Harold López-Nussa ‘Sobre el Atelier’ CD (Cristal) 3/5

Havana born pianist Harold López-Nussa comes from a musical family with father Ruy a drummer and after conservatory training in the capital won first prize in a classical piano competition. However, it was traditional Cuban music and jazz that really excited the young musician and he began playing gigs in Havana in trio and quartet formats. It was while playing at various jazz festivals in Europe that López-Nussa was entered into a solo jazz piano competition which he won and this afforded him the opportunity to record an album which is contained herein. The album places Harold López-Nussa in a long line of Cuban pianists with a jazz heritage and this includes the great Chucho Valdes and more recently Roberto Fonseca. While the majority of compositions are self-penned, it is actually his interpretations of standards which are most impressive. For example, Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Three views of a secret’ change tempo completely from the original and is transformed into a beautiful ballad. There are signs of great maturity in López-Nussa’s playing here. Another interesting choice is Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ where after stating the theme, López-Nussa departs from the original and embarks upon a delightful solo. Of course, López-Nussa is very much at ease in his native idiom and demonstrates this on the early Chucho Valdes composition ‘Mambo Influenciado’ where his ability to use the whole range of the keyboard is exemplified. A more classical side of Cuban music is showcased on Ernesto Lecuona’s ‘Danza de los Nanigos’. Of the originals on offer, which are relatively concise in length, ‘Mi Son Cerra’o’ is a pulsating Cuban song while ‘Timbeando’ features a piano vamp that Eddie Palmieri would be proud of. This is a most promising debut by a talented pianist who is developing into a gifted composer. One hopes that he will be able to record with a trio/quartet in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Troyka ‘Troyka’ CD (Edition) 4/5

Here is a trio with a difference. London-based collective Troyka have created a niche for themselves with a guitar-heavy sound that is somewhere to the left of White Stripes, takes in the jazz-rock period of Larry Young and even takes a leaf out of the exploratory grooves of Cream. This music will appeal to a wider audience beyond the usual jazz sphere, and certainly, the cover and inner sleeve are aimed at a younger generation and one that is at ease with indie-rock guitar licks. The abstract groove of ‘Noonian Song’ hints at Marc Ribot while the eery, expansive sounds on ‘Clint’ conjures up Ry Cooder soundtracking a western. However, the trio can play pretty as illustrated on ‘Golden’ with its subtle use of guitar and keyboard, and with nice brushwork courtesy of Joshua Blackmore.

Their own musical roots are hinted at on ‘Born in the 1980s’ which is highly experimental in part. Hypnotic grooves abound on ‘Bear’ with Montague impressing on guitar. Throughout electronic loops are subtly incorporated, but not overly elaborate. Troyka have surfaced on the Cardiff-based label Edition that is making a reputation of championing avant-garde jazz and the trio have succeeded in creating a distinctive sound, and one that promises to be an exciting live act. It will be interesting to see how Tryka develops in future years.

Tim Stenhouse

Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada ‘Coconut Rock’ CD (ESL Music) 3/5

Recorded in Austin, Texas, this is Tex-Mex music for the twenty-first century with an Afro-Latin funk groove that draws upon nineteen-seventies wah-wah guitar and world roots beats. The opener ‘The revolt of the cockroach people’ takes a leaf out of the Fela Kuti Afro-Beat school and features heavyweight percussion and superb baritone sax. Indeed the Fela influence continues on keyboard on the left-field ‘Cara de yo no fui’ with vocals in Spanish and nice use of flute which combines well with the off-key funk groove. Jazzy instrumental is the only way to describe the flute driven number ‘Tres ratas’ with subtle use of reeds while vocal chants and funk guitar licks with some nifty Santana-inspired guitar solos characterise the sounds on ‘Pan, chamba y techo’. Columbian cumbia meets Mulatau Astatke Ethiopian grooves on ‘Tu fin, mi comienxzo’. Overall a successful attempt at blending a variety of world roots music and one that is sure to appeal to the dance floor.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Playing For Change: Songs Around The World’ CD/DVD (Concord) 3/5

