Torsten Goods ‘Love Comes to Town’ (ACT) 3/5

Approaching twenty-seven years of age, German guitarist and vocalist Torsten Goods has opted for a change of approach that constitutes something of a re-evaluation of his career with a previous album ‘1980’ dating from five years ago. Now resident in Berlin, Goods has opted for a pop-jazz feel that owes a large debt of aliegance to Steely Dan in the overall sound whereas from a guitar perspective George Benson springs to mind. As for the voice, it veers somewhere between Michael Franks and Ben Sidran. Seven of the songs are co-written originals and there is an interesting selection of standards. The album is typified by catchy hooks such as ‘When love comes to town’ which with the use of fender and brass orchestrations could be right out of the Steely Dan songbook. The Doobie Brothers are evoked on another fusion-pop number ‘Unlucky like me’ which harks back to a byegone era when the likes of Michael Franks and Al Jarreau were able to enter the pop charts with their brand of superior quality pop songs infused with a jazzy edge. Of the standards, Joe Sample’s ‘Put it where you want it’ is a fine interpretation with a guitar solo on this mid-tempo rendition while for classicism in the songbook, one need look no further than the Gershwin brothers ‘They can’t take that away from me’ that includes a duet with fellow label artist Viktoria Tolstoy. The instrumental ‘Weekend at the A’Trane’ is by far Good’s finest guitar solo outing on the album and an extended one at that, and here he combines on guitar with some lovely flute and brass arrangements. Production is by label evergreen musician Nils Landgren who ensures a professional final touch from the tight sounding quartet that features the fine trumpet playing of Till Brönner. Torsten Goods is a musician in progress who needs to work at developing his own individual sound further, but shows definite potential.

Tim Stenhouse

Compassionate Dictatorship ‘Entertaining tyrants’ (Jellymould) 3/5

One of the latest in a series of up and coming London-based collective of musicians, Compassionate Dictatorship were formed in 2007 by co-leaders guitarist Jez Franks and tenor saxophonist Tori Freestone who had worked together from as far back as 1993. This is the group’s debut recording for the enterprising indie jazz label Jellymould and with both the Norwegian double bassist Jasper Hølby and drummer James Maddren onboard, the future looks decidedly rosy for them. Overall the music veers towards post-bop territory with a definite nod to Wes Montgomery in the guitar department. This is typified by a composition such as ‘Anger management’ which has something of a jam session feel to it and some John Coltrane-influenced tenor from Freestone. Indeed it is the co-leader who shines on the mid-tempo ‘Bubble and squeak’. Perhaps the more uptempo numbers are in places a tad messy and need to be pared down and refined. That said, the band are very much at home on ballads and this is emphasised by two ballads written by the two founding members. Elsewhere there is fine interplay between guitar and saxophone on the gentle ‘In the chophouse’ and an extended solo from Franks whereas ‘Sit tight’ features some sensitive drum work from Maddren, fine tenor playing and a guitar solo which hints at Pat Metheny. Underpinning it all is some solid as a rock bass playing from Hølby. Select live dates in the UK will take place during June and July. Tim Stenhouse

Craig Taborn Trio ‘Chants’ (ECM) 4/5

craig-taborn-trioPianist Craig Taborn, now aged forty-three, has over a lengthy fifteen year period as a leader and longer as a sideman established himself as a musician of some integrity and has worked with an impressive roster of musicians including his current membership of the Tomasz Stanko quartet alongside another trio member, double bassist Thomas Morgan. Both have known one another since they were teenagers and the natural empathy that flows from the trio on this latest adventurous recording is surely born of their long-lasting musical relationships. The final member of the trio is Gerald Cleaver and his collaboration with Taborn goes back some twenty-five years and indeed both debuted on the ECM label as part of the Roscoe Mitchell Note Factory group. Taborn’s pianistic influences take on board some of the more avant-garde aspects of the instrument with Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor being the most likely candidates. Although the trio has been in existence for some eight years in total, this is actually the first recording by the trio in New York and it is an all original set. If at times the structures are quite complex and dense and not immediately accessible, there is nonetheless a warm intimacy to the album as a whole that bodes well for the future and this is exemplified on the opener ‘Saints’ which a lovely crispness to the drum beats. An irresistibly catchy and repetitive piano vamp on ‘Beat the ground’ builds into a Bach-like groove and this is performed at a fast pace throughout. For an example of fine piano trio interplay, the highly rhythmic pattern of ‘Hot blood’ stands out where piano and drums create a collective riff. Where the trio really excel is on the ballads such as ‘In chant’ and on this gentle number the duet intro then affords bassist Morgan to focus on a solo while Taborn delicately comps. The piece has a slightly menacing edge to it and yet succeeds in being strangely reposing at the same time. Cleaver shines with some nifty brush work on the minimalist number ‘Cracking hearts’. Craig Taborn performed a memorable solo set at London’s Vortex in 2011 and ECM should give serious thought to a solo studio/live recording at some stage. A European and North American tour took place during April and May this year.

