Salsoul Orchestra ‘How High’ (BBR) 4/5

Salsoul-Orchestra-How-HighOne of the key session bands that were instrumental (no pun intended) in creating the classic disco sound were MFSB, or the sound of Philadelphia International records. A contractual dispute in the late 1970s resulted in the collective jumping ship to Salsoul records and the rest is history. This 1979 album captures them in prime form and includes four tasty bonus cuts with a Larry Levin 12″ remix of the title track and a 12″ instrumental version of ‘Catch me on the rebound’ remixed by another seminal disco DJ Walter Gibbons. The Salsoul Orchestra always emphasized the soulful underground side of disco and this is reflected in some of the classy numbers on this set. Arguably the strongest track is the devastatingly catchy ‘Resorts International’ which oozes dancefloor appeal and is this writer’s personal favourite. Of course the Salsoul Orchestra were not averse to the other bands of the era and on ‘Have a good time’ there is an approach that both hints at Chic and, in the riff at least, at Change’s ‘Lover’s Holiday’ which would only be released a year later in 1980. Simply put, the feel good factor in the Salsoul Orchestra’s démarche cannot be underestimated and contributes enormously to the universal appeal of their music and this at a time of unprecedented social and political upheaval that was taking place in the United States.

If the centrepiece of the album is unquestionably the title track with lead vocals by Cognac, then it’s flip side for single release, ‘My number’s up’, is a compelling number complete with a quasi-Caribbean undercurrent. For some welcome variety, the subtle hues of ‘I’ll keep you warm’ with epic strings and collective chorus makes for an intriguing left-field album composition. The classic cover with model dressed as an airplane pilot says it all. Co-produced by Sigma studios stalwarts Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Bunny Sigler, this is one classy album.

Tim Stenhouse

Salsoul Orchestra ‘Up the Yellow Brick Road’ (BBR) 3/5

An interesting project undertaken here by the Salsoul Orchestra and one that only the disco era would attempt. If disco could descend into farce with Ethel Merman’s ‘Disco Duck’ the lowest of all lows, then discofied versions of other musical genres should rightly be treated with due caution. However, in the very capable hands of the Salsoul Orchestra under the expert arrangements of conductor and vibraphonist Vince Montana Jr, potential listeners should not be intimidated nor put off. This album project surfaced in 1978 when the musical ‘The Whizz’ starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross was in full swing and served as a pretext to explore different musical soundtracks with mixed results. As a whole the album goes through a variety of stages and musical moods and as such is not exactly dancefloor friendly. On the other hand, there are some inventive reworkings and all mixed by one Tom Moulton so underground disco fans in search of something a little more unusual will find this a treat in parts. This is illustrated by a funky take on the Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band’ complete with heavy backbeat and a blues-inflected keyboard in the background. Booker T and the MGs did a similar updated job on the Fab Four catalogue in the early 1970s to dramatic effect and, perhaps, the Salsoul Orchestra should have followed suit and devoted the whole album to the group’s repertoire. As an opener, ‘Ease on down the road’ features a stunning intro with blues guitar licks and electric piano while the vocals are collectively taken care of by the Sweethearts of Sigma and a vibes solo simply adds to the listener’s unadulterated pleasure. Where the project falls down somewhat is on a misguided take on the ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ medley which would have been far better off left alone on this occasion. This is a step too far and the klezmer clarinet and pumping disco beat make for extremely odd bedfellows to say the least. However, even this does develop into a mid-tempo groove with Cal Tjader-esque vibes. A bonus cut of a 12″ disco version of ‘West Side Story’ adds a little more percussion and lengthens out the already long album version. The roller skating diva on the cover conjurs up the hedonistic ambiance of the era to perfection. Tim Stenhouse

VA ‘Extra Rich In Soul’ (Soul Junction Records) 5/5

Extra-Rich-In-SoulMarch 2014 saw the release of an ‘Oh So Soulful’ various artists compilation you definitely need in your collection. “Extra Rich in Soul” compiled by Dave Welding, co-founder of Soul Junction Records, features some of the most sought after vinyl releases from the last seven years, many of which have long since been deleted, alongside a sprinkling of previously unissued/unreleased tracks and some current soulful hot platters. From the in demand inclusion of the late Oliver Cheatham’s classic undiscovered (until 2012) mid-70s rare groove “Don’t Pop the Question (If You Can’t Take the Answer)” through to Darold Ghoulston’s languid, even paced and supremely sumptuous, “Love That’s Real”, the 15 tracks on display here are a perfect advert for the quality “Real Soul” music Soul Junction Records which has been pumping out since their inception in 2008.
Another recently discovered gem is showcased here in the form of “I Can Feel Your Love Changing” (2010) by the indefatigable James McClelland better known as Jesse James. JJ makes his own a tune previously recorded by such luminaries as Esther Phillips and Sharon Ridley.

