Gal Costa ‘Recanto Gal’ (Wrasse/Universal) 3/5

Brazilian singer Gal Costa is one of MPB, or Brazilian popular music’s most enduring stars and this new album marks a radical departure from the past. However, despite the photo of a young Gal with fellow singer Caetano Veloso on the back of the main CD cover, this is certianly no exercise in retro, but rather a twenty-first century vision of the chanteuse. The twin musical talents of Moreno Veloso (son of Caetano) and Kassin are on hand here to provide a distinctly younger, electronica-driven feel to the veteran singer, but the key question is whether this has served to reinvigorate Gal, or merely place her in musical surroundings which are unbefitting. If one were to make a parallel with Diana Ross at the beginning of the 1980s, then the distinctive production of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards from Chic opened up new avenues for the soul diva and attracted a whole new audience in the process. In truth here with the pairing of Gal and Veloso/Kassin it is highly questionable whether a younger audience will be enticed by the music and her long-term fans may actually be alienated by the whole experience. There is in fact an attempt at the dancefloor on ‘Neguinho’, but with a rock guitar and beat underpinning the song, this is a flawed effort. By far the most interesting piece and one with sympathetic accompaniment is on ‘O menino’ which is a haunting number where the voice of Gal is finally afforded the opportunity to take centre stage and what a gloriously natural and undistilled pure voice she still possesses. Ironically she is accompanied here by another set of musicians, Banda Rabotnik which is telling. Elsewhere there is a successful attempt at a more sensitive sound to accompany Gal on ‘Mansidao’ with Daniel Jobim on piano and long-time Caetano accompanist Jaques Morelenbaum on cello. What a pity the latter could not have produced the whole album with a more subtle element of electronica incorporated. Only on the minimalist ‘Recanto escuro’ does the electronic programming fit and even here the staccato rhythm pattern is intially unsettling for the listener. Above all one is left with the abiding impression on this recording that Moreno Veloso and Kassin have been left too much to their own devices here and that greater input on the production side from both father Caetano (he is cited as executive producer and several of/all the songs are written by him) and Morelenbaum would have resulted in a stonger album. As it stands too much of the instrumentation here comes across as self-indulgent musings by the production duo which would have been better placed on one of their own recordings. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Cumbia, Cumbia Volumes One and Two’ 2CD (World Circuit) 4/5

These volumes were orginally released separately on CD during the early 1990s, but have now wisely been re-packaged together, particularly given that since their intial issues sufaced a good deal more attention has been paid to Columbian music in the UK and Europe. In fact in the last three years or so there has been an extensive trawling of the Discos Fuentes (Columbia’s most prestigious label with the distinctive yellow and blue insignia) back catalogue and this has included salsa and Afro-Columbian funk. The music here is firmly on classic cumbia with the second CD focusing mainly on the 1960s where jazzy orchestrationbs including the glorious retro sound of the clarinet (an influence imported from New Orleans, perhaps?) while the first is in general more contemporary (that is to say with a healthy does of salsa-style brass and percussion) with songs recorded between 1976 and 1988, though a few songs from the 1960s are included. Even the newest songs are now almost twenty-five years old. It is indicative of their enduring popularity that one such song, ‘La colegiala’ by Rodolfo y su Tipica R.A.7 has became the background tune to a famous coffee advert while various others have at some point or another found their way on to the television screens. Mambo-esque big band cumbia emerges on ‘Lupita’ by Guillermo Gonzalez y su Orquesta while in contrast pared down accordion dominates on ‘Baila Rosita’ by Los Guarachos which is the most traditional form of cumbia and one that is heard in the Columbian countryside. If the names are unfamiliar, then one group that should not be ignored are Sonora Dinamita who have become something of a musical institution in the country since 1960 and are in fact well known throughout Latin America and even in the United States. They offer a jovial and totally uplifting piece in ‘Se me perdió la cadenita’. As ever with World Circuit releases, luxurious packaging and informative inner sleeve notes on the individual songs and musicians concerned. A welcome re-issue of music that is instantly accessible to even the beginner to Latin music and it goes without saying that it will help spice up any party atmosphere. Tim Stenhouse

