John Németh ‘Memphis grease’ (Blue Corn Music) 4/5

John-NémethVocalist and harmonica player John Németh spent much of the 1980s listening to Chicago blues, and taking in some of the all-time greats (including possibly Syl Johnson and almost certainly the southern soul-blues influence of Bobby Bland) has clearly done him a power of good. Possessing a deeply soulful voice, Németh has come up with album in the old-school Memphis tradition that owes a nod to the Hi label (drummer Henry Grimes was a staple musician there), the grittier side of 1960s Atlantic soul from the Muscle Shoals era with punchy horns (could background vocalist Percy Wiggins be any relation to the great Spencer Wiggins?) and the early period of Stax. All but three songs are originals and they stand up in their own right with ‘I can’t help myself’ the pick of a tasty bunch, propelled by soulful keyboards and horns and featuring a lovely guitar solo. Hitting an equally soulful groove and a definite contender for a single release is ‘Sooner or later’ while for balladry the laid back interpretation of ‘If it ain’t broke’ is an emotional ride. Gospel hues emerge on ‘Testify my love’ and gritty soul returns on ‘Her good lovin’. Of the standards revisited, Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ is the most inventive and given a slower soul-blues treatment with some intricate guitar work. Only on the uptempo stormer ‘My baby’s gone’ does Németh really step into blues-rock territory and even then it is a pretext for him to ad-lib on harmonica.

Unquestionably one of the strongest new soul-blues releases of the year and fans of classic soul will be in their element here too.

Tim Stenhouse

Myles Sanko ‘Forever Dreaming’ (213 Music) 4/5

Myles-SankoNow then, this album surfaced without any great fanfare and various tracks have had plays on Mark Merry’s excellent ‘Soul Sermon’ show on Starpoint, immediately I jumped on and found the vinyl album, and having arrived its had several repeated plays. It’s an album you can put and leave no need to skip any tracks. Myles voice is light, appears mid ranged but on at least one track show’s the grittier side. Think Phase Seven “Sweet Love” from the early 80’s or Lenny Williams and you can then get an idea of what is presented here. All real instruments too, not a synth in sight including a gorgeous flute which we don’t get to hear enough. The title track is a very retro sounding dancer which owes a lot to the Motown sound of the 70’s, very danceable and soulful, “Light in my hand” starts off wistfully and morphs into a guitar led stepper, ”My Inspiration” has a wonderful understated Timmy Thomas feel about it, a real grower. The only real downer is the monologue instrumental “Lonely Dreamer”, superb musically and crying out to be extended and have a vocal riding it, would be a very exciting tune that I could see getting some serious radio plays, “To my surprise” is a cracking dancer complete with that flute and this is the track that appears to be getting the most attention, superb to dance too. And so to the album high, for me the down-tempo “Where we need to be” is the reason to have this album, lyrically, vocally and musically at the top of the game and so ripe for radio spins, could very well get spins in the clubs where us thinking soul men gather. Myles is accompanied by a tinkling piano for the most part, a very classy piece of modern day soul music. This album has come as a pleasant surprise for me, at least 2 tracks have gone onto my live playlist and my forthcoming radio appearance on 365Soul will see me plundering my “Where we need to be”.

One slight issue is that the vinyl was sent simply wrapped in brown paper with no protection from our post office historically handling of anything obviously fragile with contempt. The outer sleeve was creased in several places and there were issues with the actual vinyl, Myles happily sent me a replacement but it was worse than the first one that arrived, the outer sleeve looks like it has been deliberately damaged however the good news was that the vinyl was pristine mint and sounds quite superb.

