Al Jarreau ‘Old Friend. Celebrating George Duke’ (Concord) 4/5

al-jarreauMulti-keyboardist extraordinaire and producer George Duke’s passing was a major loss to the music world, but this fine tribute goes some way to celebrating his work. Al Jarreau, with a foot in both the jazz and soul idioms, is ideally suited to perform this task and has a musical relationship with Duke that goes way back to the mid-late 1960s when both were just making their way as musicians. In order to execute this task, Jarreau has enlisted a stellar cast of guest singers and instrumentalists, the latter including Patrice Rushen on fender Rhodes, Gerald Allbright on saxophone and Marcus Miller on bass. A real treat for George Duke fans is in store on three reprises of numbers from what remains his masterpiece, ”Brazilian Love Affair’. The title track is coupled with the sumptuously titled ‘Up from the sea it arose and ate Rio in one swift bite’ on a medley expertly delivered by jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves who of course has albums on the Blue Note label produced by Duke. Breezing in on a medium tempo is the retitled ‘Some bossa (Summer Breezin’ which Reeves once again handles with aplomb, while for some jazz-fusion flavours the Miles Davis ‘Tutu’ album that Duke performed on is recognised here by means of ‘Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)’ which remains faithful to the original. George Duke branched out into the world of soul as a producer and here the hit single, which was a duet between Stanley Clarke and Duke back in the 1980s, is paid homage to with lead vocals courtesy of Lalah Hathaway. Jeffrey Osbourne scored a major hit under Duke’s production school and a medley of ‘Every reason to smile/On the wings of love’ conjures up that early 1980s feel. Jarreau himself excels on a reprise of his early 1980s song ‘Old Friend’ which is a fitting tribute while for a touch of left-field activity, look no further than the Duke composition ‘You touch my brain’, which features no less than Dr. John on lead vocals and this New Orleans-inflected interpretation ends the album on a triumphant note. Co-produced by John Burke, Stanley Clarke, Boney James and Marcus Miller, this is arguably Al Jarreau’s finest work in a good fifteen years since ‘Tenderness’ and is a welcome return given Jarreau’s own battle with health in recent years and he seems to have made an excellent recovery judging by this.

Tim Stenhouse

“Sidney Bechet: My Father” Daniel-Sidney Bechet Quartet

This year 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Antoine ‘Adolphe’ Sax, the Belgian inventor of the saxophone! It is acknowledged that Jazz has been the voice par excellence of the instruments which the creator bequeathed to the world of music and no voice has excelled that of the late Sidney Bechet, born in 1897 in New Orleans and recognised as the finest player of the soprano saxophone by a good many of the giants of Jazz, the legendary Duke Ellington included!

Sidney BechetSidney Bechet was born in New Orleans in May 1897 and is acknowledged as the greatest of the early masters of Jazz, up there with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He toured widely in the US and Europe and finally settled in Paris where he found himself amongst many of the most revered names of 20th century art, literature and music. During his short stay in England in 1919 he played before King George V and Queen Mary. Some of his compositions such as Petite Fleur are jazz classics.

Daniel-Sidney Bechet, Sidney’s only child, was only five when his father died but his whole life has been spent promoting his father’s memory. As a drummer, he has become an accomplished Jazz musician himself. His book, ‘Sidney Bechet: My Father’, published by Books of Africa and successfully launched at the Hippodrome Casino in May, tells the story of this visionary genius as witnessed by his son. It also records Daniel’s own life and gives us his own take on the world of Jazz. A copy of the CD ‘Homage’ containing some of Bechet’s most famous compositions is included in the book!

On Thursday 9 October, 8.00p.m., Daniel will be in place to promote the book and perform his father’s original compositions at Le Quecumbar, Battersea, with a trio of the brightest young stars on the London Jazz scene and the don of the double bass:

Giacomo Smith, soprano sax and clarinet

Kourosh Kanani, guitar

Eleazar Luiz Spreafico, bass

with Special Guest Gary Crosby (Jazz Jamaica)

The vibe will be New Orleans! The ambience will transport you to Paris ‘aux années 20s et 30s de la dernière siècle’! And you’ll be welcome to dress accordingly à la mode!

