26th Dec2016

Miles Davis Quintet ‘Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5’ 3CD box set (Sony Music) 4/5

by ukvibe

This latest edition in the series of Miles Davis recordings made for Columbia/Sony focuses on the period 1966-1968 and covers the very latter period of the classic quintet of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Long-time fans will be curious about the insights that the alternative and often extended versions of the original albums provide as well as the studio banter that shunts back and forth between leader Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero. Those new to the original albums may find the constant switching from one take to another somewhat disorienting and detracting from the original listening experience. However, more seasoned observers of the Miles mid-late 1960s sound will find this to be a revelatory experience and one that brings them closer to the rationale and intentions of the musicians themselves. The first two CDs cover the albums, ‘Miles Smiles’ and ‘Nefertiti’, with bonus material from the latter. Excluded is any material from either, ‘Miles in the Sky’ or ‘Sorcerer’.
By far, the most interesting of the material and the most listenable is actually contained on the third CD where music from the ‘Water babies’ album is heard in significantly longer versions. For example, ‘Fall’ runs on for over eighteen minutes which is some three times longer than the original album take and it is a lovely ballad with Miles and Shorter working wonders in tandem on what proves to be a most haunting theme. As for Shorter, the tenorist plays at his most lyrical here. One of the joys of listening to the music in this setting is that it enables one to be in on the interactive dialogue and the creative process more generally. Thus on ‘Water babies’, the session reel take features a percussive background of Williams on the cymbals and just bassist and saxophone, but piano left out and then one hears Miles instructing the drummer who thereafter creates a Spanish-tinged flavour on percussion. Take one features the plaintive saxophone of Shorter which is most enjoyable, the tenorist and trumpeter in tandem once more, and Hancock in comping mode.

Some will question whether the chatter is absolutely necessary and here it is undiluted in a warts and all presentation. At the very least it does bring the studio sessions to life, but one can legitimately ask whether it actually enhances the individual’s understanding of the original finished product. As with the complete, ‘In a Silent Way’ box set, the extended versions do shed new light on the music as a whole, yet one can fully understand why Teo Macero felt the necessity to reduce the music down to a more manageable and, arguably, more coherent single disc. In the end the listener can compare and contrast with the original albums and that can make for a worthwhile endeavour.

Inner sleeve notes from Ashley Kahn with black and white photos of the individual members of the quintet. A pity there is no collective photo of this band in performance. An online transcription of the dialogue is available. What would really enhance the current series of complete recordings would be a re-issue of the ‘Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel’ in Chicago from 1965. Originally re-issued at an exorbitant price on vinyl and CD in the mid-1990s, a trimmed down CD package would make a welcome re-edition and enable a new generation to re-examine some of the most exciting live jazz performances ever recorded for posterity.

Tim Stenhouse

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25th Dec2016

Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Rising Grace’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel has, until recently, enjoyed a relatively low profile, with a career that stretches all the way back to 1990 when his debut album, ‘The promise’, was produced by Gary Burton. The guitarist went one step further in 2000 when founding his own label, Material records.
A first ECM recording beckoned for Muthspiel in 2013 in, ‘Travel Guide’, with a trio outing as part of MGT. However, his leader debut for the label, ‘Driftwood’, dates from 2014 and another trio, this time bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, both of whom are featured for this new recording. The main difference with the new album is that, in addition to the existing trio, pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire are on board and it is this larger ensemble that makes the music all the more worthwhile.
One of the most lyrical pieces is the Mehldau composition, ‘Wolfgang’s Waltz’, with trumpeter Akinmusire in scintillating form and a definite nod towards the Spanish tinge with a flamenco feel in parts. Another ambitious number is a tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler, ‘Den Wheeler’, and this has something of the feel of Wheeler’s own ECM recordings from the mid-1970s, ‘Gnu High’, immediately springing to mind. Grenadier takes a lengthy solo on, ‘Father and son’, where Mehldau comes to the fore as an accompanist, and this recalls his work with Charles Lloyd for ECM.