Brian Goucher

Magic Sam ”Live at Avant Garde’ (Delmark) 4/5

Magic-SamSinger and guitarist Magic Sam (real name Sam Maghett) cut some of the funkiest Chicago blues albums in the 1960s and is the author of the seminal ‘West Side Soul’ which has now become a term for describing that particular style of the Windy City’s blues and ‘Black Magic’ (both on Delmark) and has subsequently influenced countless musicians. However, Magic Sam was by no means a prolific artist in terms of the output of his recordings and a combination of his earlier Cobra and Chief sides alongside the pairing of aforementioned Delmark’s represent the zenith of Sam’s recorded legacy. All the more reason, then, to cheer the first ever issuing of a live recording from some forty-five years ago by blues aficionado and at the time young sound engineer and producer Jim Chame who has captured Magic Sam in his prime at small club in Milwaukee in June 1968, the folk-oriented Avant Garde venue, that was both a coffee house and poetry reading establishment and even an underground cinema. In this somewhat cosy hub of 1960s counter-culture, the adventurous and radical selection of music included the likes of the reverend Gary Davis, Skip James and Fred McDowell as well as groups from the folk revival movement such as the New Lost City Ramblers. However, the electrified sounds of Magic Sam and group was an altogether different kettle of fish and just a ninety mile derive away from Chicago the new sounds permeating that great musical city were transported into the rural heartland of middle America. A classic selection of the modern blues repertoire forms the playlist of that particular June evening and reveals a profound love and respect for other blues musicians of the era. A strong take on Otis Rush’s ‘All your love (I miss loving)’ is an obvious highlight as is the take on Willie Dixon’s evergreen ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. Others will marvel at the interpretation of ‘I don’t want no woman’ which for many typifies the West Side soul sound to perfection. This writer is particularly fond of an alternative version to Lowell Fulsom’s ‘It’s all your fault baby’ and ‘Still a fool’ which Muddy Waters wrote. As the excellent sleeve notes by Chame indicate, these sides were recorded at a time when the pop charts were full of bland easy listening material with Herb Alpert topping the US hit parade with ‘The guy’s in love with you’ and consequently the terrific music contained within must have come across as something from another planet altogether, so vibrant are the underlying grooves. Overall, the sound quality is crisp and clean (bass could be a tad higher, but that would be splitting musical hairs) and perfectly acceptable with the intimacy of the show conveyed extremely well.

Tim Stenhouse

Matthew Halsall and Gondwana Orchestra ‘When the world was one’ CD/2LP/Dig (Gondwana) 4/5

Matthew-Halsall-The-Gondwana-Orchestra-When-The-World-Was-OneMancunian trumpeter and modal jazz champion Matthew Halsall returns with an album that places the emphasis very much on eastern musical horizons and the result is arguably his most harmonious recording thus far. The Gondwana Orchestra is made up of some familiar names, including long-time fellow modal maestro Nat Birchall on soprano and tenor saxophones and excels in his role of sideman, albeit one with a major role, Gavin Barras on acoustic bass, and Rachael Gladwin on harp. However, the reposing Japanese koto aound of player Keiko Kitamura is a very welcome addition to the ensemble and one that takes the overall sound in a slightly different direction. Likewise Lisa Mallett, who has regularly performed in world roots orchestras in the north-west, finds her natural spiritual home here with some lovely Indian bansuri flute playing that Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia would heartily approve of. Factor in drummer Luke Flowers who has been a regular member of the Cinematic Orchestra and you have a new formation that takes Halsall slightly away from the 1960s modal musings from which he is best known at this stage in his career and into more exploratory territory. One of this writer’s favourite pieces is the delicate number ‘A far way place’ with some fine bansuri flute from Mallett in tandem with the koto and this over a repetitive riff and sensitive use of percussion. Travelling in Japan has for Matthew Halsall served as the inspiration for ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’ where the trio of flute, harp and koto combine to marvellous effect and create a floating musical ambience par excellence. Of note is the inventive use of bass which sometimes sounds akin to a trombone. It should be stated that Halsall the composer is to the fore on this album while the trumpeter takes a more secondary role in the overall scheme of things. However, on the deeply melodic ‘Falling water’ where Birchall performs beautifully on soprano, after quiet a reflective passage including harp accompaniment, Halsall finally comes in for a restrained solo. For a welcome touch of variety. the mid-up tempo modal piece ‘Patterns’ provides a lovely contrast between flute and soprano saxophone and ‘Sagano bamboo forest’ is a soprano-led number with modal flavours. If here Japan serves as the thrilling backdrop to this recording, then Matthew Halsall should seriously consider devoting future albums to other parts of southern Asia including the Indian sub-continent.

