JD Allen ‘Radio Flyer’ CD/DIG (Savant) 5/5

“Radio Flyer” is the latest in a long series (11 albums I think?) of uniformly impeccable offerings from saxophonist JD Allen. Every album displays his honest working methods and showcases his beautiful strong tone and, despite his obvious command of harmony, his clear sense of melody both in his writing and his improvising. This strong melodic sense having somewhat disappeared from many of today’s gunslinging tenor players. But Allen has always shown that he has a deeper understanding of what made The Greats great. Not that he sounds like any of them of course, you can hear the influences but he unquestionably has his own very strong voice and it is this that we hear to the fore on all of his recordings.

On this latest album there is something of a new development going on. I wouldn’t call it a major change of direction so much as a deeper exploration of some of the possibilities hinted at previously in his music. By which I mean that the direction the music on this album takes has always been evident in Allen’s concept, sound-wise and otherwise. He is one of those musicians who have absorbed many aspects of the greats of this music, their concepts as well as their sound, but also the earlier music out of which their music was developed. His last album “Americana” showed that he understood that “the 12 bar blues form and the so called blues scale have very little to do with the blues” as he succinctly put it himself. Sound/timbre can carry more information/feeling than form or harmony and Allen understands this.

This time the music has a less planned structure to the form of the songs. Indeed the music is played without pre-arranged form or harmonic sequence or even tempo. The melodies/themes are relatively short and are played rubato, or without a specific statement of time. The themes then develop, both melodically and rhythmically, as each soloist plays (and as each of the other musicians react in their support) during their respective passages where they take the lead line. Even when the group moves into tempo the time is still unfettered by barlines.

This is a very spontaneous approach to music making but in the right hands always leads to the best music I believe. Having the right fellow travellers onboard is paramount in this way of playing and Allen has chosen his colleagues wisely. Both bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston have played on several albums (and no doubt many performances) with the leader in a trio format and along with Allen proved to be a magic triangle where the chemistry between them added up to considerably more than the sum of its parts. Adding another instrument here, the highly imaginative electric guitar of Liberty Ellman, has brought another dimension to this group and Ellman’s sound and playing serves this more open concept beautifully.

The music here is very expressive, full of life and energy. There is a strong group sound with the individual members’ personalities shining through. Everything is beautifully played and has a palpable “in the moment” character throughout. This album is a perfect illustration of what can be achieved with a deep understanding of what makes the music work and a spontaneous approach to structure along with the letting go of the fear of failing. The distinction between “Freedom to” rather than “Freedom from”. This is vibrant, soulful music that, like all Allen’s previous albums, will stand the test of time. Long may he continue.

George Lane

Coldcut x On-U Sound ‎’Outside The Echo Chamber’ 8×7″/LP/CD/DIG (Ahead Of Our Time) 5/5

When two sound producers, that have left huge Yetty like imprints everywhere for the last four decades get together, the expectations are always high and ‘Outside the Echo Chamber’ Coldcut x On-U Sound rises to the challenge and even goes beyond it. It’s the x between the names that makes this a different release which is also available as a limited edition of 7 inch singles with dubs, CD and digital release.

Bringing together a range of vocalists, Roots Manuva, Lee Perry, Chiezidek, Junior Reid, Hamsika Iyer and Ce’Cile you can’t go wrong. Combine that with bass rattling dub cuts and this is a DJ/Selector’s dream come true. ‘Vitals’, ‘Divide and Rule’, ‘Make Up Your Mind’, ‘Kajra Mohobbat Wala’, ‘Everyday Another Sanction’ – tune after tune. Sheer sonic quality.

Obviously, given their lengthy CVs this is not a ‘dub by numbers’ type project as Coldcut and On-U Sound, with decades of experience behind them, have always been busy pushing the envelopes, thinking out of the box, experimenting, tweaking things and coming up with a whole heap of rhythms and releases in the process. Thematic variety gives this release a breath of fresh air. Love themes sit alongside the weight of history in ‘Divide and Rule’ and while picking out a standout mind-blowing track is tricky there are a couple that rise above the rest. The remake of ‘Kajra Mohobbat Wala’ – an old Hindu-Urdu Bollywood love song featuring Hamsika Iyer – dropped at the right time and blended with the dub is just monumental through a big sound system. Then there’s ‘Vitals’ featuring Roots Manuva, the lyrics wordsmith that flows like a river. This is a powerful in-your-face number with a beat and Dub that sound like a musical spaghetti of different sounds and influences.