This is, in general. less of an album to showcase the guitarist’s virtuosity, be that on acoustic or electric guitar, and more of a recording to admire the musicality of the band, the compositions and arrangements. Great subtlety and an understated performance all round at that.

Tim Stenhouse

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24th Dec2016

Gilbert Bécaud ‘Anthologie 1953-2002’ 20 CD box set (Warner France) 4/5

by ukvibe

The French do not do things by half measures and so it proves with this titanic box set, the size of a substantial vinyl edition with a separate illustrated book and the individual CDs contained in a neat pocket wallet folder (‘Italian style’ according to the French notes) with original album recordings as well as a plethoras of extras including unreleased studio and live performances from throughout his illustrious career.
A non-French public may well question who exactly Gilbert Bécaud was and, unlike say Yves Montand, he did not enjoy the same level of international status, although he did enjoy one UK pop hit with, ‘A little love and understanding’. Indeed several of his songs will be more familiar in their translated versions and Bécaud was a gifted songwriter first and a singer second in the early stages of his career. That, however, would be to vastly underestimate his importance to a French-speaking public of the 1950s and 1960s who grew up listening to his music, and stayed loyal to him thereafter.
Bécaud was born in 1927 in the south-east port of Toulon and was a child prodigy on the piano aged nine. His family then settled in Paris and he became professionally linked to the world of music as a composer of film music under the pseudonym of François Bécaud. In 1953 he made his debut as a solo performer at the Olympia music hall in Paris, recording two singles, ‘Mes mains’ and ‘Les croix’, and scored his first hit with ‘Monsieur pointu’ which became something of a signature tune for him. Although initially only a support act and one-time manager of Edith Piaf and prior to that pianist of Piaf’s then husband, Jacques Pills, Bécaud was electrifying in live performance and, by February 1955, was a star in his own right. Thus the mythical sobriquet of, ‘Monsieur 100,000 volts’ was born and remained with him throughout his career. His legion of fans were largely young girls who wore the then in-vogue bobbysox and, in this respect, he played a similar role to the young Frank Sinatra as a teenage idol.

That said, Bécaud was no overnight teenage sensation who would rapidly disappear and was a versatile artist. In 1956 he began an acting career, with the director Marcel Carné (of ‘Les enfants du paradis’/’The children of Paradise’ fame) and, by 1960, Bécaud had become one of the most popular of French singers, and this at a time when Brassens ruled supreme, and both Ferré and Brel were emerging as genuine talents. In 1960, Bécaud was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque and composed a Christmas Cantata. The following year, he topped the French charts with his immortal, ‘Et maintenant?’ (translated into ‘What my love?’ in its English language version), In 1962 he was composing his very first opera, ‘Opéra D’Aran’ (included here), which proved to be a commercial and critical success, and moreover was performed under the esteemed conductor Georges Prêtre, who worked with Maria Callas among others. Another major hit followed in 1963 with, ‘Un dimanche à Orly’.

A new and significant challenge to Bécaud and the singers of his generation arrived with the pop and rock revolution from across the Channel and was known in France as ‘Yé-Yé’. The singer was astute enough to adapt and move with the times, composing hit songs for a younger generation such as ‘Salut les copains’ for Richard Anthony and, eventually, for Eddy Mitchell, both of whom typically adopted anglophone names to appear more hip to the new sounds and younger generation who craved songs everything from the English-speaking world. Johnny Halliday was another such figure. Bécaud remained loyal to the Olympia venue which assured and facilitated his solo success, and between 1954 and 1997 he performed there no less than thirty times, a record that has yet to be beaten.

Over the year Gilbert Bécaud clocked up numerous hits and they are all included here with ‘L’important, c’est la rose’, ‘La solitude, ça n’existe pas’, ‘L’indifférence’, reflecting the contrasting moods of the human condition and comfortably fitting into a tradition that contemporaries such as Charles Aznavour had laid down.