Tim Stenhouse

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Enjoy the View’ (Blue Note) 4/5

Bobby-HutchersonAs the legendary Blue Note celebrates seventy-five years of existence with a re-activated new and back catalogue under the tutelage of musician/producer Don Was, one of the label’s prodigal sons returns to the fold after some thirty-five years away. Vibist Bobby Hutcherson returns with an album that harks back to the mid-1960s albums when he recorded with the likes of Larry Young, Grant Green and Elvin Jones and were anything but predictable, with a gentle nod to the avant-garde. If you thought that organ combos were restricted to the soul-jazz idiom and somewhat formulaic in nature, then think again for there are some harder hitting grooves on this new recording and the pairing of Bobby Hutcherson with saxophonist David Sanborn is a truly inspired one and should definitely be extended to future collaborations. Ably assisting proceedings are Hammond B organist Joey de Francesco and drummer Billy Hart who is ever inventive with subtle polyrhythms throughout. A reworked take on Hutcherson’s ‘Montara’ is a real breath of fresh air and whereas the original was a languid, laid back Latin percussive number, the new version is altogether more fiery with strong saxophone work from Sanborn and excellent comping from de Francesco.

Bobby Hutcherson almost single-handedly re-invented the context in which the jazz vibraphone could be performed and was present on some of the seminal ‘new thing’ recordings such as Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch’, Jackie Mclean’s ‘Destination Out’ and ‘Action, Action, Action’, and Andrew Hill’s ‘Judgement’ just some of the classic mid-1960s albums he cut as a sideman for Blue Note. A recent BGP re-issue under the leadership of long-term collaborator Harold Land, ‘Chroma’ (1971) reveals that even into the early 1970s Hutcherson was still pushing back the boundaries, though by the mid-1970s and the domination of jazz-fusion and jazz-rock, his sound was becoming increasingly mellow to suit the times. More recently, Hutcherson has enjoyed something of a revival in interest and the well received tribute to the music of John Coltrane on ‘Wise One’ (Kind of Blue, 2009) and an earlier set of standards on ‘For Sentimental Reasons (Kind of Blue, 2007) were an indication that the vibist was most definitely back in town and indeed fully rejuvenated with life. Of the three Hutcherson originals, ‘Hey Harold’ stands out as both the most challenging and with the funky back drop as an additional attraction. A truly liberated Sanborn shines here and his playing throughout is inspired while an expansive Hutcherson solo retains the listener’s attention while de Francecso lays down some distinctly Larry Young influenced organ licks. By contrast ‘Teddy’ is a mid-tempo burner that features Sanborn at his most lyrical while the haunting closer ‘You’ allows both de Francecso and Hutcherson the opportunity to comp in unison and then take extended solos while Sanborn is given full reign to explore. A real return to form, then, for the vibist.

Tim Stenhouse

Lili Boniche ‘Trésors de la musique judéo-arabe’ (World Village) 4/5

Lili-BonicheFranco-Algerian music well before Rai emerged is little known in the UK and so the superlative ‘Anthologie’ of male singer Lili Boniche was a major treat when it surfaced last December. This is in effect a follow up of sorts (Boniche passed away a few years ago and his music has been resurrected thanks to the efforts of his daughter who owns the master tapes). The majority of songs on this new compilation date from Lili Boniche’s classic period between 1958 and 1960 with some extra bonus songs dating from 1978. Once again the music conjurs up at once the smell and very essence of the Mediterranean with a delightful Latin undercurrent that may come as a surprise to some, but not to those who lived through the period. If North African music had an equivalent figure to Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vistas, then Lili Boniche might just be that singer. Emotive strings and French vocal delivery are a feature of ‘Alger Alger’ while on the opener, ‘Ana el owerka’ there are hints of tango. An especially recognisable Latin riff can be heard on ‘Bambino’ and it is a reprise of a famous Perez Prado composition that enjoyed renewed attention and success when it became the theme tune to an advert for quintessential Irish beer in recent years. Here the tempo is far more relaxed than on the somewhat manic Big Band Latino original from Prado. The interweaving of styles is best illustrated on ‘Golo le fene’ where a stunning eastern-flavoured piano solo sits side by side with a violin solo and deeply evocative vocals, and consequently the listener is immediately transported to the Maghreb. Quite simply, the magic of the music of Lili Boniche is that he succeeds in bringing back to life a bygone era that has been largely ignored and even repressed, with a love both of Arabic music and Arabo-Andalusian culture more generally and for the listener that means a real treat is in store.

