Ralph Alessi ‘Baida’ (ECM) 4/5

Ralph_AlessiAmerican trumpeter Ralph Alessi who has a foot in both classical and jazz music camps, his father being a classically trained trumpeter and mother being an opera singer, has been involved in some ambitious recent projects, notably engaged in a duet recording with pianist Fred Hersch. For his latest project, he has enlisted the support of a crack rhythm section comprising pianist Jason Moran, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits. The all-original set of compositions reveals a profound awareness of and sensitivity towards the jazz tradition. If the overall impression is of a nod towards mid-late 1950s Miles Davis, then it is the empathetic rapport with pianist Moran that is most striking and impressive. This is illustrated on pieces such as the waltz-like ‘Throwing like a girl’ with muted harmon and piano in unison and on the title track and its reprise which bookend the set. For hearing the rhythm section in full flow, the busy and engaging ‘In flight entertainment’ with a simple piano riff serving as the pretext for an extended solo from Moran later on will enthral. There will be those who might question whether Alessi’s tone on a number such as ‘Maria Lydia’ is simply too clinical, but the riposte can be found in the mournful ballad ‘Sanity’ where Alessi’s devotion to the cause is beyond reproach.

Tim Stenhouse

Eliane Elias ‘I thought about you. A tribute to Chet Baker’ (Blue Note) 4/5

Eliane_EliasBrazilian pianist-singer Eliane Elias returns with an album that, although devoted to trumpeter Chet Baker, incorporates some of her own Brazilian roots and that makes the set all the more listenable and worthwhile. The great American songbook serves as the backdrop to this album and with a top line-up of Marc Johnson on bass, Victor Lewis on drums and guests including guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves and ex-husband trumpeter Randy Brecker, you know you are in for a treat. Elias and co breeze through a bossa-flavoured ‘There will never be another you’ with Brecker in attendance while ‘Let’s get lost’ is performed as a samba-jazz vehicle. While the faithful rendition of ‘You don’t know what love is’ is both intimate and moody, ‘Everything depends on you’ is performed as a pared down duet between piano and guitar and is a classy affair. If Elias’s vocal range in English is somewhat limited in comparison to others. she more than makes up with her piano playing which is never less than first class and she excels on extended solos such as on ‘I’ve never been in love before’. This writer would like to hear more of this side of the pianist’s repertoire. The title track features blues inflections on piano that recall Gene Harris in his prime. As ever with Eliane Elias releases, the visual aspect of the front and inner covers aims to attract attention and does not disappoint! Tim Stenhouse

Oddarrang ‘In Cinema’ (Edition) 4/5

OddarrangThe relationship between music and cinema has become a good deal closer in recent years with groups such as Mogwai treading a pioneering path in their espousal of independent and art house productions. Finnish group Odderrang are similarly driven and this third album follows on from ‘Cathedral’ (2011) and ‘Music Illustrated’ (2007). For this latest project the music was originally composed for four independent films, tow of which have been fully expanded for the current album. It is a well balanced set with jazz influences as well as rock, but always melodic and in parts quietly contemplative. That would certainly be one way to describe ‘Self-portrait’ which features a lovely cello solo, but three minutes in suddenly takes off in another direction altogether. Of the three lengthier pieces, ‘Missing tapes from a highway set’ is a lovely gentle acoustic number while ‘Cultivate and contemplate’ has something of an early music feel with the use of cello and sounds all the better for it. Leader Olavi Louhivuori is a multi-instrumentalist with a clear vision and he is to be commended for creating such original and evocative sounds. Tim Stenhouse