Numerous ‘Best of’ packages have surfaced in the fifteen years since Gilbert Bécaud’s death in 2001, notably the 2011 ‘Essential’ which is substantial in its own right with 12 CDs and arguably a more informative booklet, and these truncated compilations may be a more realistic and affordable option for those starting off with an exploration of the French chanson tradition. This box set, however, towers above anything else out there for the serious collector with the final CD devoted to live recordings from l’Olympia between 1955 and 1983, a curiosity of singing and storytelling combined on, ‘Gilbert raconte et Bécaud chante’. One minor presentation quibble and a couple of discographical omissions of note. It is a pity that nowhere in the package can one find the original album covers from the 78s, 45s and LPs and that would certainly have enhanced the authenticity of the project, as would some of the most endearing lyrics being printed out for posterity. The remix ‘Suite’ is best ignored while the impressive ‘1973 live’ concert and the 1964 re-orchestrated versions of his early hits have been left off this anthology which Bécaud’s ‘inconditionnels’ (‘devotees’) would undoubtedly balk at. Otherwise, required listening for fans of French chanson and for long-time Bécaud fans, a feast of music to treasure.

Tim Stenhouse

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23rd Dec2016

Nick Sanders & Logan Strosahl ‘Janus’ (Sunnyside) 4/5

by ukvibe

These are both new names to me and so a little research is required.
Pianist/composer Sanders lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in New Orleans and is a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston. He has released two previous albums on Sunnyside Record, both of which were produced by Fred Hersch.
Strosahl is a saxophonist/composer. He was born in 1989 in Seattle, Washington. He trained as a jazz musician. He now focusses not only on jazz and free-improvisation but also contemporary classical music and Renaissance and Baroque composers.
In Roman mythology Janus was a God – a God of time, with two faces, one looking forward in time, the other looking back. This exemplifies the music on offer here. On the one hand the performers look forward with their twenty-first century originals, on the other they look back to an era of fourteenth and eighteenth century sounds and including some twentieth century jazz standards for good measure. Music seems to have no boundaries for these two. Improvisation can happen in any genre of music.

Sanders and Strosahl met at University at Boston’s New England Conservatory some ten years ago. Performing as a duo, the seeds of the idea for this album were sewn. Both performers are accomplished improvisers. Over the years they have built up an almost telepathic interplay in the same way that Bill Evans and Jim Hall did many years before them.
Variety is the keynote here. The barbed ‘Sigma’ written by Sanders opens the set, the stately ‘Allemande’ from Strosahl follows, with the frisky, fun-loving ‘Thelonious’ hot on its heels. A little later we are treated to an interpretation of music from Olivier Messiaen – intense, caliginous with a repeating, almost sinister tolling piano note. Enthusiastic liveliness is the hallmark of the title track, coming from the pen of Strosahl. Then, along comes Hoagy Carmichael’s classic ‘Stardust’ and the mood changes to that of a late-night jazz bar. I’m reminded, here, of the Edward Hopper oil painting ‘Nighthawks’.

This is a well recorded and well executed project and is clearly a labour of love for the participants, who together take the listener on an epic expedition through the highways and byways of distinctive and wide-ranging source material.
I do have a preference for the familiar standards and the duo work their magic on ‘Old Folks’ with the saxophonist “singing” the melody. It’s almost as if the performers were transporting the listener back to the 1930’s here.