‘Make Up Your Mind’ comes in two vocal versions, which is a unique way of approaching things. The woman and man’s take and the dub, tweaked accordingly along gender and narrative lines. Finally, Chezidek on ‘Everyday Another Sanction’ sums up so many contemporary Babylonian societies that pressure and exploit poor people for the sake of profit for the few who are obsessed with ‘waking up to money’. It’s also the closest you get to a ‘roots’ Reggae tune on this release. This is not meant as a gripe as the diversity of sounds on this release is a blessing. It’s just meant as a hint, should you want to drop this inna dance as heads will swivel, and ask ‘who’s that?’. Long may their flags fly, together and apart. Big respect to On-U Sound and Coldcut.

Haji Mike

Rotem Sivan Trio ‘Antidote’ (Aima) 5/5

“Antidote” is guitarist Rotem Sivan’s follow-up release to 2015’s excellent “A New Dance”. This excellent trio of Rotem Sivan, guitar, Haggai Cohen Milo, bass, and Colin Stranahan, drums, continue to impress and grow in maturity as a trio of note on this latest recording.

Music is one of the greatest healers known to mankind, and through the making of this album Sivan has expressed his emotions in the music he makes, confronting, coming to terms with, and moving on from the end of a seven year relationship. For me, the Israeli born, New York residing guitarist has now successfully gone from being “a very promising talent” a few years back, to one of the finest exponents of the jazz trio idiom, quietly coming of age as a unique voice in his chosen field of music.

Listening to Sivan play guitar, one might think of such luminaries as Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, or Pat Metheny (in jazz trio mode). But one of the things I really like about Sivan, is he plays with his own voice. And this voice sparkles with invention. He is undoubtedly technically gifted, but so much of what he does is wonderfully understated, leaving the listener to discover the beauty for themselves.

In bassist Cohen Milo and drummer Stranahan, Sivan has found intuitive partners that not only hold down a groove or create an atmosphere for the guitarist, but also push through barriers and bring added life to the composer’s tunes. Together the trio take us on a personal journey through the album’s nine originals and two covers.

Most of the tunes presented here are short, at least in jazz terms, but in this instance it works so well. Collectively and independently the musicians are at one with the essence of the music itself. Sivan’s playing has a rare class to it, one where each note has meaning, each note a depth of soul and reason to be. No note is wasted, and no note is superfluous. And within the combinations of these chords and notes, the composer reveals to us a different part of his character, all laid bare and open to the keen listener’s ears. The music is full of heart, performed with skillful quick-as-you-like lightning fingers and intuitively mesmerising melody and lyricality.

From the captivating and propulsive opener “Shahar”, to the exhilarating depth and inventiveness of the title track “Antidote”, to the thought-provoking intensity of the lone voice on “Rustic Heart”, to the opulence and intrigue of “For Emotional Use Only”, this is an album of truly defined thoughts and beautifully executed musicianship. There’s always a keen eye on tone and balance, the tunes themselves always sincere and emotive, yet at times playful and often invigorating.

“Antidote” is like snowdrops falling on a soft, lush landscape. Slowly settling and growing in-depth and beauty. These are musical snowdrops that heal everything they touch.

Mike Gates

Baba Soul & The Professors Of Funk ‘Chronotapes’ CD/DIG (So Real International) 5/5

At the time of writing (late June 2017) this excellent 11 tracker was only available from the band’s own Bandcamp page, however having conversed with the musical director and guitarist, Gulherme Schmidt Camara, the CD is forthcoming and I am awaiting the arrival of trusty vinyl.

The album is solid funky soul with nuances of James Brown, Fred Wesley, Otis Redding and Charles Bradley. In fact, you could file this set alongside other recent and decent long players from the likes of St. Paul & The Broken Bones, The Monophonics, Durand Jones & The Indications.