Admission: £8.00 in advance (£11.00 on the door)

Le Quecumbar, 42-44 Battersea High Street, London SW11 3HX


Dr. John ‘Ske-Dat-De-Dat, The Spirit Of Satch’ (Concord/Proper) 4/5

Dr-JohnDr. John has been in a rich vein of form in the last few years and his previous release for Nonesuch, ‘Locked Down’, was a magnificent return to the Nite Tripper era. On this new recording, the setting is still very much New Orleans, but with a subtle twist. It is a homage to the music of one of the Crescent City’s finest sons, trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Both the vocal and instrumental side of the Armstrong canon of work is catered for and some major names in the jazz world to fulfil that task including trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton (the ideal Armstrong foil on trumpet) and Arturo Sandoval while Bonnie Raitt contributes blues guitar and vocals. One of the most interesting cuts is a radical reworking of ‘What a wonderful world’, here taken at a different and higher tempo that suits the New Orleans state of mind and the Blind Boys of Alabama feature on background vocals. New Orleans musical institution the Dirty Dozen Brass Band contribute their noisy and brassy sound on a joyous ‘When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you’ while Terence Blanchard enters the equation on a reworking of ‘Mack the Knife’, the Armstrong original of which is only marginally below the definitive version by Ella Fitzgerald. A more soulful side to Armstrong’s repertoire can be heard on the gospel-infused ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen’ with lead vocals from Ladini ably assisted by the McCrary Sisters and other traditional gospel number is covered on ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child’ with lead vocals by Anthony Hamilton. Blues are never far below the surface here and a duet with Bonnie Raitt on I’ve got the world on a string’ is effective as is ‘Gut bucket blues’ with Payton once again reproducing the Armstrong magic. If there is one minor gripe here, it is that the track listing gives a false impression of the album overall. It would have been preferable to have placed the jazzier material higher up the pecking order and phased in the more soulful material alternatively. Otherwise, a terrific tribute in Dr. John’s own inimitable voice.

Tim Stenhouse

Amira Kheir ‘Alsahraa’ (Sterns) 4/5

amira-kheirSudanese-Italian singer Amira Kheir released her first album to a warm, if quiet reception, with the 2011 debut ‘View from somewhere’, but this follow up promises to attract a far wider audience second time round. The music has a gentle desert folk-blues feel to it with oud and nay instruments in evidence, but with a subtle jazzy undercurrent courtesy of double bassist Michele Montolli and trumpeter James Mackay which gives the overall sound a sparse and intimate ambience. Recorded live at Union Chapel in London, a city that Kheir now calls her home, the singer sings mainly in Arabic, but also in Italian. A joyful sounding uptempo number, ‘Habibi (Come to me my love)’ features some lovely guitar chords from Camilo Menjura while the deeply evocative title track, referring to the Sahara desert, contains a gloriously jazz bass line and some stunning vocals from Kheir. Arguably her finest vocal performance comes on ‘Ya mara (woman)’ which is a song to reinvigorate the plight of women. The pared down jazz-inflected bass and percussion on ‘Ya Gadir (Powerful one)’ impresses as does the virtual a capella song ‘Luna (Moon)’.
Amira Kheir has a voice not dissimilar in tone to Algerian chanteuse Souad Massi. The only minor gripe is that the bi-lingual Arabic and English lyrics on the inner sleeve are so tiny that is virtually impossible to decipher them. Otherwise a fine album from a singer that seems destined for bigger things.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Mali All Stars. Bogolan music’ 2CD + DVD (Wrasse/Universal) 4/5