playing-for-changeAn interesting musical concept that is as much a visual as an audio experience and one where the message behind probably far outweighs the musical content itself. This is a concept album in the truest sense of the word and the brainchild of music engineer Mark Johnson who has spent ten years putting this project together. Was it worth all the effort? The answer is a qualified yes, but with some reservations. From a technical perspective the result is a feat of no little skill and the ethos behind the project is certainly a laudable one. The power of music to enact change and reach people directly is a key message and one that few would disagree with in these times of major political and technological change. 
However, covering well-known songs with a variety of largely unknown acts (with notable exceptions such as Bono and Keb Mo)was always likely to be a risky enterprise and one wonders how far this project will reach beyond Europe and the United States, preaching to a largely already committed public. The album works best on the DVD where a multitude of world roots instruments are deployed to accompany vocals songs such as Bob Marley’s ‘War’ and ‘One Love’. Community youth choirs from a far afield as Omagh in Northern Ireland and the Group Afro Fiesta from South Africa are seamlessly woven together along with individual instrumentalists from the Indian sub-continent and even a band from New Orleans. The problem lies in that the overall musical accomplishment is a fairly mundane version of songs that have been covered on numerous occasions previously and far more convincingly by individual artists. Consequently this writer scores two points for the musical content and four for the visual impact and logic behind the project. Perhaps for the future a more challenging selection of songs would enhance matters. Nonetheless this album may inspire other artists and is at least to be commended for introducing a wider public to relatively unrecognised musicians.

Tim Stenhouse

Diana Krall ‘Quiet Nights’ (Verve) 3/5

diana-krallPart recorded in Rio de Janeiro and part in California, this Tommy Lipuma produced album is Diana Krall’s take on the bossa nova. It has to be stated that this is more a revisiting of the American songbook with a few Brazilian touches than a bona fide attempt at capturing the feel of bossa nova. The collaboration of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra was most successful in conveying the cool, swinging new sound at the time and more recently pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias has covered a wider range of styles. Where Krall falls down is in the predominance of rather uninspiring somber and understated numbers when some uplifting sambas might have given the album a more balanced feel. Only one song is in Portuguese, the Jobim song, Este seu olhar’, one of three Jobim compositions. The symphonic arrangements courtesy of Claus Ogerman can overpower Krall’s breathy vocals as on ‘Quiet nights’. In fact Krall shines best of all on the blues-inflected ‘How can you mend a broken heart?’ and an entire album of songs in this vein might be a better option for the future. It is only on ‘The boy from Ipanema’ that Krall begins to stretch out on the piano. Back to the drawing board for any future take on Brazilian music and a far greater input is required from Brazilian musicians.

Tim Stenhouse

Pedro Luis e A Parede ‘Ponto Enredo’ (World Village) 4/5

pedro-luis-e-a-paredeThis Rio-based group can be best described as the left-field side of samba, but one that is highly melodic nonetheless. Pedro Luis et A Parade successfully fuse traditional samba with other influences, notably funk and rock rhythms, and in this respect have taken a leaf out of the pioneering sounds of Chico Science and Nacao Zumbi from Recife in north-east Brazil. From the opener ‘Santo samba’ the alternative take on samba becomes apparent with dissonant guitar in the background. The title track is a haunting song with echoey dub guitar and drums whereas ‘Repudio’ is a laid-back samba with an indie-rock sensibility. Large-scale escola de samba percussion combine with synths on the lengthily titled ‘Ela tem a beleza que eu nunca sonhei’ while the pared-down percussive breakdown of ‘Mandingo’ reveals a funkier side to the group’s repertoire. It is the slide guitar that surfaces on the old school samba of ‘4 horizontes’ which features the indispensable sound of the cavaquinho (a small ukelele-sounding string instrument) and the cuica drum. Excellent art graphics from the interestingly named Billy Bacon (another intriguing Brazilian fusion, perhaps?)round off a highly entertaining and different updated take on a music form that is now inextricably linked to the Brazilian national character.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Panama 2’ (Soundways) 2LP/CD 5/5

panama-2The much-anticipated follow-up to the superb volume one is finally with us. 
It was the former that introduced us to the varied sounds of Panamanian music and the original liner notes read like a vinyl collectors dream. Stumbling upon a treasure trove of rare grooves in central America. Volume two takes up the story again and is a cornucopia of musical delights on offer. What is interesting is that the major Latin labels of new York used Panama as a testing ground for their products’ sounds. This exposed Panamanians to a whole range of top quality music from the Tico and Fania labels to name but a few. On this compilation the styles vary from heavy Latin descargas to tropical cumbia and funk-laden calypso covering the decade 1967-1977. The opener ‘La Murga’ by Papi Brandao y su conjunto sets the tone with a song composed and made famous by Puerto Rican tromobonist/vocalist/producer Wille Colon and inpsired by an indigenous rhythm of Panama referred to in the title. Another Colon tune, the instrumental ‘Jazzy’ is revisited by Los Papacitos while the hard-hitting guaguanco ‘La confianza’ by Menique el Panameno con Bush y los Magnificos shifts from Afro-Cuban intro to montuno section effortlessly. Camilo Azuquita has made a career in France since the late 1970s, but here we find him on a classic salsa dura song on ‘Borombon’.
For left-field music fans, ‘Juck Juck Pt. 1’ by Sir Jablonsky fits the bill perfectly. While the bass and drums are influenced by funk, the guitar riffs are roots reggae and the horns and vocals classic calypso, or at least the Panamanian take on the genre. This musical metissage should not come as a great surprise when one looks at a map of the region and realises the proximity of Trinidad and the facility with which the casual radio listener can tune in to a multitude of different sounds. Among other numbers, the percussive instrumental take on ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ by the Soul Fanatics impresses as does the Latin rock of the Santana-influenced ‘Descarga superior’ complete with saxophone solo by Los Superiores. Factor in the usual high standard of sleeve notes and graphics with original single/album labels and covers and you have one of the year’s indispensable compilations.

