That larger big band ensembles such as the one headed by leader and trumpeter Reuben Fowler is a triumph in itself , but there is a good deal to commend in this gifted young musician. Helping Fowler along is the presence of veteran saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and Jim Hart on vibes with fellow trumpeter Guy Barker conducting, while it was something of a coup to have the guest appearance of trumpeter Tom Harrell on one number. There are shades of Gil Evans from his collaborative period with Miles Davis in the orchestrations. The ambitious five-part suite of the title track features some extended soloing from Sulzmann on soprano which makes for a fascinating counterpoint with the restrictive piano vamps. Part two of the suite is in fact a reworking of the standard ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkely Square’ which is a sedate, almost pedestrian take on the evergreen number before taking off over five minutes in into a mid-tempo piece with some lovely trombone and vibes soloing. For some fine ensemble work, the lyrical ‘The lost and found’ fits the bill admirably. A case of excellent work in progress and following a relatively small number of British jazz musicians who have taken on extended composing and arranging duties. Tim Stenhouse
In a world brimming with new piano jazz trios, distinguishing the men from the boys can be a thankless task even for seasoned writers, but in the case of Finnish-born pianist Alexi Tuomarila, he is a young musician with an already impressive pedigree. He signed with Warners exactly twenty years ago and recorded two albums for them and for ECM recorded ‘Dark Eyes’ in addition to being the current pianist in Tomsz Stanko’s latest formation. This new recording marks his debut for Edition. Impressive credentials indeed, then, but does the music itself stand up to the hype? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes and the all original set features some beautifully lyrical pieces none more so than the opener and title track. As with a good deal of Scandinavian jazz, it sounds folk-inspired which is no bad thing. A tight rhythm section comprising Norwegian bassist Mats Eilersten and Finnish drum Olavi Louhivuori enhance the overall feel which is meditative and reflective as illustrated by ‘Jibeinia’ and features lengthy floating improvisations by Tuomarila and some subtle work from the rhythm section. There is a reposing quality to the piece ‘Shud’ which is an album highlight with a roaming undercurrent before it develops into a more expansive number. Lovely, vibrant quality to the sound recording with real depth in the bass.
Americana and all round roots specialist Ry Cooder returns with a live recording from the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco from 2011 that is a fitting retrospective on both an eclectic and illustrious career. The good news is that there is something from just about every stage from his highly diverse career with a few surprises along the way. Dustbowl blues is the order of the day on ‘Boomer’s Story’ which was the title track of an early 1970s album that is long appreciated by fans of acoustic folk-blues and the version here is suitably rustic in feel with a slide guitar solo. For a deeply soulful groove, the southern classic ‘The dark end of the street’ may have been immortalised by James Carr, but Ry’s interpretation here is ably assisted by a cast of crème de la crème session studio vocalists is a pretty darn fine attempt all the same. More recent incursions into the Mexican border tradition are explored on a Tex-Mex flavoured take on Woody Guthrie’s ‘Do re mi’ with accordion supplied by Flaco Jimenez and on ‘El Corrido de Jessie James’ performed here as a slow waltz. For a Spanish-language take, ‘Volver Volver’ takes some beating with vocals from Juliette Commagere, especially when it features superlative lyrical guitar showcased by the leader. Rounding matters off is a rocking rendition of ‘Wooly Bully’ and a folk-blues classic penned by Leadbelly, ‘Goodnight Irene’. Ry Cooder has maintained a consistently high level of artistic achievement throughout his career and this fine example of a typically rousing as well as reflective live performance merely reinforces that view.
Here is a duet with a difference. Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and Brazilian guitarist Hamilton de Holanda first met on stage at a festival in Austria in 2009 when they played two pieces together. Discovering that had much musically in common, the duet then performed once again for a complete show in 2011 and repeated the thoroughly enjoyable experience in August 2012 at the Antwerp Jazz festival from which this recording has been taken. The pairing of piano and guitar will recall for many Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but perhaps a more pertinent modern duet might be that of Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Bollani, in his previous releases as both sideman and leader for ECM, has revealed a genuine passion for Brazilian music as exemplified on a duo with Chick Corea ‘Orvieto’, Enrico Rava’s ‘The third man’, and his very own trio on ‘Stone in the water’. The selection of material is an update on the Brazilian songbook which avoids the obvious and instead focuses on composers such as Edu Lobo, Pixinguinha and maestros Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes. An immediate intimacy and empathy emerges from the concert with the two engaging in some fine duet performances with intricate rhythm patterns illustrated by Bollani’s own piece ‘Il Barbone di Siviglia’ while on ‘Caprichos de España, it is the guitarist who takes the lead. A joyous rendition of the title track, something of an anthem in Brazil for its author, Chico Buarque, receives a pared down interpretation with the piano played as if the number were a nursery rhyme. For a wondrous uplifting experience, the samba-jazz of ‘Canto de Ossanha’ fits the bill admirably. The introspective opener ‘Beatriz’ is the only nod to an Evanesque agenda. A fine set of numbers that largely bypasses bossa nova territory to capture the post-tropicalia flavours of Brazil in a whole new surrounding. Tim Stenhouse