mali-all-starsThis tastefully packaged set is really an overview of Malian music recorded at the famous Bogolan studios in Bamako between 2002 and 2011 and works extremely well in this respect. Among the top names are Ali Farka Touré who is featured no three numbers including a terrific duet with kora maestro Toumani Diabaté on ‘Kaira’ from 2005 and as leader in his own right on ‘Erdi’. Instrumental group Mandékalou are well worth investigating on the relaxing and reinvigorating ‘Mali Sadio’ which at eleven minutes is one of the album’s longest pieces and is taken from the terrific 2009 CD ‘The art and soul of Mandé Griots’ which makes for compulsory listening. Singers of course predominate in Malian music and here some of the finest of the current scene are showcased, not least Oumou Sangaré who is a towering figure in every sense of the word and offers the deliciously funky ‘Seya’ complete with female chorus. Belonging to a younger generation and with a more crossover rock feel Rokia Traoré has both a Malian and Western heritage, born to Malian parents of whom her father is a diplomat. From the excellent ‘Bowboï’ CD she offers the irresistible ‘Nienafing’. One interesting discovery is that of Idrissa Soumaoro who is actually a veteran of the Malian music scene and was a member of the legendary Les Ambassadeurs du Motel (review of this band forthcoming). Here along with Alio Farka Touré he offers the soothing ‘Bèrèbèrè’ from 2010. Collaborations between western pop and jazz musicians on the one hand and Malians on the other have resulted in some interesting, if contrasting in degrees of competence, and here we have featured Damon Albarn on hand with the intriguing ‘Sunset coming on’ while far less successful is Björk ‘s ‘Hope’ that one could never doubt the sincerity of her efforts. Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater is probably most in tune with Malian music, and unsurprising given her own longer Malian roots, on ‘Bad Spirits’ where she is accompanied by the terrific Kassé Mady Diabaté. As a leader Diabaté resurfaces on the 2008 recording ‘Sinanon Saran’. An accompanying DVD sheds useful light on the recording process of some of the musicians in the Bogolan studio, although readers should be warned that it is in French only with no subtitles. First class inner sleeve notes convey all the information required on the individual songs and musicians plus some classic album covers from the classic era of Malian music in the 1970s. Informative historical notes come courtesy of French journalist and musicologist Florent Mazzolini.

Tim Stenhouse

Carmen Souza ‘Live at Lagny Jazz Festival’ CD + DVD (Galileo/Jazz Pilon) 4/5

Carmen-Souza-02Cape Verdean singer, guitarist and pianist Carmen Souza differs from her more illustrious fellow national singers in that she is a major devotee of jazz rather than morna, or any of the other local music genres. In terms of her vocal delivery, which is extremely wide-ranging, there are hints of Blossom Dearie with a deeper Dee Dee Bridgewater influence while the jazz piano-singer role reminds one in part at least of a young Tania Maria. Over the last few years Souza has quietly built up her impressive portfolio and this excellent live recording is taken from a festival in the north of France and contains both audio CD and DVD footage of the same performance. Assisted by a pared-down trio of pianist Ben Burrell, electric and acoustic bassist Theo Pascal and drummer/percussionist Elias Kazomanolis, the emphasis is very much on Souza and she delivers with aplomb. Jazz fans will be fascinated by the idiosyncratic approach on ‘My favourite things’ with wordless scatting halfway through while the opener, a medley of original numbers, ‘Protegid/Manha 1 de dezembro’ is both catchy and inventive with Souza operating on guitar and piano. A real treat and album highlight is a rendition of ‘Song for my father’ which of course the late great Horace Silver wrote. There is, in fact, a special link with the Cape Verdean Isles in that Horace’s father was born there and the pianist was always quick to acknowledge his family roots. The version here is sung in Portuguese with some delightful percussive touches to embellish. For a complete change, Souza adapts a classic French chanson, ‘Sous le ciel de Paris’, that none other than Yves Montand immortalised. If the temp does not quite work as well as the original, it is a brave effort nonetheless. A breakneck speed greets the listener on Souza’s adaptation of Charlie Parker’s ‘Donna Lee’ which seems to be a favourite of hers and the shuffling percussive accompaniment merely enhances the listener’s enjoyment. A studio album by Carmen Souza was reviewed by this writer several months ago and showed promise. This new live recording covers a good deal of music territory, sung in Portuguese, English and occasionally French and successfully straddles jazz and world roots and Souza would do well to remain in that groove because eventually it will pay dividends and a receptive audience will reach her.