Tim Stenhouse

Nickodemus ‘Sun People’ CD (Wonderwheel Recordings) 3/5

Dance music collective Nickodemus have been open to various world roots influences on previous albums and are equally broad-minded on this one. West African voclaist Ismael Kouyate guest on the brief intro title track and then returns at the very end of the CD with a longer, altogether funkier version on ‘N’dini’. In general Latin flavours abound on this releases with the urban New York take on the genre in ‘La lluvia’ typifying the endeavous with latin vamp on piano and Spanish vocals delivered courtesy of Richard Shepherd. New Orleans-style drums underneath give this song an unusual feel. The Latin tinge is combined with Indian classical vocals from Falu on the interesting ‘Didibina’ while veteran arranger/trombonist Willie Colon is sampled to good effect on ‘Calle Sol’ featuring the Candela All Stars. This is the most traditional in Afro-Cuban format of all the tracks on the album and the lovely use of brass and flute make this an infectous groove 
from start to finish. Portugese vocals are showcased on ‘Gira del sol’ by Brazilian singer Liliana Araujo with assorted percussion into the mix. Perhaps the most left field track of all is to be found on ‘Two sips and magic’ where North African percussion on the darbouka meets hip hop with clarinet and an oud-like sounding guitar thrown in for good measure. Old school rap on ‘Sun children’ and the dub feel of ‘Just more!’ with dancehall-style vocals rounds off a well balanced overview of dancefloor music.

Tim Stenhouse

Victor Olaiya’s ‘All Stars Soul International’ (Vampi Soul) 3/5

victor-olaiyaThe Funky Lagos saga continues with this re-issue of a 1970 LP that came out in Nigeria and combines highlife and funk. The songs on the original either side segue into one another and this gives the album as whole the feel of a non-stop mix. James Brown influences are all too obvious on covers of ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘There was a time’, the former featuring an extended saxophone solo. Of the highlife cuts, the highly melodic ‘Okere gwonko’ hints at 1960s Bobby Benson while ‘Soro jeje fum arogbo’ fuses traditional highlife with US funk to good effect even if the female vocals are not the strongest. Clearly modern Nigerian music was in the process of defining itself at this time and consequently songs such as ‘New Nigeria’ and ‘Everybody needs love’ were searching for a happy medium between external influences and updating traditional genres. Funk fans will probably be more satisfied with this album than world roots ones. As ever with Vampi Soul releases, a beautifully illustrated gatefold sleeve with detailed notes inside courtesy of Max Reinhardt.

Tim Stenhouse

Fred Fisher ‘Atalobhor’ 2LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 3/5

fred-fisherNigeria was very much attuned to the developments in funk and soul in the United States during the 1970s and as a result bands formed in the former who sought to give their own unique take on modern black music. It is in this light that one should view the group put together by Fred Fisher and the four albums condensed onto two CDs here. The multi-talented Fisher was at once a trombonist and vocalist as well as songwriter and composer. He perfected a sound known in Nigeria as Asolo rock. Simply put, this fused Afro-funk and rock with more soulful melodies. Perhaps the nearest equivalent better known to western audiences is Segun Buckner, though Fisher has less of an Afro-funk flavour. Overall the albums have a polished feel to production reflecting the sound that was coming out of America with labels like Solar and Casablanca. Instrumental dancefloor action is the order of the day on ‘No way’ from 1981 while ‘W.T.F.S.’ is more like a Nigerian attempt at early Earth, Wind and Fire or Brass Construction. It is on the second CD that the African content is more in evidence as exemplified by songs such as ‘Kisiana’ with King Sunny Ade style accompaniment and ‘Elimedede’. Gatefold sleeve with authentic cover photos and excellent graphics round off this welcome re-issue. Ten of the songs featured on the CD release are not available on the vinyl one.

Tim Stenhouse