The virtuosity of these two musicians is never in dispute and their musical reciprocation is certainly helped by having worked together for so many years. Their repertoire is wide-ranging but ultimately, for me, the coexistence of so many musical styles left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Alan Musson

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22nd Dec2016

Best of 2016: Pete Buckenham

by ukvibe

1. Shabaka and the Ancestors – Wisdom of Elders FULL ALBUM (Brownswood) Review here

2. Dinosaur – Together, As One FULL ALBUM (Edition)

3. Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison – In Movement FULL ALBUM (ECM) Review here

4. Nduduzo Makhathini – Icilongo FULL ALBUM (Gundu Entertainment) Review here

5. Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing FULL ALBUM (Fader Label)

6. Anthony Joseph – Caribbean Roots FULL ALBUM (Strut/Heavenly Sweetness) Review here

7. Muslim Gauze – Ali Zarin FULL ALBUM (Staalplaat)

8. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos FULL ALBUM (Lex)

9. Jakob Skøtt – All The Colours Of The Dust – FULL ALBUM (El Paraiso)

10. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – We Be All Africans FULL ALBUM (Strut)

11. Stan Douglas – Luanda-Kinshasa (VF Editions)

12. Jamal Moss/Mark Sanders/Orphy Robinson – Priming The Population Thru Subversive Experimental Sonic Gestures (OTOroku) From the single track album ‘01.01.16’

13. Rizan Said “High Tension Zamer” (Discrepant) From the album ‘The King of Keyboard’

14. Leon Vynehall “Kiburu’s” (Running Back) From the album ‘Rojus (Designed To Dance)’

15. Vibration Black Finger “Black Pearl” (Enid) EP

16. Melanie Di Biasio “Blackened Cities” (PIAS) From the single track album ‘Blackened Cities’

17. Byron the Aquarius “Aquarian Voyage” (Sound Signature) EP

18. Jessy Lanza “It Means I Love You” (Hyperdub) From the album ‘Oh No’

19. Tenderlonius “Song for My Father” (22a) From the mini-album ‘On Flute’

20. Steve Spacek “Follow Me” (Eglo) 12″

Remixes I couldn’t leave alone for long this year came from…
Banda De Pifanos De Caruaru – Cavalinho Cavalao [Tahira Edit] (Tiff’s Joints)
Kondi Band – Yeanoh (Powe’hande Binga’dbe) [Cervo Edit] (Strut)
Henri-Pierre Noel – Funky Spider Dance [The Reflex Revision] (Wah Wah 45s)

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22nd Dec2016

Various ‘Please Release Me – The Soulful Side of Country’ (Jasmine) 4/5

by ukvibe

When Ray Charles cut the album, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’, he fully understood the connection between rhythm and blues and country genres, and it should come as little surprise, then, that the resulting songs were loved by country, soul and blues fans alike, and that cut straight across ethnic lines. In reality, country music and the blues, and its later incarnation soul music, were always cut from the same cloth, albeit from different sides of the geographical track, and in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a sub-genre, southern soul, drew deeply from the country well of songwriters and positively flourished. That included the likes of Loleatta Holloway (in her pre-disco diva days), Denise Lasalle and a young Candi Staton to name but three.
This new compilation captures an earlier era in the 1950s and early 1960s and takes a leaf out of some of the finest ACE label anthologies, including the three volumes thus far exploring the relationship between country and soul music, focusing squarely on the quality soul singers who loved to interpret the country music repertoire. There are some surprising candidates too. Who would for example expect [Little] Esther Philips who later cut, ‘Home is where the heart is’ and ‘What a difference a day makes’ interpreting country songs? Yet interpret them she most certainly did and she opens up proceedings here with, ‘Release me’. And what about Fontella Bass, William Bell and even New Orleans singer par excellence, Fats Domino? The latter interestingly chose to cover Hank Williams immortal, ‘Your cheatin’ heart’. They must have known they were onto something good and this is what makes the music as a whole so enjoyable. Charles has two offerings of which, ‘Take these chains from my heart’, is an achingly soulful rendition with the singer extracting every last ounce of sweat from the song. Solomon Burke impresses with another brace of songs of which, ‘I really don’t want to know’, is marginally superior, while northern soul icon William Bell makes an impassioned plea on, ‘Please help me. I’m falling’.