Tim Stenhouse

James Taylor Quartet ‘Closer to the Moon’ (Real Self) 4/5

Hammond organist James Taylor has, over a twenty-five year career, marked himself out as a stalwart of the UK jazz music scene and its funkier side sometimes referred to misleadingly as acid jazz, a spurious concept at the best of times even though the jazz dance scene it spawned has continued to thrive. For his latest project, Taylor has had something of a change of approach, although long-term fans need not worry. There are still the familiar Hammond B3 organ licks and funky beats lurking just beneath the surface. The leader has long been interested in other musical forms and in particular a life-long love of classical music. This has inspired him to come up with a more expansive and orchestral sound, performing on a variety of keyboard instruments including acoustic piano and celeste (with the hammond still predominating overall nonetheless) that takes on board these and other influences such as film soundtrack, 1970s soul and jazz-funk. There is a 1970s Latin-fusion feel with Earth, Wind and Fire-style harmonies on ‘Nightwalk’ which recalls in some respects Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess’ period while ‘Tick tock’ has a clockwise asymmetric pattern with blues inflections on organ and piano with Taylor alternating between the two. One of the heaviest jazz grooves is ‘Spencer takes a trip’ which features the excellent flute of Rob Townsend and an interesting combination of tubular bells and horns. Big band hammond sounds abound on ‘Don’t pass me by’ which has some lovely unison brass and a solo by Nick Smart on flugelhorn.

Nitin Sawhney is an invited guest on the album which, in its overall concept, conjures up another of Taylor’s influences, namely the 1970s CTI recordings produced by Creed Taylor which fused classical and jazz grooves, and especially for Hubert Laws. For an uptempo organ groover the psychedelic sounding ‘Parallelo’ sums up James Taylor’s current musical vision as well any piece on the album. A radical reworking of Beethoven’s sonata ‘Pathetique’ is the nearest Taylor gets to the classical repertoire and even here he performs on hammond, and it is anything but a standard interpretation. A follow up to the 2011 ‘The template’, this is certainly not your run of the mill soul-jazz organ outing. Indeed the latest recording is a long way from the early James Taylor music of the 1980s when his ‘Mission Impossible EP was championed by John Peel among others. However, it is is certainly James Taylor’s most diverse album thus far and ultimately one of his most satisfying also.

Tim Stenhouse

George Benson ‘Inspiration: a tribute to Nat King Cole’ (Concord) 4/5

While George Benson was growing up as a young boy, one of his main musical idols was pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole and when Benson finally made the transition from solo jazz guitarist to vocalist, ‘Nature boy’ was among the first recorded examples of his newly found status. This new album pays homage to the lasting legacy of Nat’s work and provides a well balanced mixture of orchestral and more intimate combo settings which reflects Cole’s own musical eclecticism. The Henri Mancini Orchestra are on hand to ably assist George Benson and so with great aplomb as on the swinging take on ‘Just one of those things’ which is a truly uplifting performance from all and the song shifts in tempo between mid and high with some delightful jazzy orchestrations and Benson himself engaging in a trademark guitar and scat duet. A more pared down sound greets the listener on ‘Route 66’ and we are treated to some fine piano trio plus an extended guitar solo from the leader. For some old-style jazz with jazz group vocals, ‘Straighten up and fly right’ is a winner, hinting at Manhattan Transfer, and features a lovely piano solo. In a gentler vein, the new take on ‘Nature boy’ is a beautiful interpretation that is considerably slower than Benson’s 1970s version and here the orchestrations include a strings intro with flute and violin solos while on ‘Smile’ the famous ballad is treated to a gentle rendition with solo by Brönner and some gorgeous understated flutes. The singer even sounds as though he has been taking in the influence of Frank Sinatra on the uptempo ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter’ and here he sings straight with some lovely brass and piano arrangements. Top drawer guests include trumpeters Till Brönner and Wynton Marsalis and master percussionist Sheila E better known for her collaborations with Prince. Tim Stenhouse

Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra ‘The benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius’ (Axe Attack) 4/5

Two founder member of Madness, saxophonist Lee Thompson and bassist Mark Bedford, were inspired by the music of their teenage years to begin performing from 2011 onwards their own vision of ska and reggae-infused material and, to add some authenticity to proceedings, have enlisted the support of one Mike Pelanconi aka Prince Fatty who also co-produced the album. The result is an engaging slice of retrospective Jamaican music that is sure to uplift the spirits of even the hardiest of souls. The first single to emerge from the album has been hitting the airwaves for several weeks now and ‘Fu man chu’ is an outstanding remake of the classic reggae song performed here very ably by Bitty McLean. Elsewhere there is a good deal to commend, not least the terrific take on the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme which is a truly inspired choice to be given the ska treatment and one, that in its new musical surroundings, sounds completely natural. The old Lester Sterling tune ‘Bangarang’, which was an original skinheads favourite, receives a faithful re-interpretation with joint vocals and some fine unison horns. For fans of the Skatalites, Don Drummond’s ‘Eastern standard time’ is an energetic version that retains the essence of the original while if it is a reggae/funk fusion that you are looking for, then ‘Hot reggae’, a reworking of James Brown’s ‘Hot pants’ will fit the bill to perfection. The excellence of the production is best exemplified on John Holt’s seminal ‘Ali Baba’ and this stands comparison with any Jamaican remake. For an unusual choice of cover, look no further than a reworking of the Allman Brothers blue-eyed soul song ‘Midnight rider’ which is taken at a leisurely minor theme tempo here and works surprisingly well. A recent live performance on the Jools Holland show will have done little to harm the promotion of both the album and band.

Tim Stenhouse

Henry Franklin ‘The Skipper’ (Black Jazz/Snow Dog Japan) 4/5

Among the roster of Black Jazz artists, bassist Henry Franklin is one of the least well known, yet his music is among the subtlest and most lyrical and this album (part of a pair with the skipper theme in their title) is definitely worth investigating. The brass pairing of trumpeter/flugelhornist Oscar Brashear and tenor/soprano saxophonist Charles Owens will be more familiar names and their combined talents along with the keyboarding prowess of Bill Henderson on electric piano result in some beautifully textured grooves that take in mid-1960s Miles and early 1970s Return to Forever from their Latin fusion phase. The highly sensual piece, ‘Theme for Jojo’ has a modal undercurrent to it with dream-like effects on electric piano and this number is not dissimilar to ‘Little B’s Poem’. A lyrical solo from Brashear rounds off proceedings. On ‘Little Miss Laurie’ a minor Latin theme permeates the atmosphere with once again trumpet and saxophone stating the main theme in unison and with some delightful comping from Henderson. For those who like their soul-jazz, there is catchy bassline and ‘Sidewinder’-esque brass riff on ‘Plastic Creek Stomp’ while for those in search of heavier grooves, ‘Beauty and the Electric Tub’ is sure to impress with a pumping bass, electric piano in an essentially supportive role and both trumpet and saxophone free to roam. A minor gem of an album from Henry Franklin that should not be overlooked.