Tim Stenhouse

Cumbia All Stars ‘Tigres en fuga’ (World Village) 4/5

Cumbia-All-StarsIf the Buena Vista parallel in terms of old veterans reuniting is all too obvious, then that is where the comparison ends. Cumbia originated in Colombia and in recent years its rich musical legacy has been re-examined with a whole slew of re-issues including those on the prestigious Discos Fuentes label. However, Peru’s own take on the cumbia genre has been little chronicled outside of Latin America and this is why this brand new recording is such a treat. In the 1970s Peruvian musicians began performing their own take on the Colombian original sound and cumbia with a distinctive Peruvian twist that is now regarded a national musical genre in its own right. As the inner sleeve notes indicate, this is a trip back to the roots of psychedelic cumbia and in practice this means that the horns that normally predominate in the Colombian version are replaced here by guitars and the biggest compliment one can pay to the Cumbia All Stars is that you do not miss at all the sound of the reed instruments because there is so much to appreciate in the intricate guitar work. Instrumentals such as the opener ‘Lobos al Escape’ immediately hit a bubbling groove with the unusual use of wah-wah guitar for cumbia and this gives the album as a whole something of a central African flavour with 1970s Congolese guitar bands such as Zaiko Langa Langa quite possibly influencing the All Stars. Strong collective vocals and some exquisite guitar soloing greet the listener on ‘Quiero que amanezca’ and on the riff driven ‘La fiesta de la cumbia’ where there is a lovely contrast between, on the one hand, the rustic feel to the vocals and on the other, the excellent sound quality of the instrumentation. A more traditional Colombian-style tempo of cumbia is adopted on ‘La primavera triste’, yet even here the guitar work sounds like no previous cumbia you have heard. The combination of vocal and instrumental numbers adds some welcome variety and ‘Caballito de 7 colores’ is a strong uptempo instrumental. The Cumbia All Stars will be performing during July and August at various dates in Europe including on 25 August two concerts in London, the August street festival in the morning, and the Forge at Camden in the evening.

Tim Stenhouse

Stan Getz ‘Round Midnight in Paris’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

Stan-GetzFormerly only available as an expensive import, this excellent value CD groups together three separate live sessions from Paris, all dating from 1958, with the added bonus of dates in Denmark and Germany, and, judging by the quality of the sound recording, are possibly radio broadcasts of the era. The Paris concerts form the majority of this near seventy-five minute CD and feature a line up of the cream of French jazz musicians with Martial Solal and René Urtreger alternating on piano duties, Pierre Michelot features on bass (replaced on two numbers by Jean-Marie Ingrand) with long-term expatriate Kenny Clarke on the drums and fellow countryman and guitarist Jimmy Gourley participating on several tracks. Getz was a fully matured musician by this time, having passed his thirtieth birthday a year earlier, and his sound is instantly recognisable. A classic selection of jazz standards and the Great American Songbook includes some old favourites that Getz would return to subsequently throughout the decades. They include a sumptuous rendition of ‘East of the Sun’ and a melodic take on ‘Dear old Stockholm’, the latter featuring some delicate guitar licks from Gourley. Europe was in fact a good place for Stan Getz to be and in the mid-1950 served as an escape from his drug addiction, staying for a period in Scandinavia. In the inner sleeve notes which provide a useful biography of Getz in the mid-late 1950s, reference is made to a Downbeat article from 1960 which explained that Getz, like many American expatriate musicians, found more time to develop their craft when sojourning in Europe and were consequently free of other pressure back home. A spine-chilling and emotional interpretation of ‘Round Midnight’ showcased Getz’s ability to milk a ballad for all it’s worth, while for some thrilling contrast his love of be-bop comes shining through on a slightly less frenetic version of Tadd Dameron’s ‘Lady Bird’ and a fascinating take on ‘Cherokee’ which was virtually a signature tune for Charlie Parker. Rounding off matters with a jovial ‘Get Happy’, Stan Getz was just about to hit his prime and this fine effort is a marvellous document of the tenorist in a live setting.

