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

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

Tim Stenhouse

Bill Evans ‘Symbiosis’ (MPS) 4/5

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

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

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

Tim Stenhouse

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

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

Tim Stenhouse

Enrico Pieranunzi ‘Yesterdays’ (Stunt) 4/5

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

Tim Stenhouse

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Stenhouse

Freddie Redd ‘Four Original Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

As with the plethora of jazz re-issues currently out there, a key question for potential purchasers is how does this compare with other counterpart releases by the same artist and the Avid series has prided itself on providing a fully comprehensive back up of historical information from original sleeve notes, clearly reproduced, to full discographical information.

Other labels may cram extra albums onto further CD’s, but at seventy-five minutes or more on average, Avid can never be accused of being anything less than extremely generous with their timing and the question has to be posed of is your listening enjoyment likely to be increased by having at your disposal all the information you require on the given musicians and the albums. For the pianist, Freddie Redd, there may be other outlets that offer a greater volume of his work, but these also have the major downside of not contextualising the musician’s craft with full discographical details or full line notes, or even in some cases, inadequate facsimile covers. This is where the Avid series comes into its own and this collector for one would prefer to have a comprehensive view of a select number of recordings, rather than have an incomplete vision of several.

One of the best known albums that Redd cut as a leader was for Blue Note and that is the memorable, ‘Shades of Redd’, which had a stunning brass pairing of Tina Brooks on tenor and Jackie McLean on alto. This is a classic Blue Note album and everything within requires repeated listening. Rounding off the superb listening experience are the outstanding line notes by jazz aficionado and also independent label owner, Nat Hentoff. Freddie Redd was in his absolute prime in 1960 and the second Blue Note recording showcased here, ‘The Connection’, is based on a film which featured altoist Jackie McLean who lived out the screenplay in real life with a long-term drug addiction. Redd composed the music and it remains to this day a gritty evocation of the side of a jazz musician’s existence in the heydays of the 1950’s and 1960’s. How many gifted musicians would fall foul of addiction and, sadly, that remains true to this very day with Gil Scott Heron, Whitney Houston and of course Amy Winehouse all becoming victims. A separate recording of the film soundtrack was recorded by Redd with Howard McGhee and Tina Brooks, but frankly pales in comparison with the Blue Note version which is the definitive one.

Prior to his contract with Blue Note, Freddie Redd cut a few albums with Riverside, and, while they are not on a par with the epic Blue Note sides, they nonetheless shed useful light on the pianist. A 1957 date, ‘San Francisco Suite’, is notable for the extended suite composed by the pianist and of the pieces, ‘Blue hour’, stood out for this writer and Redd would much later return to writing duties. The far lesser known and slightly earlier recording, ‘Get happy with’, is less satisfying, but worth acquiring as part of the package, and extremely hard to find in any format elsewhere.

Tim Stenhouse

Kyle Eastwood ‘In Transit’ (Jazz Village) 4/5

Bassist Kyle Eastwood returns with a soul-jazz mood influenced album that more generally pays homage to the music of both Horace Silver and Art Blakey, and more specifically covers Monk and Mingus, while as a whole showcasing the compositional talents of the leader with original pieces in the remainder. Assisting Eastwood in this praiseworthy endeavour is a stellar cast that includes some of the most talented of British jazz musicians, notably pianist Andrew McCormack and trumpter/flautist Quentin Collins, while Italian reedist Stefano di Battista guests elsewhere.

Typical of the overall sound is the relaxed mid-tempo opener and soulful groove of ‘Soulful times’ that features another reed player in US tenorist Brandon Allen. Indeed, it is the collective horns of the Jazz Messengers that is evoked on, ‘Rush hour’, with a fine trumpet sol from Collins and a meaty tenor solo from Allen. A gentle brass ensemble flavoured piece is devoted by McCormick to the recent passing of a jazz vocalese great in Al Jarreau and the appropriately and simply titled ‘Jarreau’ is in fact a vehicle for the pianist to take a more expansive solo which he does with no little dexterity. Di Battista is deployed here on a moving and evocative reading of the main theme to the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack and this is one of the rare occasions on which the leader is afforded the space to undertake an extended bass solo. This honour is replicated on a faithful interpretation of the Mingus opus, ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’, with Eastwood expertly weaving his solo introduction into the main chorus motif with fine brass ensemble work. It is of course the centenary of the birth of one of jazz music’s most innovative composers and practitioners, Thelonius Monk, and a mini homage comes in the form of, ‘We See’, which is performed solely by the rhythm section and devoid of any brass.