At a later stage in the 1990s soul, blues and country singers would come together for a series of sumptuous duets on the ground breaking album, ‘Rhythm, Country and Blues’ with pairings as unusual as Al green and Lyle Lovett, George Jones and B.B. King and even Sam Moore and Conway Twitty. It was a recording that sought to break down artificial boundaries, but the songs on this new compilation hark back to a different era when music was codified along racial lines, and consequently this makes the efforts contained within all the more praiseworthy.

Tim Stenhouse

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22nd Dec2016

Black Classical ‘Candomblé’ (On The Corner) 4/5

by ukvibe

South London based On The Corner is one of the most forward thinking record labels of the last few years who are never concerned with taking risks, with their latest offering from Black Classical being no different. ‘Candomblé’ is a six track mini album that is truly eclectic and indefinable, incorporating numerous disparate influences, frequencies and sensibilities from many worthy origins. His tracks are heavily influenced by the rhythms and sonics of the African diaspora, and that is the focus here with this project continuing where ‘Running the Voodoo Down’, his last release on On The Corner, left off.
The six tracks featured include ‘Mina Nagì’ with its post-D&B/jungle beats and drum programming, ‘Orixas’, which fuses hypnotic polyrhythms with female ceremonial vocal chants and ‘JEJê’, a rather bizarre piece that comprises of relatively static and un-dynamic organ, mixed with gospel soul claps and punchy snare samples. ‘Voduns’, the longest track at 4’17”, is lighter on percussion duties, but again incorporates some straight organ playing that is more 1970s ‘end-of-the-peer’ variety summer show than Jimmy Smith, but it kind of works.

‘Mawu Batucada’ is an obvious percussion heavy fusion, with its dance floor friendly tempo, rhythmic whistle blowing and jolty piano appearing after the mid point and is very infectious. Shame it’s only 2’33” long, but this is common with batucada. ‘Batuque de Nação’ is my most favoured piece, with its samba percussions mixed with Edu Lobo-esque acoustic guitar and touches of cuíca, the Brazilian friction drum; my preferred Brazilian percussion instrument.

Currently available on Bandcamp (vinyl soon?), ‘Candomblé’, perfectly blends African, Brazilian and UK electronica, but without being forced or unnatural. Its strength is in its rhythm tracks, which contain totally absorbing, addictive and interesting pulses and patterns that combine the traditional with the contemporary, the loose with the tight, blurring the lines between the past and the future, however, this is not just a retro reproduction of old ideas and styles, but rather, ‘Candomblé’ maintains a modernity that is central to its heart, but with a heavy influence from West Africa and Brazil – just with an added twist of UK eclecticism.

Black Classical possesses a vast musical heritage and this is clearly on display here. Previously, he has had guest DJ spots on NTS Radio and his now legendary 12-hour spiritual jazz mix from 2012, which can be found here, is essential. And with On The Corner, there is never a dull moment, and there’s an obvious synchronicity between artist and label, with every OTC release having a purpose but continuing to sound fresh and interesting. With its release tomorrow, at the end of 2016, I just hope it doesn’t get forgotten about, with my only criticism being its short length.

Moreover, any release that is dedicated to two of the most important and unsung heroes of UK club culture, Colin Curtis and Machester’s Hewan Clarke is a winner with me, as these guys have also had an influence on my musical development. And as On The Corner’s Bandcamp profile states: ‘Deep Jazz-Experimental Electronic-Field recordings from the Future’ – and you can’t argue with that.