Various – Americana 2 ‘Rock Your Soul’ (BBE Music) 4/5

americana2Compilations of blue-eyed soul out of the States have become a recent trend, but where this anthology scores highly is in unearthing some of the lesser known, yet fully deserving of wider recognition. Only the Latin-funk of Ray Camacho’s formation will be vaguely familiar and even then only to the cognoscenti. Of immediate interest will be the Chic-esque guitar licks on ‘I Know All About It’ by R.J. Stamp which has an intoxicating mid-tempo groove while in a similar vein RCRs ‘Give It To You’ has mixed harmony vocals that are sure to thrill. One of the most soulful cuts has a Latin undercurrent in percussion on ‘Make me believe’ by Archie James Cavanaugh who definitely needs to be explored in more depth. Latin-fusion dominates on the semi-vocal ‘A Million Stars’ by the Macky Feary band and its use of bubbling Latin percussion and lovely horns recalls the mid-1970s remake of ‘Feel like making love’ while for instrumental fusion look no further than ‘Vaya mulata’ by Luc Cousineau. Ray Camacho’s contribution harks back to the brass and harmonies of mid-1970s Earth, Wind and Fire on ‘Hollywood’ while disco grooves resurface once again on the inviting ‘I’m Ambivalent About You, Baby’ by the intriguingly named Freudian Funk Band. Potential rare groove sounds are present on ‘You Win, I lose’ by vocalist Hal Bradbury. Overall, a fine overview of previously long lost grooves.

Tim Stenhouse


Double vinyl (gatefold) [with a bonus CD of the same tracks].

Disc 1 side A
Breakaway – There’s A New Group In Town
E.J. Stamp – I Know All About It
Joseph Nicoletti – Night Time Stars
TR’s Hot Ice – Hot Ice

Disc 1 side B
Spats (Your Lovin’ Is) – Everywhere
The Ray Camacho Band – Hollywood
Archie James Cavanaugh – Make Me Believe
Luc Cousineau – Vaya Mulata

Disc 2 side A
Macky Feary Band – A Million Stars
RCR (Rhodes, Charmers, Rhodes) – Give It To You
Freudian Funk Band – I’m Ambivalent About You, Baby (Yes, Yes, Yes… No, No, No)
Steve Eaton – Without You

Disc 2 side B
Hal Bradbury – You Win, I Lose
Lucy Stone – Giving Love Instead Of Gold
Dan Mastroianni – Just One Touch
Jaye P. Morgan – Here Is Where Your Love Belongs

Frootful ‘Heavyweight’ (Freestyle) 3/5

Frootful_HeavyweightSoul-jazz is very much still in vogue and this neo-take on the genre proves just why. A follow up to the 2011 album ‘Colours’, Frootful focus on the mid-1960s soul-jazz groove and is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Nick Radford who here performs primarily on bass and guitar. The opener ‘Them blues’ samples a famous cut from the Junior Mance Trio that features the unmistakable guitar licks of one Kenny Burrell. In fact the dance floor driven grooves on this set are quite diverse and include the raggaefied ska plus dub effects of ‘Gettin’ Ernest’, a homage of sorts, one presumes, to the great Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. For fans of the organ combo sound, the instrumental ‘Benedict Boogaloo’ will fit the bill with some psychedelic guitar while those who like a little easy listening music will appreciate the guitar-led intro to ‘Ernie’s journey’. Funky blues-inflected riffs abound on ‘Blackberry Jam’ which also features some tasty harmonica. Lead vocalists vary, but on the mid-tempo soulful groove of ‘The Road’ they are taken up by Mazen Bedwei who is very much in the falsetto vocal tradition of Curtis Mayfield. Tim Stenhouse

Paolo Conte ‘Psiche’ (Platinum/Universal) 4/5

 Paolo Conte PsicheItalian singer-songwriter and pianist Paolo Conte almost belongs to another era and it is precisely that old-world charm that makes his music utterly compelling and unique. Conte successfully brings together New Orleans-style jazz, world beats instrumentation and tango with a gruffness of voice that Tom Waits could immediately identify with. He sings primarily in his native Italian, but has increasingly incorporated other languages into his repertoire, especially French (he is virtually as popular in France as in his own country) and English invariably finds it way into the choruses (as on the glorious all-time favourite ‘Happy Feet’). This album is an ideal place to start to explore Conte’s extensive back catalogue and dates from 2008. The overall feel on this recording is of quiet introspection and a hint of melancholia, though the Italian joie de vivre is never too far from the surface. On the gentle opener and title track, a jazzy bass line leads into some Satie-esque piano rolls with minimalist lyrics. There is a quasi-spoken delivery on ‘Silvery Fox’ with swinging brass and just the kind of eclecticism of approach that one has come to expect from Conte. Variety is on offer on the percussive uptempo number ‘Velocità silenziosa’ which features the loveliest of melodies and a classic chorus line. Subtle electronica beats permeate the ballad ‘Omicron’ while dissonant guitar riffs are a feature of ‘Il quaderto e il cerchio’. It is surprising to learn that the law trained musician was initially unsuccessful with his musical passion in 1962 and it was not until 1974 that he made a second attempt, this time gaining a national then international audience within just over a decade. His live performances are much lauded, yet have become relatively infrequent given that he is now in his mid-seventies. Paolo Conte will be performing for one date only in the UK at the Southbank Centre on Saturday 16 November as part of the London Jazz festival. Tim Stenhouse