The excellent sound quality of the recorded, from 2016 and laid down in Malakoff, Brittany, captures the drums beautifully and there is a wonderful relaxed feel and empathy between the musicians that is communicated in the warmness of the sound.

Tim Stenhouse

Johnny Griffin ‘Four Original Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

The fastest blowing ‘Little Giant’ on the planet is his moniker and Chicagoan Johnny Griffin has enjoyed an illustrious career, which in the early part started in Chicago and then New York, before later in the 1960’s and 1970’s, he grew tired of the stresses and strains of life in the United States, and moved to Europe, where he finally settled in France and that decision alone probably saved and extended his life. The four albums contained within focus firmly on the 1950’s when Griffin was beginning to make his mark and they cover Blue Note and Riverside sessions, and as such are an ideal place for any budding fan of hard bop jazz to begin their voyage of discovery with the tenor saxophonist.

Debuting at Blue Note as a leader on ‘Introducing’ from 1956, a young Johnny Griffin is surrounded by some more seasoned musicians of the calibre of Max Roach on drums, Curly Russell on bass and Wynton Kelly on piano. The tenorist excelled in a quartet setting and this recording afforded him the opportunity to showcase his compositional skills and three of the seven numbers are Griffin original. This was not in fact his debut as a leader per se since he recorded an album in the same year for Argo in Chicago, but this is by far the stronger and it is his reading of the Great American songbook that impresses with a marvellous rendition of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, and delicate ballads such as ‘These Foolish Things’ and ‘Lover Man’. Does exactly what it says on the tin might be an apt description of ‘Blowing Session’, that is definitely not for the faint hearted and pairs Griffin with the titan that is John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. An honourable score-draw is the result and with a dream rhythm section of Art Blakey on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and Wynton Kelly on piano, this album firmly established Griffin as a musician to watch out for. A third Blue Note album, ‘Congregation’, took matters one step further and is a candidate for one of the most striking cover art fronts designed by no less than Andy Warhol and the original is a true collector’s item for that reason alone. Sonny Clark on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and the little known Kenny Dennis on drums make this an extra special outing, with a lovely piece in, ‘Latin Quarter’, hinting at Griffin’s later love of French culture, and more evidence of Griffin’s deftness of touch on ballads, with ‘I’m Glad There Is You’. A separate Riverside album, ‘Way Out’, was a one-off quartet date with five originals on offer, but it is the fiery take on Ray Noble standard, ‘Cherokee’, that stands out from the rest, with Kenny Drew on piano, Wilbur Ware on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

A fine selection of albums and handy to have the Blue Note’s in one place. For a fitting follow up, re-issuing some of the harder to find Riverside dates, with big band as well as in quartet format from the early 1960’s would be an ideal second time around.

Tim Stenhouse

Fela Kuti ‘Vinyl Box Set #4, Compiled by Erykah Badu’ (Knitting Factory) 5/5

Erykah Badu curates her favourite Fela records, joining Questlove, Ginger Baker, and Brian Eno, as the fourth artist to expose a new generation to the Black President’s world-quaking AfroBeat. Limited to a run of 3000, the Knitting Factory Records released box set contains seven vinyl, a 16×24 poster by Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu, creative force behind 26 of Fela’s album covers, and track-by-track essays.

The musicians involved in the Fela Vinyl Box Set series have been carefully chosen because of their unique relationships with Fela. Cream drummer Ginger Baker played on the 1971 album Live!, Brian Eno has a continuing, and very healthy, obsession with Fela’s music, whereas Questlove was shunned by Prince whilst playing Zombie during a DJ set, only to discover The Purple One playing the track at a party of his own.