Azanayah ‘The One’ (Jazzman) 4/5

This is a virtually unknown album in the spiritual jazz idiom that dates from 1987 and was totally out of kilter with prevailing trends at the time in urban America and in style harks back rather to the early 1970s. Azanayah were a group based in Atlanta, Georgia, who were the brainchild of bassist Mamaniji Azanayah, originally born in London to Jamaican parents, but emigrated to the States during his early teens. Azanayah’s formative influences reflect his catholic taste in music and took in ska, early reggae as well as jazz and classical elements. However, it was upon hearing John Coltrane’s ‘Greensleeves’ that he developed a serious passion for jazz and later he would investigate the Miles Davis back catalogue alongside Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. This one-off album originally was only pressed up in five hundred copies and as such is an extremely rare item. The music itself reveals the influences of Pharoah Sanders from his Theresa releases and in general albums on the Strata East and Tribe labels. The eight piece line-up interestingly included guitarist Shaka and on five pieces the vocals of Theresa Morton who both provide some welcome variety to proceedings. Nonetheless the compositions are primarily instrumental with small vocal segments sometimes incorporated at the very beginning. Indeed there are quasi-religious chants on the opening to the title track, but these rapidly give way to a heavy modal bassline and echoes of the seminal ‘The creator has a master plan’ that Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas immortalised. The soulful tenor saxophone of Immanuel Zechariah and the harp-like use of guitar are prominent features here. Evidence of Caribbean musical roots surface on the excellent ‘Let God come first’ which is folkloric in nature with flute and guitar combining. Arguably the most spiritual composition on the whole set is ‘Praise’ which is a deeply meditative piece featuring lyrical soprano saxophone and fine guitar work. Possibly the most immediate number is ‘I will surely come again’ which, in its veering between bop-inflections, gospel tinged vocals and freer form, sounds like a direct descendent of Sanders’ ‘You’ve got to have freedom’. Overall a deeply satisfying re-issue and Jazzman are to be commended for unearthing this release which would otherwise have been consigned to the forgotten artists list. Tim Stenhouse

The Chieftains ‘Voice of Ages’ (Hear Music/Decca) 4/5

Irish folk music legends the Chieftains celebrate fifty years in the business this year and to celebrate this considerable achievement (on a par with the Rolling Stones) have continued to pursue collaborations with musicians outside their own field, thereby ensuring that Irish traditional music is heard by a vast global audience than would otherwise be the case. This expansive musical policy began over twenty years ago with the famous album recorded with Van Morrison, and has subsequently extended to American folk and country, Spanish and Latin American musical genres as well as with UK and US pop giants such as Joni Mitchell and Sting to name but two. For their latest endeavour, leader Paddy Moloney and the boys have not rested on their laurels and have hooked up with some of the newest artists to emerge on the folk and pop scenes and the gropu sound refrshed as a result. This album works best where those collaborative artists perform in a field which has close roots to Irish traditional such as bluegrass or American country music more generally, Galician folk and surprisingly even rhythm and blues. For the latter compatriot Imelda May contributes her own bluesy vocals on the catchy opener ‘Carolina Rue’ while there is an obvious empathy between the band and bluegrass harmony group Pistol Annies on ‘Come all ye fair and tender ladies’. Likewise the collaboration with the Punch Brothers works beautifully on two numbers, ‘Lark in the clear air/Olam punch’ and ‘The frost is all over’. Long-time collaborator Galician piper Carlos Nuñez is right at home on ‘Lundu’ which recalls the wonderful album ‘Pilgrimage to Santiago’. Where the album is less successful is on the inclusion of pop singers who tend to relegate the band to mere background instrumentalists, or on the Lisa Halligan contribution ‘My lagan love’ which to these ears comes across as a dated version of 1980s Clannad/Enya. Nonetheless Scots singer Paolo Nuttini seems perfectly at ease with the band on a fine rendition of the gentle ‘Hard times’ while there are even shades of the Pogues on ‘When the slip comes in’ by the Decemberists, which is an uptempo and utterly pulsating number. With an extensive UK tour that begins in late May and continues through June, the Chieftains have constantly sought to both extend and promote their sound which was illustrated to thrilling effect on their last and superlative album ‘San Patricio’ co-produced by Ry Cooder and devoted to the folk music of Mexico, and they remain a mesmerising act in live performance.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Meet me at the Mardi Gras’ (Rounder) 3/5