Damian Wilkes

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21st Dec2016

Best of 2016: Tim Stenhouse

by ukvibe

1. James Hunter Six ‘Hold On’ (Daptone) Review here

2. Anat Fort Trio ‘Birdwatching’ (ECM) Review here

3. Michael Kiwanuka ‘Love & Hate’ (Polydor) Review here

4. Keith Jarrett ‘A Multitude of Angels’ (ECM) Review here

5. Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling ‘Upward Spiral’ (Sony Music) Review here

6. David Murray, Geri Allen & Terri Lyne Carrington ‘Perfection’ (Motéma) Review here

7. Aziza Brahim ‘Abbar el Hamada’ (Glitterbeat) Review here

8. Charles Lloyd and The Marvels ‘I Long to See You’ (Blue Note) Review here

9. Renee Rosnes ‘Written in the Rocks’ (Smoke Sessions) Review here

10. Grégory Privat ‘Family Tree’ (ACT) Review here

11. Roberto Fonseca ‘ABUC’ (Impulse!) Review here

12. Benjamin Biolay ‘Palermo, Hollywood’ (Blue Wrasse/Riviera) Review here

13. Santiago Leon ‘Flamenco tribute to Pat Metheny’ (Warner Spain)

14. Michel Benita / Ethics ‘River Silver’ (ECM) Review here

15. Bill Charlap ‘Notes from New York’ (Impulse) Review here

16. Renaud ‘Renaud’ (Parlophone/Warner France) Review here

17. Kenny Barron Trio ‘Book of Intuition’ (Impulse) Review here

18. Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles ‘Stardust’ (Jellymould) Review here

19. Warren Wolf ‘Convergence’ (Mack Avenue) Review here

20. Mammal Hands ‘Floa’ (Gondwana) Review here

Top Ten Compilation/Anthology

1. Various ‘Chris Sullivan presents Wag: Iconic tunes from the Wag Club 1983-1987 (Harmless) Review here

2. Sun Ra ‘Singles – The Definitive 45s Collection: 1952-1961’ (Strut) Review here

3. Various ‘Soho Scene ’62. Jazz Goes Mod’ (R&B) Review here

4. Various ‘Feeling Good – Funk, Soul and Deep Jazz Gems: The superior sound of Bob Shad’ (Wewantsounds) Review here

5. Professor Longhair ‘Mardi Gras in New Orleans: Complete Recordings 1949-1962′ (Jasmine) Review here

6. Various ‘Alligator Records 45th Anniversary’ (Alligator) Review here

7. Various ‘DJ Amir presents. Buena musica y cultura’ (BBE)

8. Various ‘Glitterbox. For your disco pleasure’ (Defected)

9. Various ‘Svensk Jazz History volume 10. Swedish Jazz 1965-1969’ (Caprice) Review here

10.Various ‘Space Echo – The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed’ (Analog Africa) Review here

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21st Dec2016

Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling ‘Upward Spiral’ (OKeh) 4/5

by ukvibe

A chance encounter in 2015 led to Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling hooking up for a joint project and the results are here for all to admire. Accompanied by his long-time quartet, Marsalis operates in lyrical mode to Elling’s vocal pyrotechnics recalling his collaborations with Sting and the selection of standards and originals is at once challenging and entertaining in equal measure. Marsalis and his quartet have been in a rich vein of form cutting a series of critically acclaimed albums and pairing them with Elling was a musical marriage made in heaven.
As with other Elling recordings, the music would not be complete without new lyrics added to classic jazz instrumentals and on this occasion ‘Doxy’ is interpreted and treated to a groovy reading with scatting from the vocalist and fine tenor soloing from the leader. The busy opener, ‘There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York’, is the ideal vehicle for some typical Elling storytelling and Marsalis impresses on soprano and Elling’s musings continue on the more improvisational sounding piece, ‘Momma said’. Branford Marsalis has developed into that most lyrical of musicians and a duet of just saxophone and vocals makes for a thrilling alternative version of, ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’.