The 12″ underground anthem ‘The beat goes on and no’ by Ripple typifies all that is the very best in soulful disco and the heavy bass line punctuated by an overdose of percussion with strings and horns straight out of Philadelphia makes for an all-time great disco classic. The full length version is featured here, but as a whole the album is actually quite varied and encompasses classy soul ballads and mid-tempo groovers as well as jazz-funk infused numbers. Who were Ripple? They were essentially a five piece group headed by the brothers Carter, Walter taking lead vocals and percussion while Simon performed on bass and vocals. Along with three other band members, Ripple were initially a funk group who by the time they had signed for Salsoul had diversified into more soulful territory which is where producer Floyd Smith comes into the equation. He of course produced some fine southern soul singers, most notably Loleatta Holloway, who would also become his wife. If one had to look to an obvious follow up to the aforementioned disco monster (top ten US R & B charter in 1977), then it really should have been ‘Do what you wanna do’, which, with its use of rhythm guitar, vocal chants and subtle keyboards, is akin to the kind of material that Pleasure were releasing around the same time. Somewhat surprisingly, this was not chosen as the second single to follow up on ‘The beat goes on and on’. Rather ‘Today’ took its place which seems a misguided choice and, though an interesting dance floor oriented piece, it now sounds a trifle dated with wah-wah guitars and synths. A far more convincing uptempo number is the instrumental ‘Victorious’ with electric piano from Victor Burks that is right out of the late George Duke’s repertoire and with some fusion guitar for good measure. Deep soul fans, however, will marvel at the gentle sounding opener ‘Call me travelling man’ which is a fine vehicle for Walter Carter to shine on while ‘Here I stand’ is a soulful mid-tempo number with positive lyrics. For some leftfield interest, a Charles Earland composition on the album title track will appeal and is real burner of a piece that grows with each listen. It was an impossible task to repeat the dancefloor action that ‘The beat goes on and on’ generated, but Ripple chose an ultimately cleverer route bv simply focusing on what they are good at, a tasty selection of varied grooves. In that they succeeded handsomely.
As part of a terrific series of re-issues to celebrate almost twenty-five years of the pioneering world roots label under the tutelage of Peter Gabriel during which time virtually two hundred albums have been recorded, Real World have released this superlative double CD of one of world roots’ greatest and more cherished exponents, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Neatly divided up into love songs and devotional, the music exemplifies perfectly what qawwali music is all about. The impact of the music on the Indian has been immense and its mode of communication is usually Urdu (though Gujurati, Hindi and Punjabi are used on occasion). Above all it is the joyous participatory nature of the music that comes shining through on these superlative sides that cannot fail to move one. This is illustrated on the gentle sounding intro to ‘Who haba rake hain pardah’ which fascinatingly incorporates the use of guitar in a fashion that conjurs up the Arabic oud (guitar and mandolin are used throughout the recordings and add a delightfully light, folk-inflected air to the music) on the first CD devoted to the romantic side of the music, known as ‘ghazals’. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the devotional side is dark and sombre in comparison. Far from it. An omnipresent table on the uplifting piece ‘Yaad-e-habi gulshan mehka’ features call and response vocals and is both enchanting and very accessible even if you cannot appreciate the serious nature of the lyrics. It was a tragedy that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan should die so young at only forty-nine. This is utterly sublime music that has been expertly crafted by the inspirational musicianship of Nusrat’s intimate group and headed by the maestro himself. In qawwali music Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has no equal (in the modern era at least). An equivalent musician of such exalted stature might be Grand Maître Franco from the Congo, or Nigeria’s Ransome Fela Kuti and that is truly some company to be compared with. Tim Stenhouse
Continuing the series of unearthing the most obscure of African sounds, label founder Samy Ben Redjeb has once more discovered some fascinating and dance floor oriented grooves that effortlessly straddle musical boundaries and include genres as disparate as highlife, funk and disco. One of the more immediate numbers is ‘Aja wondo’ by Uppers International, a group who have featured on other compilations of Ghanian music, notably Soundways’ fine ‘Ghana Special’. Here traditional highlife meets funk head on with some hypnotic psychedelic wah-wah guitar and a typically 1970s keyboard solo halfway through proceedings. Funk fans will want to check out the instrumental piece ‘I beg’ by Tony Sarfo and the Funky Afrosibi that has a decidedly rustic tone with the influence of James Brown subtly incorporated, but by no means overbearing. More lilting highlife influences are discernible on K. Frimpong’s ‘Abrabo’ and equally on Ebo Taylor’s ‘Children don’t cry’ which is a particular favourite of this writer, distinguishable by its immediate uptempo beat complete with horn solos, and it is a full three minutes before Taylor enters with his distinctive vocals. A successful fusion of highlife with Afro-Beat (Ghana and Nigeria are after all close neighbours) is to be heard on the African Brothers’ ‘Wope me a ka’ while devotees of disco who are looking for something a tad more exotic will be attracted to the thrusting beat of ‘Loose up yourself’ by the un-Ghanaian sounding Rob. If not quite as panoramic in its range of styles as other such compilations, this is nonetheless a fine medium with which to investigate Ghanaian music in the 1970s and the quality of the sound recording is consistently excellent. Tim Stenhouse