Tim Stenhouse

Kassé Mady Diabaté

KASSÉ-MADY-DIABATÉSunday 23 November
LONDON Purcell Room (as part of EFG London Jazz Festival)

Tickets from

Kassé Mady Diabaté has been recognised for decades as one of West Africa’s finest singers – the descendent of a distinguished griot family and his name, along with other griot legends such at Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyaté, is musical royalty in Mali. On Monday 27 October he releases Kiriké (meaning ‘horse’s saddle’ – an important symbol in griot culture) on No Format! Records – an album that celebrates his position as one of Mali’s greatest voices and one that will push him into the limelight. On Sunday 23 November he performs at the Purcell Room as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Produced by French cellist Vincent Segal, this album is the third in a series born out of the friendship between Segal and kora maestro Ballaké Sissoko, which resulted in Chamber Music in 2009 and At Peace in 2012. Long-time admirers of Kassé Mady, Segal and Sissoko set out to create an album that gave space to his extraordinary voice. The result is Kiriké and it completes the trio. All three albums are subtle interpretations of a gentle, intimate musical current in Malian traditional music but with a contemporary Bamako acoustic sound.
Kassé Mady sings in Bambara, transcribing all the nuances of the human soul into song and delivering the powerful messages of the Manding Empire that have travelled through the centuries. He is accompanied by Ballaké Sissoko on kora, Lansiné Kouyaté on balafon and Makan Tounkara on ngoni. This trio of musicians represents three major elements in Manding music: the kora music of the Casamance region, the balafon of the central zone and the more bitter-sounding ngoni of the northern deserts of Mali – all drawn together by the soft and hypnotic baritone voice of Kassé Mady.

Stand out tracks on the album include the beautiful and mesmerising Ko Kuma Magni, the melodic and gentle Simbo and the understated Sadjo, an endearing tale of a mother hippopotamus who was a favourite among the villagers of Bafoule on the River Niger.

‘The album is very intimate and understated, with a sense of eavesdropping on a truly great master singer’ (Lucy Duran, producer, journalist and SOAS University Lecturer)

Kenny Wheeler 1930-2014

“The news of Kenny Wheeler’s death, at the age of 84, reached us just two weeks after we’d finished work on the mixing and mastering of his new album, which was recorded at London’s Abbey Road last Christmas. The session itself was inspirational, a very frail Kenny rousing himself to play creative and touching flugelhorn improvisations in a programme of nine of his fine songs, surrounded and supported by some of his favourite players: Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax, John Parricelli on guitar, Chris Laurence on bass, Martin France on drums. Three of the band were able to join us for the mix of an album which was to have marked a return to ECM for Kenny after some years away. A release date for the album is not yet finalized, but early 2015 seems likely.”

Manfred Eicher / Steve Lake


Cymande ‘Cymande’ 5/5 / ‘Second Time Around ‘ 4/5 / ‘Promised Heights’ 4/5 (BBR/Cherry Red)

CYMANDEBritish based band Cymande were in so many ways pioneers. They all originated in various islands of the West Indies and were among the very earliest children to have been part of the the Windrush generation. They arrived in the UK to take in the vibrant jazz scene of the early to mid-1960s, were hearing the emergent sounds of reggae in ska and rock steady from their parents, and were witnessing across the pond the sounds of soul and funk. All these disparate elements played a crucial role in the development of the Cymande sound which was utterly unique for the UK in the early 1970s. Osibisa may have been pioneers of the Afro-Rock sound, but Cymande were different again. It would be several years before a younger generation of British born West Indians took on board the mid-1970s Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd and created a home brand hybrid of jazz-funk. Cymande preceded this and took on board Rastafarian nyabinghi drumming, funk guitar riffs and bass lines, jazzy reeds (Joe Harriott being a major influence) with freer elements also present. Pre-dating the disco era, Cymande enjoyed critical success first time round and crucially broke into the US market where African-American audiences immediately understood where the band were at. However, it would be the early 1980s before the New York hip-hop scene and DJs adopted some of Cymande’s riffs as key samples and among the DJs Kool Herc and Grand Master Flash were big fans. This interest was taken up by the rare groove scene in the UK in the late 1980s, most notably picking up on ‘Bra’ and ‘The Message’ from the first album, and suddenly original Cymnade vinyl albums attracted a good deal of attention and fetched large sums of money.