However, there are two tracks on here that simply take your breath away. The guttural “I’m so lucky”, which is the kind of deep soul tune that shouldn’t be around in 2017. Thankfully we have bastions of the real deal like these guys, a strong passion fuelled lead from Hugo Castro Pereira AKA Baba Soul, mocking horns shadow his every word, heavy bass and strong percussion all manage to practice restraint. A simply wonderful piece of modern day deep soul moving on to “Can you be true to me”, which starts off with pleading vocals asking whether she can be true to him, a delicate guitar for company, then a thumping bass and in come the horns over the top, his vocals appear to have a slight echo which adds real clarity to the sound. Another monster soul tune.

Modern soul rooms should investigate “If you love me” with its urgent pace and classy feel. The funk boys will cream there pants at what’s on offer here: “Funkstorm” is exactly that a furious funker with keyboard runs doing battle with that bass and those horns. “I got soul” is another funky highlight, proving this band is as tight as any I have heard – I recently had the immense privilege to witness Alabama’s St. Paul & The Broken Bones smash up the Cambridge Junction with Paul Janeway’s vocals tearing up the place, I tell you what, how good would it be have this lot over here?

The pace drops for the meandering “Believe” and it works perfectly in this setting, percussion and horns open proceedings then the man’s vocals take it up another level.

The Professors include the following: Guilherme Schmidt Camara – Guitars and backing vocals, Stian Nordviste Skog – Drums & backing vocals, Oystein Bends Aune – Bass, Auden Kjeldahl Bernsen – Keys, Kristian Halvorsen Kjaernes – Trombone, Andreas Lovold – Trumpet and Michael Strut on Tenor Sax.

Funky, deep soul from Oslo, you better believe it.

Brian Goucher

Juanes ‘Mis Planes Son Amarte’ CD + DVD edition (Universal Latino) 3/5

Take away the socio-political content of say Manu Chao, but retain the essential elements of Latino pop with a strong element of pop-inflected reggae and you have a clearer idea of where Colombian singer Juanes aka Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez is coming from. This is squarely aimed at a twenty-five to forty something demographic in both the United States’s burgeoning young Latino population as well as in Latin America and Spain, and he most definitely has his devotees among them. For all that, the compositions are in fact melodic with a colourful cartoon-esque inner sleeve typical of the breezy optimistic outlook on life that Juanes portrays via his music. Thus catchy guitar riffs abound on the latin-reggae of ‘Fuego’, and the funkier hues of ‘Es tarde’, which has a mid-tempo groove that is more or less repeated throughout the album without ever becoming tiresome. There is an attempt at mild-mannered pop-electronica on, ‘Esto no acaba’, while the rock-tinged guitar on, ‘Angel’, quickly grates on the ear. One effort at a wider demographic with the English language song, ‘Goodbye for now’, which it has to be said is fairly unremarkable.

Overall, easy on the ear and ideal summer background music to a tapas or two and cerveza (beer) in the garden.

Tim Stenhouse

Vibe Out: Poland

Tracklisting:

Urszula Dudziak – Samba Ula (live)
Laboratorium – Nogero
Maciej Fortuna Quartet – Lost Keys
Contemporary Noise Sextet – Chasing Rita
Rafał Sarnecki Quartet – Living Like Weasels
Artur Dutkiewicz – Third Stone from the Sun
High Definition Quartet – Alan’s Birthday
Fortuna Acoustic Quartet – Grey Carol
Nor Cold – Maria
Miłość & Lester Bowie – Let’s Get Serious
Vehemence Quartet – Gabrys
Mikrokolektyw – Little Warrior
Pink Freud – Diamond Way
Marek Surzyn – Incydent
Sławomir Kulpowicz – Unisono
NAK Trio & Arcos – Do You Really Need All This Money
Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet – Yankiels Lid
Daniel Toledo Trio & Pianohooligan – Margins
Janusz Muniak Sextet – Aeoioe
Andrzej Dąbrowski – Nie Ucz Mnie

Oregon ‘Lantern’ (Cam Jazz) 4/5

Chamber jazz specialists Oregon return with an album that is very much in the lineage of their ECM recordings, even if a new member is on board in Italian double bassist Paulino Della Porta. Group founding members Paul McCandless and Ralph Towner are both on hand to ensure that the Oregon tradition is maintained. That said, there is a lovely departure in the flamenco guitar led and inspired piece, ‘Duende’, the title of which refers to that essential, yet difficult to pin down (and define in English at least) ingredient at the essence of flamenco music. Classical guitar and soprano saxophone combine well here and, as a whole, the number succeeds in conveying the flavour of southern Spain.