Tim Stenhouse

Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra ‘Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra’ (Far Out) 4/5

Monster-Disco-OrchestraAs part of the twentieth celebration of the Brazilian specialist Far Out label of London, comes this terrific double CD of new material. A different approach to simply rehashing the old classics was adopted and this is one potentially risky endeavour that has paid off handsomely for Joe Davis who is to be congratulated, not only for the production and co-writing duties, but for managing to survive and indeed thrive for so long in an increasingly uncertain music business while sticking to his principles. What we have here is a thoroughly Brazilian take on the disco era which is both authentically retro, yet fresh and offering new perspectives on the genre. Enlisting a stellar cast of some of the top sessions musicians in Rio where the music was recorded (and later mixed in London, giving the overall sound a decidedly funky feel) and including two of Azymuth’s founding members, the late José Roberto Bertrami and bassist Alex Malheiros, there is a strong jazz undercurrent throughout both in the subtle use of keyboard changes and the high calibre instrumental work. Lead vocals are shared between Marcina Arnold and Mia Mendes and are predominantly in English, though wordless scatting is showcased on some numbers. It is Arnold who takes the lead on the fine opener ‘Mystery’ which evokes the 1970s jazz-funk period to perfection and Brazilian cult musician Arthur Verocai is featured here, part of FOMDO. A semi-instrumental, ‘The Last Carnival’, is a favourite of this writer and has some typically Azymuth-esque ingredients with bubbling bass line and adding wordless vocals and punch horns. It is a winner of a tune as is the classic disco intro to ‘Keep believing (can you feel it)’ with joint lead female vocals. Strings and rhythm guitar are pervasive on ‘Disco Supreme’ with a riff that seems to be a homage to Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ and once again FOMDO and Arthur Verocai feature while syndrums make their appearance on the keyboard-laden ‘Freefall’ which was co-written between Bertrami and Davis. A second CD updates the sound with some of the current crop of remixers and among these John Morales who offers a typically danceable M &M mix to ‘Mystery’ and Theo Parrish will be familiar to readers.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Far Out Presents Friends from Rio Project 2014’ (Far Out) 3/5

Friends-From-Rio-2014An interesting project from the UK’s specialist Brazilian label in new and old music that makes sense and does precisely what it says on the tin. Bring together some of the top session musicians, record the music in a variety of genres to reflect the diversity of Brazilian music, and into the bargain give proceedings a funkier edge with the production talents of one Daniel Maunick. If the results are not overly spectacular, they are nonetheless solid and hint towards an early 1980s musical sensibility. This is illustrated on the instrumental ‘Anthemia’ which has a jazz-funk feel à la Azymuth from their Milestone albums period and the syndrums and horns conjur up the 1980s to perfection while ‘Aguai’ has a cuica drum intro and sensitive keyboards that once again hark back to thirty-something years ago. Multi-percussionist Robertinho Silva is on hand and excels on ‘Batucada Bidu’ on which he is the featured musician and this is certainly an authentic samba guaranteed to liven up any day. More contemporary beats are covered on ‘Vam’ Bora’ with vocals by Sabrina Malheiros and this could be described as a subtle electro-bossa tune that is ideal for some dancefloor action and also features a lovely flute solo. Equally impressive are the wordless scat vocals from Denise Pinaud on ‘Veneno’ with a fender-led intro. Not everything works quite as well. A somewhat tame rendition of ‘Mas que nada’ would have been better left in the studio and the vocals on ‘Garota’ are slightly below par. Otherwise, this is very much a modern day take on the Brazilian sound with hints of the past and no better an example can be found on ‘Só nesta a porta se abrio’ with vocals from Carlos Dafé and a terrific instrumental breakdown.

Tim Stenhouse