For a delightful take on the Brazilian songbook, ‘Só Tinha de Ser Com Você’ is taken at a gentle bossa nova tempo and sung in Portugese with sensitive accompaniment on piano and soprano saxophone. Elling has become adept at performing straight ahead ballads and, ‘Blue gardenia’ is among the finest he has performed to date with the lovely tenor soloing of Marsalis recalling the great Ben Webster while a significantly slowed down rendition of ‘Blue Velvet’, best known these days as the title track to David Lynch’s 1986 cult film, is taken at the most sedate pace imaginable and accompaniment is pared down to skeletal format with bass, drums and saxophone. Ending matters on a high is, ‘The Return (Upward Spiral)’, which begins as an uplifting mid-tempo vibe with Elling easing his way through with sensitive piano and drum accompaniment before it is transformed part way through into an expansive quartet number. One of the finest jazz vocal albums of the year and with such a fine backing band that can stretch out at will, this is way beyond the usual accompaniment. One looks forward to these musicians hooking up for a live recording at some stage.

Tim Stenhouse

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21st Dec2016

Sun Ra ‘Singles – The Definitive 45s Collection: 1952-1961’ 3CD (Strut) 5/5

by ukvibe

A year or so ago Strut records brought out one of the most compelling of Sun Ra anthologies compiled with love by DJ Gilles Peterson and the label returns with this new offering that effectively opens up a whole new chapter in the Sun Ra story and makes the re-issue worth all the effort. Long-time fans of the musician may not immediately warm to this given that the numbers are significantly shorter than on the usual album format, but they would be wrong to ignore it because the music is historically significant in that it sheds vital light on how Sun Ra and the Arkestra evolved at a time in the mid-1950s when music was experiencing seismic shifts below the surface and, crucially, it charts how the leader had soaked up the influences of other jazz musicians around him, and even other musical influences taking in doo-wop, R & B and vocalese. Of interest to potential buyers are the varying formats that this package comes in. While the first issue is a triple CD, in March 2017 two separate vinyl editions will be released, one as a 3LP in a gatefold sleeve and the other, an extremely limited edition 10 x 45s box set with original art work reproduced and a booklet. Sun Ra aficionados will want to acquire either of these and the originals are near impossible to find these days.

The first CD here focuses on the early-mid 1950s and one is struck by who seemingly conventional Sun Ra and the band sounds, or to phrase it another way, how competent the Arkestra were at performing straight ahead swing and bop jazz, and this makes the later exploratory material all the more innovative.There is something of an American songbook feel to, ‘Chicago USA’, with male vocal while, ‘Daddy’s gonna tell you no lie’, has a strong 1950s doo-wop barber’s shop feel to it. That said, Sun Ra was clearly evolving as an artist and a left-field number such as, ‘I’m strange’, with spoken dialogue leaves little doubt as to the alternative direction that the leader was in the process of undertaking.

On the second CD, vocalist Hattie Randolph is showcased and delights on a superlative reading of the standard, ‘Round midnight’, while the B-side to this single, ‘Back in your own back yard’, has a definite echo quality. The funkier side to the Arkestra surfaces on the strong R & B influenced number, ‘Tell her to come on home’. From an instrumental perspective, both ‘Saturn’ and ‘Velvet’ are fine examples of bop-inflected jazz with a modern twist and there is some fine tenor saxophone soloing to admire. Keyboard soloing comes to the fore on, ‘Space loneliness’, with fine trumpet soloing and Sun Ra was an early exponent of the electric piano, even in the 1950s.

For the final CD, the band come full circle and a minor hit in the UK from 1982 (available also as a 12″ on the indie label that among others Pigbag recorded on), ‘Nuclear war’, became the title track to an album. More progressive dancefloors could attempt to showcase the hypnotic, ‘Disco 2021’, while Sun Ra’s increasing preoccupation with other worldliness is indicated by titles such as, ‘Saturn moon’ and ‘Cosmic extensions’.

The Strut research team along with archivist Michael D. Anderson deserve the highest praise for bringing this project to fruition and the listener gains enormously from hearing the singles in their totality. This is quite simply what anthologies were made for.

Tim Stenhouse

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