More akin to the Oregon sound of old is the folk-jazz of the opening track,’ Doloniti dance’, where what sounds like oboe and then sweet soprano saxophone play off the guitar, and the percussion enters organically into proceedings. Towner reverts to piano on the quiet and calming duet of, ‘Figurine’, with McCandless this time operating on soprano. A fine ensemble performance can be heard on, ‘Aeolian tale’, where bass and classical guitar combine effectively with the subtle use of percussion and soprano saxophone finally entering. For something that is quite a departure from the rest of the album, ‘Walk the walk’, is a post-bop influenced number that is thoroughly modern in approach and features Towner comping on piano and an extended solo from McCandless. This writer would like to hear more of this more flamboyant side of Oregon. This is the thirtieth Oregon album in total and these seasoned musicians, albeit with a new input on this occasion, have once more come up with a quality recording.

Tim Stenhouse

Roscoe Mitchell ‘Bells for the South Side’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5

The Art Ensemble of Chicago will be best remembered in the UK for their left-field jazz number, ‘Theme de yo-yo’, and one of the founding fathers of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is fêted here with an exhilarating double CD that features no less than four contrasting trios to accompany him, and this in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the AACM’s very foundation back in 1967. While there is certainly not another classic tune on a par to, ‘Theme to yo-yo’ present here nor anything that fans of the more esoteric side of spiritual jazz might warm to, this is nonetheless uncompromising and ever on the edge music that enters into free jazz territory, and for a seventy-six year old leader, that is no mean feat. Roscoe Mitchell is now Chair of musical composition at Mills College in California, though this esteemed position, which he has held since 2007, is now under threat because of financial cuts. An online petition is currently seeking to reverse the potential closure of the post.

On one of the trios, Roscoe Mitchell is surrounded by a young nucleus of musicians including regular ECM performer Craig Taborn, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and saxophonist James Frei. On another, the fourth of the trios showcased, this is in fact a set of musicians that he has been performing with since the mid-1970s, and includes Tani Tabbal on drums and percussion and Jaribu Shahid on double bass, bass guitar and percussion. This is not without recalling some of the 1980s work of Ornette Coleman, successfully fusing electric and acoustic elements.

Mitchell himself performs on multiple instruments including alto and baritones saxophones, flute, piccolo and even sopranino. The lengthy piece, including a twenty-five minute composition, combine elements of avant-garde and free jazz, electro and acoustic idioms and hark back to the 1960 period of experimentation. Of note to long-time fans of the AACM sound is a near twenty-six minute marathon medley of sorts with a reprise of, ‘Red moon in the sky/Odwalla’, the latter of which is none other than the theme song of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Certainly not music for the faint hearted, but performed with integrity, love and conviction all the same.

Tim Stenhouse

Ambrose Akinmusire ‘A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard’ 2CD (Blue Note) 4/5

Live recordings at the legendary Village Vanguard include the memorable Sonny Rollins late 1950s outing on Blue Note, the 1961 Bill Evans sets and an early 1960s John Coltrane tenure that was later expanded into a box set. Interestingly, lead trumpeters have tended not to figure in live performances (though many have performed there live) with Miles Davis recording in 1965 at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago and Freddie Hubbard with a blister performance entitled, ‘Night of the Cookers’, over two mid-1960s Blue Note albums. The emergence of Ambrose Akinmusire as a new talent on the block was heralded by a fine debut in 2011 for Blue Note, ‘When the heart emerges glistening’, which was rapturously received.

In actual fact, the trumpeter has recorded just two albums for Blue Note as a leader up until the new album, the last being in 2014 with the critically acclaimed, ‘The imagined savior is far easier to paint’, while elsewhere as a sideman he has featured on the album, ‘Rising Grace’, a 2016 ECM recording with Wolfgang Muthspiel. Born and raised in Oakland, California, Akinmusire pitches his sound in the mid-1960s post-bop idiom with a strong adventurous streak that recalls the young Freddie Hubbard. The music in general on the live performance is quite introspective in tone, with the short intermezzo number and ballad, ‘Purple’, typifying the atmosphere that reigns.

Surrounded by his long-term band comprising Sam Harris on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums, Akinmusire varies the length of his all original compositions between the shorter three to four minute pieces to much more intense and lengthier numbers that veer between twelve to fourteen minutes and one wonders whether with experience, these will become more concise and ultimately more digestible to the listener. The titles remain ever inventive and Akinmusire is certainly in a deeply creative phase of his career that should be encouraged as far as possible.