Louisiana natives August Heat (Eltonez Salton, vocals & Kent August, guitar) received well-deserved kudos for their 2013 album release “Closer”. Soul Junction was quick to license and release two of their tracks as 45’s “You and Me” And “Hooked on You”. Both singles received heavy rotation on various specialist Internet Soul Radio shows. It is the free flowing floater, “Fly Away” which Dave Welding has chosen to include on this compilation. One of the most welcome inclusions comes from ex-Wall Street banker, Eric Oliver Harris. Recording simply as E.R.I.C (Extra Rich In Class) since 2008, it was his outstanding 2012 release “Backstage” which caused heavy vibrations across radio-land – I believe the term is, “Grown Folks Music”. Essential lyrics, essential listening! The muti-faceted talents of Vince Broomfield are highlighted to maximum effect via ‘Audio’s’ “Won’t Somebody” and “Remember September”, the former showing off Vince’s vocal prowess, while the latter is a beautiful saxophone laden instrumental, the instrument he made his living from prior to stepping up to the microphone. Ex ‘Citation’ multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Clayton Hooker’s distinctive falsetto can be heard gracing two tracks on the album “Have You Had Enough” and the tightly produced “Say It Again”, both given first outings on this CD. Other artists afforded two tracks on this compilation are seasoned interracial group, ‘Natural Impulse’, who bring their raw live sound to bear, initially on the very catchy, but unlicensed (until now) “Thank You Baby” and the funky optimism of “We’re Gonna Make It Through”.

One of the founder members of chapter 8, David Washington comes up trumps with a stomping two-step reworking of a track he previously wrote for session recording artist Jimmy Scott. A quality slice of modern soul offered up by the man who along with former chapter 8 band-member Michael Powell discovered Anita Baker. ‘Pix’y’ a.k.a. Janet Wright gives a fresh interpretation of ‘Rose Royce’s’ “Love Don’t Live Here Any More”, utilising some very contemporary production. Another sadly departed artist ‘Bill Spoon’ born William Bell Witherspoon has left us a tune by which to remember his warm, rounded, grandfather- esque comforting vocals by. “I Can’t Wait (Until the Weekend)” is a mantra propagated by millions of people at least once in their lifetime; making this long ignored bumper an apt addition to this compilation and a fitting homage to this long established and dearly missed crooner. Seasoned musicians ‘One Nation’ are a quartet out of Detroit represented on this wholesome collection by the previously unissued ear and foot friendly “I like Your Style”. The aforementioned Darold Ghoulston rounds out what no doubt is the first of many compilations in the “Extra Rich In Soul” series put out by this ‘Voice of Real Soul Lovers Label’, Soul Junction Records. A job well done indeed Mr Welding.
Michael J Edwards

Mayra Andrade ‘Lovely Difficult’ (Sony France/Sterns) 3/5

Mayra AndradejpgNow in her late twenties and resident in Paris, Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade returns with an album that both confirms the great potential of the debut album and raises a few questions about her current direction and whether she wishes to remain a world roots artist, or aim at poppier climbs in the search for a mainstream audience. Of course the two are not necessarily incompatible and world roots singers (Amadou and Mariam, Souad Massi and the various Buena Vista Social Club constituent members to name but a few) have met with considerable success in the pop charts, especially in a country such as France where singing in several languages is not considered unusual.

For the new recording Andrade has incorporated new elements and sings in both French and English as well as in Portugese and the vernacular Creole of Cape Verde. Overall, the feeling is somewhat melancholic and even mournful in parts, but there is still a gentle uplifting edge to the music that first attracted listeners to Andrade in the first place. Where the album works best is in the use of traditional instrumentation such as the cavaquinho-led intimacy of ‘Ilha de Santiago’ where her Cape Verdean roots are showcased to the fore and there is a modern update on the drum sound. This is one of only four songs on the album where the cavaquinho is featured which speaks volumes about the new approach. A mid-tempo song sung in Creole, ‘A-mi N Kre-u Txeu (I love you)’ is another winner and gently uplifting in character, with the subtle use of cello from guest musician and virtuoso Vincent Ségal. Some of the songs in French actually work extremely well and singing in another Romance language both enhances and compliments Andrade’s natural style. Reggae hues permeate the brass accompanied ‘Les mots d’amour’ and there is also a clear reggae drum pattern on ‘Rosa’.