The music of New Orleans continues to occupy the public’s consciousness and so a compilation of old and new sounds is always a welcome addition. This latest contribution cuts across several boundaries, yet still has the common roots of the city’s music scene underpinning it. A classically constructed song and by far the CDs most pleasant new discovery is Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers ‘Goin’ back to New Orleans’ with some old school jazz vocals and a combination of baritone saxophone and clarinet that only the Cresecent City could conjur up. Professor Longhair is one of the most influential of New Orleans pianists and ‘Go the Mardi Gras’ typifies his genius with the distinctive piano rolls and his inimitable whistling. Brass bands are a regular feature of the music of the city and in the Re-Birth Brass Band one of New Orleans most proficient exponents so the funky ditty ‘Do watcha wanna Pt.3’ is a fine example of just how groovy the sounds of collective brass can be. The reprise of ‘Tipitiana’, a ‘Fess Longhair standard, by Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias is at once percussive and brassy and almost as appealing as the original. At forty-five minutes, this compliation is a tad stingy in its timing and with such a rich diversity of old and new sounds from New Orleans from which to select, the range could have been a good deal more generous. No doubting the quality on offer, however. Tim Stenhouse

Céu ‘Caravana Sereia Bloom’ CD (Six Degrees) 3/5

A native of Sao Paulo, singer Céu is very much in the lineage of fellow Brazilians Gal Costa and more especially Marisa Monte. Latterly Céu has wisely broken away from the shackles of neo-bossa territory fused with electronica to search for her own distinctive identity. This latest album finds her searching and there are both positive and negative features of this ongoing quest. On ‘Contravento’, arguably the album’s most compelling song, there is an early 1970’s feel that Gal Costa would be at home with and the subtle programming is ideally suited to her delicate voice. Equally the vocal and guitar duet on ‘Palhaço’ is a very promising sign of an emerging singer-songwriter talent and the song is creative and keeps the listener on the edge of their seat. Reggae beats have been incorporated into previous albums and here ‘As falto e sal’ has the slightest of reggae influences on the keyboards which is unusual enough to attract the listener and there is some cod-reggae with a ska input on ‘You won’t regret it’, reggae remaining perennially popular in Brazil with Gilberto Gil and many other top stars recording in the idiom. The nearest Céu comes to the more traditional bossa groove of her debut album is on ‘Retrovision’ with guitar and keyboards adding an indie rock feel. Céu faces a dilemma that Bebel Gilberto has recently encountered. There are very different expectations of a Brazilian singer inside and outside the country. In Gilberto’s case, she became stuck in a rut with an updated dancefloor take on the classic bossa nova beat. Within Brazil, this simply sounds passé and Céu has opted for developing new avenues that include singing in English (new to a native English audience, perhaps less so to her native Paulistas). However, if she shifts the balance too much in favour of an English language repertoire, she risks alienating her international audience that appreciates the exotic sound of the Portuguese language mixed with recognisable contemporary instrumentation. Céu has not yet found the ideal balance but is at least on the way to getting there. She performs live on a brief mid-late April UK tour.