That said, there is much to admire in the interplay between trumpeter and pianist on the downtempo, ‘Moment in between the rest (to curve an ache)’ and here Harris plays a pivotal role with a simple riff that is repeated. Meanwhile on another laid back piece, ‘A song to exhale (diver song)’, it is the interaction between Raghavan and Harris that impresses. This is undoubtedly a band that are comfortable in each other’s presence. A somewhat freer sounding, ‘Brooklyn (ODB)’ has something of a jam session feel with fine playing from Harris. As for Akinmusire, he is at his most lyrical on the melancholic, ‘Response’, with the pianist seemingly influenced by both Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor, while the leader stretches out with an extended solo on the first CD opening number, ‘Maurice and Michael (sorry I didn’t say hello)’.

Arguably, Akinmusire’s compositional talents might be enhanced by the addition of either another brass player (saxophone more specifically), or even a vibes player. Otherwise, this is a young performer with enormous potential and the mere fact that he has been allowed to record a double CD live at a venue as prestigious as the Village Vanguard bears testimony to the faith that the re-activated Blue Note label have placed in him. A brief set of recent UK dates included two nights at Ronnie Scott’s followed by the ever inventive Wigan Jazz Festival, which has also hosted the UK only gig of Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling. Full marks to the Wigan organising team for their outstanding endeavour to bring top quality jazz to the north-west.

Tim Stenhouse

Terje Gewelt ‘Wow and Flutter’ (Resonant Music) 4/5

Raised in Larvik, a small town on the southeastern coast of Norway, Terje Gewelt started playing guitar at the age of ten, before switching to bass at the age of fourteen. From 1979-81, he studied privately with the internationally recognized Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, and as “Wow and Flutter”, Gewelt’s twelfth release as band leader, is my first experience of Gewelt’s music, I find instant comparisons with Andersen easy to make. Perhaps not necessarily in the bassist’s style, although comparisons can be made, but more so in mood and approach to composing. Gewelt moved to the States in 1981, moving back to Norway at the end of that decade. He has appeared on over a hundred recordings, including the likes of Billy Cobham, John Surman, Misha Alperin, Tommy Smith, Santana and Donny McCaslin. His music does have a truly international feel to it, with influences running rife throughout, both from the Nordic sound of his homeland, and the heady jazz-fusion American era from the likes of Miles Davis and Weather Report.

The album features ten tunes, all originals. The opening track “Time Travels” gets me in the mood right away. A driving bass line, reminding me of bassist Dave Holland, with whom Gewelt also had private tuition, linking beautifully with laid-back keyboards (Erlend Slettevoll), classy drumming (Terje Evensen) and warm, rich, inventive guitar playing (Bjorn Klakegg). “Ups and Downs” is a gorgeous piece of music. I could easily be listening to a 70’s/80’s era ECM release from Eberhard Weber and Pat Metheny. Jazz-funk-rock fusion is the order of the day for “Leaving Town”, whilst “Iskanten” takes a much more reflective mood. Subtle electronics and acoustic piano combine wonderfully for this lovely thought-provoking tune. Gewelt also took lessons from the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius. And “Crosstalk” is indeed very Jaco. The tune itself develops into a Weather Report style fusion, but with Hendrix-like guitar hues, rather than the eponymous Zawinal keyboards. We are on Nordic ground with “Seafarer”, a more relaxed, emotive piece that once again would be very at home on the ECM label. The title track, “Wow and Flutter” is more experimental in nature, with a deep groove from drums/electronics and bass underpinning the improvisational guitar work. “Melancholy Blue” has a graceful air to it, refreshing in its spacey, minimalistic feel. “Raw Air” takes a more in-your-face approach with screeching guitar and bluesy riff-led bass and drums backing. The closing track “Gone Sailing” is a cosy, easy-going piece that rounds the album off in very nice fashion.

There’s much to like about “Wow and Flutter”, an album of changing tides and different shores, all rolled into one very enjoyable album. Whatever the style of music this quartet turn their hand to, its resulting music is performed with a skill and integrity that can’t fail to impress.

Mike Gates

travelling the spaceways since 1993