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré pays homage to his country and its most recent political trials and tribulations on this excellent album which is in fact a clear statement of support for the citizens of Mali, emphasising the positive contribution of the nation’s culture which was called into question by those charged with a diametrically opposed political agenda. The altogether rootsier approach in terms of instrumentation is just one of the joys of this recording and once again Touré is surrounded by his own intimate sounding group with a few choice guest appearances. One of the strongest melodies, ‘Safare’, has been penned by Vieux’s father, the sadly departed Ali Farka Touré, and it is a sign of the son’s musical maturity that he is fully able to imbue this song with his own individual imprint and the number is memorable for its gospel-tinged call and response vocals. Kora and guitar combine on the all instrumental piece ‘Doni Doni’ with driving percussion and some gorgeous kora soloing. One of the most interesting recent collaborations between musicians of differing traditions was between Vieux Farka Touré and Israeli musician Idan Raichel and they resume their meeting of minds on ‘Ay Bakoy’ which is the album closer. The driving uptempo song ‘Nouhoume maiga’ features some lovely intricate guitar from Touré and this aspect of his musicianship is sometimes overlooked and this is further re-enforced on the lyrical mid-tempo song ‘Kele Magni’. San Francisco based label Six Degrees are to be commended for their continuing commitment to the cause of world roots music and for promoting some innovative and this latest offering from Vieux Farka Touré is a particularly fine example. Tim Stenhouse
Seventy-year-old Ethio-jazz keyboard maestro Mulatu Astake first came to prominence as one of the most interesting of a fascinating collection in the Ethiopiques CD series compiled by French musicologist Francis Falceto. His music became even more widely known as a result of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch falling in love with the Ethiopiques CD and deciding to feature the music as the soundtrack to the 2005 film ‘Broken Flowers’ featuring Bill Murray among the stellar cast. Fast forward to the present and Mulatu has now hooked up with a British-based collective of musicians, the Steps Ahead band, having formerly performed with The Heliocentrics. Whereas the latter had a more traditional feel, the new recording combines this classic sound with a more modern update on the Ethio-jazz style. A first single ‘Gama’ has been released and is essentially a vocal vehicle. The fun starts for fans of the lengthy instrumental pieces Astatke is famed for on the introspective and reflective hues of ‘Gambella’ which begins softly with cello accompaniment from Danny Keane, but gradually builds into a bubbling, mid-tempo percussive number with horns and lead vocals supplied by fellow Ethiopian Tesfaye and some of those trademark subtle electric piano licks from Astake himself. More traditional in its use of instrumentation is the excellent ‘Hager Fiker’ on which uniquely sounding Ethiopian instruments such as the washint and krarr can be heard. Embellishing the ensemble sound is the delightful flute of James Arben who doubles up on clarinet and saxophones on other pieces. The looser and freer sounding ‘Assosa Derache’ actually has echoes of Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew’ to it with Mulatu featured on vibes. For vocal excellence, two numbers stand out. The first is the final number, ‘Surma’ with Malian diva Fatoumata Diawara on lead vocals while ‘Gumuz’ is an infectious groove that features some folk-tinged guitar with subtle hints of Afro-Beat and the vocals of Tesfaye. Mulatu Astatke will perform live on two evenings in October 8 and 9 at the Village Underground in London.
Live blues recordings are a not uncommon sight these days, but the idea of grouping together a small elite of musicians from live recordings around the United States is nonetheless a novel one and with the added bonus of several coming together on a selection of numbers. Acoustic folk-blues is the order of the day and when the line up includes prestigious names such as Taj Mahal, the best of the forty something generation with Corey Harris and Alvin Youngblood Hart and relative newcomers such as Shemekia Copeland (a minor veteran in reality since she has been performing on stage since the age of eight and professionally since fifteen) and Guy Davis and Phil Wiggins, you know you are in a for a feast of folk-blues.
Alvin Youngblood Hart is a towering presence live and that is not only referring to his six foot six frame. There is some terrific guitar playing and singing on ‘Motherless children have a hard time’, a Willie Johnson original, while ‘Gallows pole’ reprises a song that surfaced on Hart’s superb 1997 debut album ‘Big mama’s door’ and is another stand out performance. With so many of the older generation sadly passing away in recent years, the blues is in need of fresh blood and the passing of the guard is in good hands if singers of the calibre of Shemekia Copeland are anything to go by. Her soulful vocals envelop ‘Bring your fine self home’. Elsewhere Taj Mahal is his stunning self with a slightly rockier edge, though still very much in the folk-blues vein on ‘Done changed my way of living’ and is one of the few tracks to feature drums. Where this assembling of artists wins hands down is in the re-uniting of the singers collectively on some of the choicest songs. The pick of an impressive bunch is ‘Ramblin’ on my mind’ which, among others, a young Lucinda Williams covered early on in her career. This new interpretation has a classic folk-blues feel to it akin to the folk revival period of the 1960s. A separate companion DVD is available. Tim Stenhouse