter of experimental techniques. And some it works well. I like the subtleties and the little melodies that hover delicately above the main themes. His use of space is graceful, and there’s a nice warm sound to the recording. But that’s as far as it goes for me. The tunes seem to lack any real purpose, whether minimalistic and esoteric in intent or otherwise. The album is definitely not without merit though. There’s a nice choice of instrumentation on many of the tunes, and the whole album makes a nice backdrop for a one-in-the-morning last lingering whisky before bedtime.

Words and sound bites such as ‘atmospheric’, ‘cinematic’, ‘minimalist soundscape’, and ‘ethereal storytelling’ are often used to describe the nature of the music being performed. But sometimes one should simply admit to there being a simple lack of depth and meaning. To the listener anyway, as I don’t doubt the sincerity and meaning with which a musician writes and performs, it’s just that sometimes it just doesn’t strike a relevant chord with the listener. Occasionally because said listener is in the wrong mood, but more often than not because quite simply the music just isn’t that good.

Mike Gates

Avi Darash ‘Nomadic Treasures’ (A.MA) 4/5

After delving into different genres, ranging from the Amsterdam’s Andalusian Orchestra, Mohamed Ahaddaf Quartet or contemporary jazz, Israeli-born pianist-composer Avishai Darash is back with a very exciting new project, Nomadic Treasures, under the label A.MA. Evolving on an ever-changing musical terrain, and in search of blending different musical cultures, Avishai Darash offers us a beautiful and inspiring new album filled with aural surprises.

The album offers a collection of original songs about all types of journeys and soul-searching, carefully penned by the Greek jazz vocalist Irini Konstantinidi and musically arranged by Avishai Darash.
Backed up by Daniele Capucci on bass and Joan Terol Amigo on drums, each member of this impressive group contributes to the album’s colourful musical landscape and in weaving a tapestry of moods and emotions.

Each song reveals a distinct atmosphere, taking the listeners on a different voyage. North-African hints can be heard, interlaced with strong jazz leanings and Avishai Darash’s graceful sophistication and endearing personality.
The album opens up with Gnawa Vibe / New Born, and immediately we are introduced to Irini Konstantinidi’s impressive tonal range. Her lower vocals later on perfectly fit this rhythmic piece. The album moves into the feet-tapping Strong: Meditation, in which the musicians engage in a lively repartee, before Avishai Darash’s use of the Fender Rhodes, which adds an unexpected twist to the song.
Irini’s voice is pristine; she sings with honesty. Her lyrics speak directly to the listeners. She sings about longing, introspection, healing, reaching out and faith. Her songs are candid and we can all relate to them as part of our life’s experiences at one time or other. She and Avishai Darash complete each other to a tee — her singing is punctuated with his creative outbursts without ever clashing. The music breathes, it is never constrained by a surge of notes.

Avishai Darash’s expressive melodies and playing are always entrancing. His solos are full of light. He mesmerizes us with his fluidity and vulnerability. His minimalist approach dazzles the listeners – he has a natural knack for playing the exact right note to convey emotions. He doesn’t throw himself into an innumerable amount of notes, played at high speed, which some jazz aficionados are looking to hear, and yet, he outshines himself on this latest album, offering us soft caresses and a magical pull that sweeps the listeners along the melody lines.

Verlangen is a touchingly intimate composition introduced by gentle drum strokes before Avishai’s playing waltzes in with elegance, while Taqsim jumps out with its desert echoes that end abruptly, leaving the listener to wander.
I am particularly fond of Avishai’s solo in This Is How the Story Ends for its depth and tempo, or in Who’s Asking for his fragility. Another one of my favourites is the melancholic How Introspective for its authenticity. Darash’s playing and compositional talent is eloquent, poignant even; it is cerebral without being overpowering or daunting. His music has too much humility for that and the listeners are never left indifferent.
Maybe the only thing I slightly regret is not hearing more solos from the bass or drums, but this is not the type of album that demands it. Avishai Darash’s musical essence is complex and this album only reveals one layer of it. All in all, Nomadic Treasures is a listening adventure, bearing much emotion in every song and Avishai Darash is a name to watch as he continues his ascent into the musical and artistic world.

Nathalie Freson

The Magnificent Tape Band ‘The Subtle Art of Distraction’ (ATA) 4/5

What a fabulous name for a band that in itself got my interest but then I saw that the album features Rachel Modest who in 2016 slayed us with a deep soul 45 called “Forbidden Love”, which surfaced on ATA Records – one that is still out there and recommend you grab a copy.
To this album then, well it kicks off in fine style with the mournful horn laden dark “Let The Church Say”, the shimmering “Danger” is a real throwback grower, “When I Saw Your Face” is a stunning ballad that just envelopes you, a very simple sparse backdrop allow for this great voice to really get into your head, a real tune of beauty, I can well see “Requiem” getting radio plays, all very 5th Dimension in feel, from the moment I heard those crying strings I was hooked and “Heading Towards Catastrophe” should be coming your way soon, I can well see Soul radio picking this up and running with it, morphing into a mid tempo head nodder of the highest order, sounds like a cast of thousands, a lovely falsetto vocal takes you on the ride – stunning, simply stunning.
“Black Tiger” has that funky choppy sound that’s so in vogue now, the late Charles Bradley’s ghost floats all over this. And finally we go out with a real bang with a head nodding foot tapping funky stroller, a great album and I want more.

Brian Goucher

The Uniques ‘Absolutely… The Uniques’ (Doctor Bird) 4/5

As far as harmony trios go, The Uniques were one of Jamaica’s finest and they spanned the period from rock steady through to early reggae, before some of their work was revisited in dub format during the roots reggae era. Lead singer Slim Smith will need no introduction to reggae fans and has one of the most distinctive and lyrical of all voices, a fine falsetto vocalist. Jimmy Riley came to the fore as a lead singer slightly later during the roots era and cut some superb slices of that sub-genre. Lloyd Charmers found his forte as a producer and set up his own label where his sensitivity towards other singers endeared him to his fellow musicians, especially Delroy Wilson, who recorded for him. Collectively, the Uniques were extremely popular in the UK where they recorded for myriad labels, from the original Trojan orange label (an early happy fiftieth birthday to that label and these columns will be seeking to commemorate what Trojan contributed to the world of music which was some of the sweetest sounds on the planet). The original album is added to with another twelve songs that make this unbeatable value and an indispensable purchase even if you are lucky enough to own the original vinyl album. It is amazing to look back and realize that this album was recorded fifty years ago. It still sounds as though it could have been recorded yesterday and that is sign of a timeless recording.

What is sometimes forgotten is the extent to which Jamaica was listening in via radio channels to the emerging soul music coming out of the United States, and the covers on this illustrate this argument. Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions were hugely influential as heard on ‘Gypsy Woman’, while prototype Motown compositions abound and include the immortal, ‘My Conversation’, which quite simply contains one of the greatest of all ‘riddims’ in Jamaican music. A Bunny Lee produced ‘Speak No Evil’, is yet another winner. A few songs that could have been added like, ‘Girl of my Dreams, ‘Give Me Some of Your Loving’, would have enhanced the music, but really a 2-CD anthology is required to do full justice to the Uniques over a wider period and this CD really focuses on the single album and expands, which is certainly to its credit. Expertly researched by reggae archivist and historian, Laurence Cane-Honeysett. A plethora of labels are once again beautifully illustrated so the inner sleeve reader can view the magnificently coloured labels of Duke, Island, Lee’s, Nu Beat, and Pama, not forgetting Trojan (the latter worthy of a facsimile T-shirt print for some enterprising soul out there).

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993