Winston McAnuff and Fixi ‘A new day’ (Chapter Two/Wagram) 4/5

Jamaican reggae star Winston McAnuff has teamed up with French accordionist and producer Fixi for an album that can best be described as world fusion in the true sense of the word and it covers a multitude of styles, yet still ends up as a cohesive whole. It helps greatly that musicians of the calibre of Fela drummer Tony Allen are on hand. For fans of roots reggae, McAnuff has certainly not forsaken his roots and on the 1980s computer generated sound effect of ‘I’m a rebel’ one of the most melodic pieces on the album is to be found complete with a lovely piano vamp. However, this is no reggae pastiche album for the shuffling electronica beat of ‘One, Two, Three’ hints at the kind of song that Manu Chao might have conjured up while ‘You and I’ has a distinctive Afro-Beat groove with brass and McAnuff adapts well to this new environment and the Jamaican-Nigerian mix is a most complimentary one. Funk drum beats and reggae flavours combine on the acoustic number ‘Heart of gold’ that has an unusual time signature to it, but nonetheless grows with each listen. Social realities are never forgotten by McAnuff and here they are evoked head on with ‘Economical crisis (coconut)’ with some cheesy 1970s style keyboards added for good measure. The now defunct Makasound label of Paris brought out some wonderful new acoustic sessions during its existence and these are paid homage to on both the laid back song ‘Don’t give up’ and on the superior ‘Let him go’. A fine coming together of world beats and one that may just prove to be a surprise package. Tim Stenhouse

The pair are appearing live at on 31st January for Celtic Connections in Glasgow.

Mighty Diamonds ‘Pass the knowledge’ 2CD + DVD (VP) 5/5

Mighty Diamonds Pass The Knowledge Reggae Anthology 2013Roots harmony group par excellence, The Mighty Diamonds are something of an institution in Jamaican popular music and rightly so. They have been in existence now for over forty years and so it is only fitting that the group should be celebrated with a special anthology and this is precisely where the current release fits the bill admirably.

The first CD rightly focuses on their long-term collaboration during the 1970s and beyond with producer Jo Jo Hoo Kim at the legendary Channel One studio and some of the most glorious harmonies flowed as a result, backed by the top session band the Revolutionaries. A plethora of classic songs are featured here and among the treasures, compositions such as ‘Shame and Pride’, ‘Country Living’, ‘I need a roof’ and ‘Ghetto Living’ all stand the test of time remarkably well and the social themes present have never been more pertinent. Of interest to devotees in search of the slightly more obscure sides, there is a wonderful cover of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Gypsy Woman’, with the American soul revolution of the late 1960s and early-mid 1970s playing an influential role on the Diamonds, with the Philly sound of the Stylistics and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and the Motown groove of the latter period for the Temptations all playing their part. CD2 is a little more diverse in terms of production chores as they became more popular internationally. Of course the Gussie Clarke produced ‘Pass the Kouchie’ is one of their endearing tunes and was turned into a pop smash by Musical Youth while ‘Morgan the Pirate’ has remained a favourite of roots fans and was produced by no less than DJ Tappa Zukie. Another Channel One production of note surfaces in ‘Body guard’ with bubbling bass and organ while an extended version of the ‘Gates of Zion’ will appeal to any roots devotee. Three unreleased dub plates are included on the first CD with another two added on CD2. Interestingly among roots groups, the Diamonds rarely indulged in lengthy 12″ disco mixes, or even included DJs.

The DVD is a priceless document that captures the Diamonds live in concert at the annual Sun Splash in 1992. Ideally one would have liked it to be longer than the twenty minutes in length, but that said every songs is a winner and despite the inner sleeve warning that the original copy of the video was not in pristine condition, it is perfectly acceptable with clear picture throughout and a decent quality sound. The Diamonds undertook an extensive tour during October. Tim Stenhouse