Grammy award-winning singer, actress, activist, reiki master, doula, and wear-what-you-darn-well-feel-like fashion advocate Badu is the perfect person to curate* this never released record collection. Describing her relationship with listening to Fela, during an interview on Viceland, she recalls how, upon first moving in to a white-populated neighbourhood in 1997, one of her only possessions was a set of speakers, turntable, and Coffin For Head Of State, which she played on repeat. The highly charged track turned a lot of heads, and features as the fifth vinyl in the series.

No Agreement and Dog Eat Dog, appearing on the second record, have their own tale. Invited to record as part of Rocket Juice and The Moon, with Damon Albarn, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, and long-term Fela drummer Tony Allen, she recalls how the project had a ‘a No Agreement kinda funk with a Dog Eat Dog kinda thang.’ The memory doesn’t necessarily evoke happiness however; in a move straight from the playground, Flea, playing trumpet on the record, text Erykah to tell her she wasn’t ‘actually’ in the group, but appearing alongside many other featuring artists. Not that this will give Erykah much solace, perhaps Flea was only in it because his name is an anagram of Fela. Perhaps not.
What is certain is the box set demonstrates how one musician can have a lasting impact on history. Almost twenty years after his passing, his message still echoes through time.
As a white, Middle Class person from the heart of The Midlands, I seem poorly qualified to review such a compilation. But, as must be the case with many people, Fela Kuti was the first African musician to capture myself, and the world by the ears; he’s never really let them go.

Sam Turnell

*The curator wishes you to enjoy this sonically-ordered, sequentially-pleasing box set with a nice blunt. Whilst this is not condoned, it is a chilled-out affair, and either way you can enjoy a smooth inhalation of the High Life, jazz, and AfroBeat of Fela Kuti, during which you can suck up all the historical knowledge of Chris May and humour of Erykah Badu.

Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf Ensemble ‘Aphorisms’ (Between Buttons) 5/5

A little way from the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner off Tiergarten Park, sits the majestic golden structure of the Berliner Philharmonie, but one of the many concert halls in Berlin. This is a city where freedom of expression is lauded; there’s a richness and acceptance of culture unlike any other. Classical music is entrenched in its psyche.

There’s little wonder Syrian duo Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf have decided to call Berlin home, releasing their debut EP on 7K! imprint, Between Buttons. Henrick Schwartz, best known for high octane dance sets at techno events, helms the production and does not let his electro background over-shadow the traditional Syrian-sound. The result is a 25-minute poetic reverence to home.

“The record was composed over the last two years and blurs the line between written music and improvised playing,” says Raman. Khaled adds that, “the pieces articulate our reflections on different topics such as solitude, absurdism and despair, all set to a fictional musical narrative, hence the title Aphorisms.”

Despite this explanation of the fictional, it’s difficult not to see this as a soundtrack to the conflict. The opening track, ‘Toska’, begins with machinery-mimicking violins, their screech giving way to a footstep-like djemba beat by Moussa Coulibaly. Throughout the record light moments of hope, represented by Khalaf’s oud and Kurbeh’s jazz-flecked piano, give way to Tom Berkmann’s ominous basslines of doom. Penultimate number, ‘Shamal’, is a respite-offering, groove-laden jam of hand-claps and rousing vocals. Aphorisms closes with the retrospective Einsamkeit Impromptu; piano centre stage, a composition straight from the concert halls of Berlin.

A recent photo of Bashar al-Assad embracing Vladimir Putin encroached the National newspapers, accompanied with the caption of ‘thank you for saving our country.’ As with most conflicts, the press focus on the toil of the people and the supposed successes of the armed forces, rather than the good that’s happening from the people affected. The success of Syria’s future does not depend on the marksmanship of a soldier, but the skill of musicians like Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalef, Omar Souleyman’s dance beats, or the absurdist paintings of Houmam al-Sayed. It lies with the people that continue to create and give Syrians a sense of identity instead of being collectively labelled as ‘refugee’.

Sam Turnell

Astral Travelling Since 1993