Stonephace Stabbins ‘Transcendental’ (Noetic) 4/5

Multi-reedist Larry Stabbins was one of the pivotal figures in the 1980s jazz dance scene as a founding member of Working Week who recorded the anthemic ‘Venceremos’. He returns here with a band that is in its nucleus part of Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra with, among others, the excellent Zoe Rahman on piano. Stabbins was influenced in his youth by the playing of John Coltrane and in particular an album he bought of the saxophonist, ‘Africa Brass’. This serves as the inspiration for much of the music contained within which has a modal feel as on the lovely ‘Noetic’ with bass riff, piano comps and some fine tenor from the leader. Larry Stabbins alternates between saxophone and flute and on the latter he excels on the brief ‘Immanence’ and the inventive Latin jazz interpretation of the famous film score of The yellow brick road’ which is taken here in 7/4 time as an Afro-Cuban piece with a creative rapport between piano and flute. Stabbins has a distinctive sound on tenor, especially at a higher pitch and this is illustrated in the intro to the opener ‘Africa’ which quickly settles into a percussive groove with fine modal-influenced piano from Rahman. If the music is not always immediate here, it certainly grows with repeated listens and there is a good deal bubbling just under the surface which is always a good sign. Hopefully a live manifestation of this band will surface at some point. Tim Stenhouse

Greg Foat Group ‘Girl and Robot with flowers’ CD/LP + separate 10″ EP (Jazzman) 3/5

London’s Jazzman label is best known for its unearthing of hitherto obscure deep jazz recordings, but on this occasion, a new band has been recorded and the album is indeed a follow up to the 2011 release ‘Dark is the sun’. Recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden, leader Greg Foat is a composer and arranger who also performs as a multi-keyboardist and even plays vibraphone and harmonium. The compositions have been inspired by the sci-fi writing of Brian Aldiss and this is definitely mood music with some tasty grooves laid down in the process, and therefore likely to appeal to an audience beyond the confines of jazz. The title track is divided up into no less than six parts and as such has something of a film soundtrack feel to it. Part two impresses with its use of Hammond organ licks and brass while parts four and five are more psychedelic in approach with spaced out saxophone and a larger jazz component with Foat leading on vibes. Mancunian trumpeter Matthew Halsall guests on one track, the co-composed ‘For a breath I tarry’ which is a pared down piece with just piano and trumpet while minimalist keyboards are also a feature of the two-part ‘Have spacesuit will travel’ which has the contrasting layers of synths with acoustic bass and drums and electric piano. Extra tracks contained on the CD, not available on the vinyl LP, are featured on the EP.

Tim Stenhouse

Son Yambu ‘La Maravilla’ (Apollo Sound) 4/5

Very long-term fans of Latin music in the UK may just be able to remember the first releases of Latin Jazz on the Apollo Sound label which goes all the way back to 1964! For the rest of us, a forty plus year wait is long overdue, but this new album, firmly rooted in the Cuban conjunto style tradition, is a most welcome addition. Precious few authentic Latin music recordings reach these shores beyond the standard modern day salsa and the various off-shoots of the Buena Vistas, but this London-based band, fronted by lead voclaist Yuri Moreno, is the real deal. The opener ‘Baila con mi tumbao’ sets the scene to dramatic effect and the evergreen tunes, three of which are truly classic Arsenio Rodriguez compositions, makes for an enthralling listen. Of the trio, ‘No me llores’ and ‘Dundunbanza’ are stand outs while the call and response vocals on ‘Co Co Mai Mai’ with soaring trumpet and a fine mountuno-style percussion section is probably the pick of the album. Forty years is a long time in the music business, but in the capable hands of new band Son Yambu it has been worth the wait. Tim Stenhouse

Emma Sweeney ‘Pangea’ (Sweeney Records) 4/5

Mancunian Irish fiddler Emma Sweeney arrives on the folk scene with a fine debut album that hints at a variety of new approaches while being firmly rooted in the Irish tradition. Indeed Sweeney already has a wealth of experience, performing with the likes of Dick Gaughan, Donal Lunny and that contemporary maestro of the Mancunian roots scene, Mike McGoldrick. It is in fact in the very capable hands of the latter that this debut recording has been produced and the quality of sound is truly commendable. A fascinating combination of reels and jigs combined with some pioneering world roots fusions makes Emma Sweeney a new artist to watch out for in the next few years. She shines on the composition ‘The rose in the heather’ that builds in intensity and is part of a medley with Sweeney’s own ‘Something in a Sunday’, and on the catchiest of melodic riffs on ‘The reed that bends with the storm’. On the melancholic lament ‘The flying statue’ there is a fine fiddle and guitar duet while the uptempo ‘The mountain top’ is a medley of a Sweeney original, ‘Mucky fingers’ with two traditional pieces. There is a tribute to singer Nick Drake on an interpretation of his ‘A place to be’ on which Sweeney contributes her own vocals while on ‘Golden fiddle waltz’ due homage is paid to the late bluegrass fiddler Randy Howard and this is undoubtedly an avenue that Emma Sweeney should explore future on subsequent releases. An interest in the music of India is first indicated by a medley of Sweeney originals, ”Endless thoughts’ and ‘The last straw’, both inspired by meeting a young boy while travelling in India. However, arguably the biggest suprise is reserved for the final piece, the title track, which has a distinctive Indian classical flavour, and sounds all the better for it. An Indo-Irish folk fusion might well provide an ideal opportunity to explore the commonality of roots over an entire album at some stage and in the opposite direction this has been successfully attempted by jazz pianist Zoe Rahman (with Bengali roots and Irish roots). Anoushka Shankar thrilled listeners with her Indo-Iberian connections album of a couple of years ago. Why not a similar exploration from an Irish folk perspective? If there would be one slight change to make on future albums, then it would probably be the inclusion of a guest singer to help showcase her craft to a wider audience. Otherwise, this is an accomplished debut recording from a musician who has clearly indicated an interest in combining music from her own tradition with that of other genres. Emma Sweeney will be performing at Band on the Wall in Manchester on 9 January as part of her UK tour and at Celtic Connections in a double bill with the Tine Book Trio in Glasgow on 19 January. Watch out for an online interview with Emma to follow shortly. Tim Stenhouse