By the late 1990s a re-issues programme of the first three albums was underway, but it has taken another decade for a more complete gathering of the classic Cymande period to feature on CD with properly annotated notes and extra tracks. For many the first album simply title ‘Cymande’ is the best and it would be hard to argue with a faultless set that covers so much terrain. It has been a long favourite of musicians such as Soul to Soul and MC Solaar and even film makers such as Spike Lee have used the music. If both ‘Bra’ and ‘The Message’ (featured here with two separate versions that include the 7″ mixes) were the key cuts, there were plenty of other interesting deeper numbers that reflect the esoteric musical interests of the band with ‘Zion I’ and ‘Rastafarian Folk Song’ highlighting their Caribbean roots.

The second album, ‘Second Time Around’ from just a year later in 1973, builds on the achievements of the first and once again scored with a killer groove in ‘Fug’ which is a riff-laden instrumental ditty of distinction. The opener ‘Anthracite’ has something of an Afro-Beat feel to it, especially in the use of unison horns, and the extended flute solo simply adds to the listening pleasure. Nothing is obviously stated and one always has the feeling that there is a new experience just around the corner. If anything the third album, ‘Promised Heights’ is the most complete of all in that the group were far more confident about their musical prowess and were really starting to stretch out as evidenced on three tracks here which are over five minutes long. The single ‘Brothers on the slide’ is a much sought after 45 and in both the falsetto vocals and rapidity of the percussion echo the early 1970s sound of Curtis Mayfield. In contrast ‘The recluse’ is a moody number with trademark heavy bass and some intriguing blues guitar licks and extended saxophone solo. Indeed the instrumentals here are among the very strongest of all and even the gentle and deceptively simple starting ‘Changes’ adds on layers with some gorgeous flute and vocals that only kick in four and half minutes into the piece. Other funk elements are present on ‘Breezeman’ with rhythm guitar to the fore. Above all else, Cymande’s music does not pander to clichés and remains remarkably fresh, taking in myriad musical influences and yet still coming out with a coherent whole and that is some feat. Despite the arrival in 1981 of a fourth album, ‘Arrival’, this was a major departure from their previous three recordings and was in a smooth soul and disco vein. Fast forward to the present and Cymande in a slightly revised line-up have reformed and are just about to embark upon a major UK tour. This will be one of the year’s musical events not to be missed. In the meantime catch up with their rich back catalogued which has been expertly annotated here and includes a plethora of useful biographical information.

Tim Stenhouse

Willie Jones ‘Fire in my Soul’ (Shout!) 3/5

willie-jonesAt the grand old age of seventy-eight no less, soul veteran Willie Jones debuts with his first solo album and it is very much in the old R & B school bag. For younger readers, Jones came to prominence in the 1950s as vocalist with the Royal Jukes and as a solo artist recorded on the prestigious Atlantic label among others on numerous 45s. Surprisingly, his musical career came to an abrupt halt around 1966 and a forty year gap resulted before interest was rekindled in him. Willie Jones possesses a voice which has a smooth and soft tenor disposition not unlike soul-blues singer Robert Cray in fact, though one could easily flip the coin and state that it is Cray whose voice bears a resemblance to that of Jones. Recorded in Nashville Tennessee, musician, producer and songwriter Jon Tiven has done a pretty good job of providing Jones with a soulful accompaniment, though the inclusion of rock-influenced guitars on some songs is an impediment and the horn section could do with being beefed up significantly to give it more punch. Nonetheless, there are some fine moments here and Jones voice is in remarkably good shape given the years. The vocalist excels on the mid and uptempo numbers such as ‘Troubled World’ and especially the driving ‘Your lies’ which may just about be the strongest song on the whole album. There is a little filler in fifteen songs and, perhaps, for a future album the selection could be pared down a tad. Otherwise, this is a quality release from a soul veteran who deserves to be more widely recognised. What is really required to fully appreciate Willie Jones craft is to have an anthology that brings together those precious 45s recorded under various guises so that we can hear his voice in his prime.

Tim Stenhouse