Where Mayra Andrade loses her way somewhat, however, is in the attempt to broaden her appeal by trying to become an English-language folk singer of sorts. Songs such as ‘Build it up’ and ’96 days’, which hint at a conscious desire to become a singer-songwriter in English, lose something of the magic of Portugese/Creole and maybe at this point in time something culturally has been lost in translation. Her best stab at a folk-based repertoire in English comes with the shuffling beat of ‘We used to call it love’. Possibly a smaller selection of English songs over a period of albums would enable Andrade to choose judiciously and not risk losing her essence in the process. The informative sleeve notes provide tri-lingual lyrics in English, French and Portugese plus Creole as and where appropriate.

Tim Stenhouse

Seun Kuti ‘A long way to the beginning’ (Knitting Factory) 4/5

seun_kutiThe younger son of Fela Ransome Kuti, and in many eyes, the most faithful inheritor of his father’s Afro-Beat sound, Seun Kuti returns with a strong album that both updates the family musical heritage (jazz/hip-hop keyboardist Robert Glasper is on hand as guest musician) and fits comfortably into the pantheon of socially-driven compositions. By far the strongest piece is the final number, ‘Black Woman’ (not the Judy Mowatt roots reggae classic of the same name) and this features a stunning intro complete with female lead vocals, vibes and the subtlest of mid-tempo beats before Seun Kuti enters on alto saxophone and then his very own lead vocals. The call and response vocals that are an Afro-Beat trademark are replicated on the excellent ‘African Airways’ with fine trumpet soloing while in a more straight ahead Afro-Beat groove ‘Kalakuta Boy’ is a terrific number. For variety, however, the uplifting highlife piece ‘Ohun Aiye’ illustrates the influence of neighbouring Ghanaian music and there are some conscious rap vocals on ‘African Smoke’. Arguably, the most political charged track is ‘IMF’ with a biting alternative interpretation of the acronym and a plea for the suffering of the most vulnerable globally targeted to end. Even James Brown influences are discernible on the funky rhythm guitar driven instrumentation to ‘IMF’. Two dates in London commenced in early April and will continue on June 7 as part of the Field Day event. Tim Stenhouse

Salsa Celtica ‘The Tall Islands’ (Discos Leon) 4/5

Salsa CelticaFounded some eighteen years ago, Edinburgh-based group Salsa Celtica have single-handedly pioneered a unique fusion of Latin rhythm section and brass with Gaelic vocals and instrumentation that has gone down a storm in a live setting. If the two disparate styles may initially appear irreconcilable, then in the expert hands of the group the musical métissage is both well conceived and wonderfully excecuted overall. For fans of traditional Cuban music, the country, or campasina style is showcased on the relaxed mid-tempo groove of ‘Ven Guajira Ven’ and on the Afro-Cuban rumba of ‘Disfrútalo’ with collective chants. However, unlike conventional Latin music, Salsa Celtica’s numbers are more concise in length, just three and a half minutes on average, and this enables them to focus on incorporating Scots Gaelic vocals and more generally instrumentation such as the uillean pipes that are more commonplace in Irish and Scots jigs and reels. The fusion works best on the traditional ‘Waulking Song’ with an unusual 6/8 time signature that is ‘He Mandhu (aurel) or Heman Dubh’ and on the distinctly Gaelic hues of ‘An Danns Elegua’ which is a song in homage to an auburn haired daughter of Red Donald the piper and this is augmented by Afro-Cuban percussion. Heavyweight clavé rhythms meet Gaelic vocals come together on ‘Fonn’ while there are three brief vignettes including a no holds barred ‘Yo me voy II’ that actually sounds like authentic Salsa Africana. If Julie Fowlis met Eddie Palmieri’s band head on, it might just sound something like this.

An extensive UK tour was undertaken in March of this year.