Tim Stenhouse

Calvin Keys ‘Shaw-Neeq’ (Black Jazz/Snow Dog Japan) 4/5

Guitarist Calvin Keys has cut his musical teeth with some of the finest of soul-jazz combos during the 1960s and beyond and these include Charles Earland, Jack Mc Duff and Jimmy McGriff. It should not come as any surprise, then, that his guitar sound betrays/ owes a great deal to the work of both George Benson and Grant Green, with the latter’s sound especially prominent here. One notable band member is Owen Marshall who fans of the Jazzman label will remember his recently re-issued album as a leader while Larry Nash occupies the electric piano duties with due care. This album from 1973 has more of an esoteric 1970s feel, though very accessible for all that. The mid-temp groove of ‘B.E.’ has a somewhat introspective outlook to it with the psychedelic sounding instrument the hose-a-phone being performed by Marshall. Owens contributes an elongated and expansive guitar solo here. More uptempo and deeply lyrical in its use of a flute/guitar combination is ‘Gee-Gee’ which features some fine guitar soloing. There is an updated take on the more intimate soul-jazz combo on ‘Criss Cross’ (not the Thelonius Monk tune) where Keys has the opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity and arguably the finest number on the album, the title track, which is a most delicate piece and has long been a favourite of jazz connoisseurs. Echoes of Lonnie Liston Smith abound on electric piano with melodic and relaxing guitar riffs while flute and guitar alternate on the main theme. Tim Stenhouse

Chester Thompson ‘Powerhouse’ (Black Jazz/Snow Dog) 3/5

Hammond B3 organist Chester D. Thompson is especially well known for his part as a member of cult funk band Tower of Power with whom he played for a decade and then for an extended twenty plus year sojourn as part of the Santana band. However, he did cut an album as leader for Black Jazz and this fits very much into the later 1960s/early 1970s soul jazz bag with a slightly harder edge in places. In this endeavour he is ably assisted by saxophonist Rudy Johnson who has taken inspiration from the John Coltrane school of tenor playing, trombonist Al Hall Jr and Ray Pounds on the drums. One of the strongest instrumentals is the catchy groover ‘Weird Harold’ which is the kind of track you might have found on a late 1960s Blue Note or Prestige album and there is some fine collective brass work here. Altogether heavier in approach is the title track where Thompson comes across as a Larry Young acolyte and the attractive and slightly ominous sounding main theme is followed by a blistering tenor solo from Johnson. Back in a mid-tempo vein, ‘Trip One’ is a slow burner of a tune with some lovely Hammond licks from the leader and Johnson once more taking centre stage. Ideally, one would like to hear more of Chester Thompson the soloist for he possesses a soulful technique on the Hammond B3 and sometimes has a tendency to be content with a merely supportive role.

Tim Stenhouse

Pat Metheny/Tap ‘John Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol. 20’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

One could never accuse Pat Metheny of sticking to the same routine so it should comes as little surprise, then, his latest project is devoted to left-field maverick musician John Zorn who simply defies categorisation and has a legion of fans because of it. Metheny just happens to be one of those devotees and has focused on some of the more folk-based compositions in Zorn’s vast songbook which are linked to the composer’s Jewish roots. He is ably assisted in the project by drummer Antonio Sanchez, but as on other recent recordings, the leader is not content to perform solely on his impressive selection of his master guitars. Rather he turns up playing at various times on trumpet, keyboards and even piano, though it has to be said that these musical forays are brief and that long-time fans will marvel at the guitar soloing which is as accomplished as it ever has been. The repertoire focuses primarily on the more folk-oriented side to Zorn’s compositions (with the possible exception of the rousing opener ‘Mastema’) and as such is deal terrain for Metheny to exploit. The engaging and intricate riff-laden uptempo number ‘Tharsis’ is notable for some fine polyrhythmic accompaniment from Sanchez while there is a pan-Mediterranean feel to ‘Albim’ which has a reposing quality to it, and Metheny here performs mainly on acoustic guitar. Even more intimate in ambience is ‘Sariel’ which features some sparse acoustic guitar and the simplest of riffs, yet highly effective at that. Elsewhere Pat Metheny excels on the free-flowing numbers such as ‘Humiz’ on which he also alternates on piano. For those not conversant with the eclecticism of John Zorn, his multi-directional musical stance takes on board easy listening, film score music, Jewish jazz, jazzcore hybrids and a whole lot more. This simply reflects Zorn’s own incredibly diverse influences which range from Ennio Morricone and Esquivel to Roland Kirk, Lennie Tristano and even Hüsker Dü. John Zorn’s music has constantly oscillated between outright eccentricity and top quality, but in the process the composer/musician has cultivated a faithful band of followers. This is another side project that Pat Metheny can proudly add to his already mightily impressive portfolio that includes duets with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau not to mention the fascinating mellotron experiment. An artist in full creative flow at present. Tim Stenhouse