Tim Stenhouse

Esperanza Spalding ‘Radio music society’ (Heads Up/Montuno) 4/5

The unexpected recipient of a Grammy at the expense of pop idol Justin Bieber, bassist and singer Esperenza Sapalding is anything but your regular jazz artist and in reality her music does not fit neatly into any category which gives her an immediate accessability and a distinctive voice. Her previous album ‘Chamber music society’ was extremely well received and this new recording is an equally cohesive set of songs which will be at least as attractive to fans of contemporary black music as it will to jazz fans. An all-star guest list of musicians features singers Gretchen Parlato and Lalah Hathaway while instrumentalists of the calibre of Terri Lynne Carrington, Billy Hart, Jack de Johnette, Joe Lovano and Lionel Lueke provide the necessary supportive role. On this album there is a distinct 1970s retro feel with ‘Radio groove’, the de facto title track, reminiscent of both Minnie Ripperton in the vocal phrasing, Manhattan Transfer in the use of harmonies, and some wonderful Latin piano vamp into the bargain. The boundaries between jazz and soul are constantly crossed with ease on this new set as illustrated on a interesting reworking of a slow burner song from Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the wall’, ‘I can’t help it’, with creative use of vocals and lovely tenor saxohpone from Lovano. A heavyweight funk influence is present on ‘Cinammon tree’ with gorgeous cello intro that leads into the heavy bassline. This is a possible radio hit. Spalding’s iconoclastic tastes are exemplified further by a cover of a lesser known 1980s Wayne Shorter piece ‘Endangered species’ with guest vocals from Lalah Hathaway. The finest vocal piece for Spalding comes on ‘Black gold’ and the staccato mid-tempo groove sounds like a classy 1970s album track from Chaka Khan who may well be one of several influences on the young musician-singer. As an in-demand musician Esperanza Spalding’s recent CV is impressive to say the least and takes in pianists Gerri Allen and Herbie Hancock, vocalist Corinne Bailey Rae and tenorist Joe Lovano. Even Prince is reputed to be a fan of her music. The extremely eclectic nature of Esperanza Spalding’s musical ambitions is revealed here and this album promises to win her wider recognition beyond the confines of jazz even though the music is still firmly rooted within that tradition.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes’ 4 CD Box Set (Harmless) 5/5

Philadelphia International Records (PIR) celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year and what better way to commemorate the label that is synonymous with the rise of black American dance music during the 1970s than with a sumptuous package from the incomparable king of disco remixers, Tom Moulton. Of course as a label PIR is so much more and, among other achievements, has contributed fabulous jazz-fusion from Dexter Wansel, gorgeous ballads from the likes of Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul and Patti Labelle, socially conscious grooves from the Philadelphia All Stars and even early rap in the form of DJ Jocko, but these can form part of other compilations. Here the focus is strictly on the hottest dancefloor sounds and boy does Tom Moulton deliver the goods. A generous selection of the all-time dance classics have been expertly dissected, deconstructed and then built up again as only Tom Moulton knows how, which means seamlessly weaving in new instrumental parts, beefing up the percussion and incorporating weird and wonderful sound effects. The results are songs that you thought you knew off by heart given a unique and wonderfully creative and inventive new twist. Thus ‘Let’s groove’ by Archie Bell and the Drells has now mushroomed into an elongated ten minutes and twenty second version with an extended pared down keyboard, drum and guitar intro with a thrilling outerspace feel on additional layered instrumentation before the familiar vocals are subtly incorporated into the mix. The masterful reworking is repeated elsewhere with new guitar licks from the instrumental take on ‘Backstabbers’ by the O’Jays while arguably the same group’s greatest dancefloor smash ‘I love music’ is relatively untouched at the beginning, but then mid-way through starts to repeat a segment several times before the Grant Greenesque guitar solo takes over. At times it feels as though Tom Moulton is toying with the listener, teasing them into a false sense of security before unleashing the subtlest of sonic surprises. Teddy Pendergrass features heavily on the compilation as a whole with four selections, three of which are as part of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Of the unexpected remixes, the rather sedately paced ‘When will I see you again’ by the Three Degrees, a long time Prince Charles favourite, receives a gentle makeover that transforms the second part of the song into a mid-tempo groover while Lou Rawls’ sophisticated ‘You’ll never find a love like mine’ is judiciously not tinkered with too much. The soulboy classic ‘Nights over Egypt’ by the Jones Girls is extended to double its original 12” time and old favourites by Jean Carn, the Intruders and the Trammps are lovingly re-created. In sum, no filler and all thriller. This is a truly fitting way to celebrate one of the greatest labels in music history and Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the labels co-founders, would be mightily pleased at the efforts made here to pay rightful homage. Excellent and incisive inner sleeve notes from Lloyd Bradley shed useful light both on an overview of the label and of the individual songs, and classy packaging make for an unbeatable whole. A prime candidate for re-issue of the year. Tim Stenhouse