Tim Stenhouse

Akalé Wubé + DJ Chris Menist

Akalé Wubé
Date: 26 April Saturday
Act: Akalé Wubé + DJ Chris Menist
Venue: Rich Mix
Address: 35-47 Bethnal Green Road London E1 6LA
Time: 8.00pm
Price: £12 adv / £15 door
Venue phone: 020 7613 7498

Back after their London Jazz Festival debut in November, super-groovy Parisian Ethiojazz band Akalé Wubé bring the atmospheric, danceable, retro-inspired sounds of Golden Age1960s Swingin’ Addis Ababa to the party.

Akalé Wubé is a Parisian band devoted totally to the grooves of 60s and 70s Ethiopian music. Since their beginnings in 2009, Akalé Wubé have been exploring passionately and meticulously the musical goldmine of Swingin’ Addis, which they discovered through the “Ethiopiques” compilation curated by Buda Music.After years of absorbing this unique genre, working on a sound of their own through adventurous arrangements and original compositions; after numerous collaborations, two albums, over two hundred concerts and a Ethiopian trip, Akalé Wubé today propose their personal and powerful version of a fantastic Ethiopia. The band excels in building bridges between Ethio-jazz and 70s West-African music (afrobeat), Jamaica (reggae), and even still the New York contemporary scene in the years 2010; a rich melting pot with an obsessively clear direction: communicating to the feet before the mind, a thing sometimes called groove, swing, or even “jawa jawa” in Amharic.

Plus DJ Chris Menist (Paradise Bangkok/Soundway/Finders Keepers) will be spinning original East African vinyl on the night. Expect real rarities from Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania.

Ulf Wakenius Solo ‘Momento Magico’ (ACT) 4/5

Ulf-Wakenius-SoloSwedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius has performed with some of the jazz greats and these include Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Oscar Peterson to name but a few. On this new solo project the sound has a definite ECM feel to it with acoustic guitar only in use here and parallels with the virtuosity of say Egberto Gismonti are in order. In truth this is as much a world roots release as it is a jazz one and this is illustrated throughout with raga influences for example discernible on ‘Hindustan Blues’ while the Chinese pipa instrument is alluded to on ‘The Dragon’ which is somewhat Metheny-esque in style and yet thankfully avoids the pitfalls of an essentially orientalist approach. A language that was once thought in the 1920s and 1930s would become the lingua franca of global communication, Esperanto, is also the title of a piece that has both Greek and Middle Eastern influences to it. Indeed multiple musical influences are on in evidence on the album with Keith Jarrett, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Paterson and Sixto Rodriguez all receiving homages of one form or another. An interesting selection of standards features an inventive reworking of Satie’s ‘Gnossienne’, a faithful rendition of Charles Trenet’s evergreen ‘La Mer’ and a fine take on Sixto Rodriguez’s superb film soundtrack score ‘Sugar Man’ while the tributes to Jarrett with ‘Preludio’ and ‘Wes’ [Montgomery] are adept at immediately conjuring up the original musicians. For even greater variety, look no further than the reposing quasi-classical ambiance of ‘Ballad for E’, written by EST member Magnus Öström. A musician who displays an inventive musical mind and is keen to explore roots music in its myriad styles. Tim Stenhouse

Kühn and Krugler ‘Duo Art: Moscow’ (ACT) 3/5

Kühn-KruglerAs part of the new duet series initiated by ACT, comes the pairing of pianist Joachim Kühn and Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov. In actual fact the duet came about as a result of Kühn being invited to perform two concerts in Russia. A contact and friend, Russian author and jazz writer, Marc Samozy suggested Kühn meet Kruglov and in spite of the thirty-five years separating them in age, the two decided to perform together that very evening. The present album was recorded in just four hours which means that almost all the music was recorded as first takes adding to the spontaneity of proceedings. Six of the eight compositions are originals with the two remaining pieces being Ornette Coleman numbers. In general there music is quite melodic in nature as exemplified by ‘Waltz for you’ which is mainly a vehicle for pianist Kühn with Kruglov in a largely supportive role whereas ‘Because of loud’ is more equally distributed in weighting with a joint stating of the main theme and thereafter becoming significantly freer in form. On the opener ‘Poet’ the two musicians go through a variety of contrasting moods, but Kruglov’s playing in particular is relaxed here. Not surprisingly of the two Coleman numbers, ‘Researching has no limits’ is a complex piece that becomes increasingly abstract before returning to some semblance of normality. Kruglov’s influences include Jan Garbarek and are certainly more European in scope than Transatlantic. An interesting pairing of musical minds and one that should be repeated. Tim Stenhouse