Batida ‘Batida’ (Soundway) 3/5

Electronica and world roots music are sometimes unlikely and uncomfortable bedfellows, but definitely not mutually exclusive concepts and this fascinating project from Portugese-Angolan DJ Mpula (Aka Pedro C) of music that would normally circulate on the streets of Angolan capital Luanda in pirated form is merely a foretaste of what is likely to become an increasingly dominant trend, fusing acoustic and electronic sounds. The question as ever is how successful is the musical métissage and here the answer is a success with a few qualifications to hand. Where the underpinning rhythm is traditional as on the melodic rhythm guitar led piece ‘Tirei o chapéu’, the shuffling beat works beautifully and the harder edged vocals of Ikonoklasta do not seem out of place. Even rootsier is another contribution from the aforementioned singer on ‘Cuka’ and the use of electronica serves to enhance the traditional flavours. Less successful is on the cold intro to ‘Puxa’ which may alienate fans of acoustic roots before a sudden shift in pace while there are uneven attempts at combining genres on ‘Yumbale’ which, to these ears, sounds like an in-between of Trinidadian soca and rap. New fans to roots music who are more at home with contemporary dancefloor grooves will find much to appreciate in the repetitive drum patterns of ‘Bazuka’ and in the ambient and dub effects that are present on ‘Alegria’ with nifty guitar licks. The fusion of acoustic and electronic music within the sphere of world roots is still only in its infancy globally and therefore it should not be a surprise that the balance struck is not always the right one. Other musicians as disparate as Congotronics and Céu have found winning combinations and Angolan music will ultimately take on board these developments in due course. This a departure from roots unearthing specialists Soundway and they are to be applauded for taking the risk of focusing on new artists who are more street-wise in orientation. Long-time African music fans would do well to listen to these new sounds for they are only going to encourage a new generation of music listeners to check out the golden oldies while tapping in to new artists, and that can only be a positive outcome for all concerned. Tim Stenhouse

Leila Pinheiro and Nelson Faria ‘Céu e Mar’ (Far Out) 4/5

leila-pinheiro-nelson-fariaBrazilian singer Leila Pinheiro has been performing in her native land for some thirty years or more and this pairing with guitarist Nelson Faria is like a trip back in time to the 1970s and recalls that genial pairing of Elis Regina and Tom Jobim from 1974. Indeed Pinheiro most resembles in voice that of arguably Brazil’s greatest ever female voice in Elis Regina and that is no mean feat, though she is no mere vocal stooge. The repertoire spans the whole gamut of what one could justafiably call the great Brazilian songbook (in opposition to the great American songbook) and this takes in some of the most inventive writing duos in contemporary music. An immediate winner is the song that Joao Bosco and Aldir Blanc composed for the former ‘Bala com bala. Whereas the original version featured a gorgeous samba percussion in the background, here Pinheiro comes into her own with vocal gymnastics that Annie Ross could have laid down in her prime and in a Brazilian setting that Tania Maria and Joyce have at times attempted. This funky ditty is all the more memorable for the guitar licks laid down by Faria. In general the album is quite melancholic and indeed reflective in nature and this side to Brazilian music is often overlooked in the UK. Far Out are to be commended for showcasing this additional dimension to Brazilian music which makes it all the richer. The duo are best heard when the bare bones beauty of the songs is revealed as on ‘Doce presença’, or on the meditative Bach-sounding ‘Embaraçao’, a joint composition by Francis Hime and Chico Buarqué. Nelson Faria can best be described as a similarly intimate sounding Joe Pass and certainly one imagines that both singer and guitarist have been influenced by the albums Pass recorded with jazz singers of the calibre of Ella Fitzgerald and possibly also the Brazilian album ‘Tudo Bem!’ that Pass recorded with percussionist Paulinho da Costa among others. Further uplifting hues can be heard on the title track composition by pianist-singer Johnny Alf (a major influence on Tania Maria’s approach and well worth investigating the albums of) where voice and guitar combine to perfection. A classy set from a singer who has not received her full due outside Brazil. Hopefully this album will go some way to re-addressing the imbalance.

Tim Stenhouse