Far Out records have pioneered contemporary Brazilian music, but for this latest release have gone slightly left-field for an album of music that both digs deep into the traditional sounds of north-east Brazil and gives these rhythms a decidedly modern feel fused with dub effects. The project is the brainchild of DJ Tudo aka Alfredo Bello, a DJ who during the 1990s dance culture craze made London his home and soaked up the myriad influences of the dance scene at the time, but his other musical hat is that of musicologist and during the periods 2003-2009 and 2102-2013 he went around the north-east of Brazil in particular recording local traditional music styles and he deserves a good deal of credit for this. Here he has enlisted the support of London’s very own dub maestro Mad Professor and a fusion of Jamaican reggae and Brazilian grooves is not as unlikely as one might expect. Musicians such as Olodum and Gilberto Gil have regularly sampled Jamaican music, though it is true to say that an international audience has not warmed to such fusions and generally prefers a more conventional samba-based groove. Quite possibly a Brazilian equivalent of the Congotronics sound is what DJ Tudo was searching for and to a certain extent he has succeeded on the dub-infused opener ‘É hoje é hoje’ which has something of an African feel to it with rustic male vocals. There are blues inflections on ‘Traveler’ which is a street march from Marujda and again driving percussion is a feature of this instrumental. Afro-Funk is in evidence on ‘Meu Natural’ with rock-influenced guitar while the pared down ‘Nico’s dream’ has some wah-wah guitar effects and a bass line right out of classic Jamaican dub with dubbed horns for extra effect. Perhaps for devotees of the genuinely rootsy sounds of Brazil what might have enhanced the overall feel of this project is to include both the original versions and their dubbed versions. There are some truly exceptional and seldom heard rhythms contained on this album and it is a pity that the listener is not afforded the opportunity to hear them in their original glory. That said, this is still a worthy release and fans of dub who enjoy some exotic musical backdrop will find a good deal to enjoy here.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Willie Hutch was simply too talented a musician to ever fit neatly into any one category. His falsetto vocals beg obvious comparisons with Curtis Mayfield, but during the 1970s Hutch transformed his career from being a skilled songwriter for others (‘I’ll be there’ for the Jackson Five, ‘California my way’ Fifth Dimension and even a debut LP for the Miracles) to a solo career of some distinction. By the beginning of the 1970s he had already recorded two albums as a leader for RCA, but it was his mid-1970s stint at Motown that really brought his name to prominence, notably with two classic soundtracks to Blaxploitation movies, ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘The Mack’. These combined elements of classy soul and gritty funk to perfection and have long been favourites of music fans, DJs and samplers in equal measure. However, in 1977 Willie Hutch left Motown for a new endeavour with ace producer Norman Whitfield. Of course Whitfield himself was behind some of the classic early 1970s grooves at Motown, especially the psychedelic masterpieces that are ‘War’ for Edwin Starr and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ for the Temptations. It was with this background that Whitfield sought to update the Hutch sound for the late 1970s disco explosion that incorporate elements of the earlier Whitfield formula. In truth Hutch’s voice is simply too soulful to ever be considered a disco clone, but there was nonetheless a conscious attempt to gear his music to the dance floors and this was always measured by some superior quality balladry. The two albums under consideration here date from 1978 and 1979 respectively and represent the twelfth and thirteenth albums of his career as a whole. Thus Hutch was no novice, but rather an experienced artist and Whitfield sought to compliment his mellifluous voice with some of the crème de la crème of L.A. musicians including what remained of the Funk Brothers (aka the Motown rhythm section) of Jack Ashford, Eddie ‘Bongo’ Brown and Melvin ‘Wah Wah’ Watson. Factor in string arrangements by Gene Page, vocalist from groups Lakeside and Stargard and the results were always likely to be a critical success.
The first album, ”In Tune’ is noteworthy for the stunning ‘Easy does it’ which has one of the subtlest of keyboard riffs imaginable and yet effortlessly cooks up a head of steam in the process. In a funkier vein and with a definite nod to ‘Papa was a rolling stone’, ‘And all hell broke loose’ features some of the distinctive percussion and clavinet sound that Norman Whitfield productions were famous for. This is repeated on ‘All American Funkathon’ which sounds as though Hutch was listening to the updated Curtis Mayfield sound of the mid-1970s and is a heavyweight soul tune. Only ‘Come on and dance with me’ sounds in retrospect a little dated and a too contrived attempt at disco glory. Hutch and Whitfield must have discussed the extent to which they were prepared to go towards disco and on ‘Hi shakin’ sexy lady’ it is as if the disco-fied intro which then gives way to psychedelic soul is an indication that 100% disco was not on their radar. Gorgeous keyboard vamps make this a winner of a tune. Rounding out proceedings were two classy ballads in ‘Paradise’ and ‘Anything is possible if you believe in love’. The second album followed in a similar vein, though the elongated uptempo numbers veer more to disco than previously as do some of the song titles. That said, arguably the strongest album cut here is the mid-tempo ballad ‘Never let you be without love’ that surely owes a debt of gratitude to the Isley Brothers and is a truly inspirational number. For uptempo soul, ‘Everyday love’ is a strong melodic piece while there is a nod to Latin music in the intro to ‘Down here on disco street’ with lovely rhythm guitar riffs. Again there is one number that sounds a trifle dated,’ Everybody needs money’ in terms of the disco bass line, but the lyrics are just as relevant as ever. Of the other two ballads on offer, ‘both ‘Kelly green’ and ‘Deep in your love’ showcase that instantly recognisable Hutch voice.
The major question remains of why these albums were not more significant hits at the time, particularly since Whitfield was obviously scoring major successes with Rose Royce and there are definite hints of that band’s instrumentation in some of the songs contained on these two albums. Maybe Hutch was just too associated with the earlier 1970s era to be regarded as a bona fide dance artist, or maybe it was simply that with the success of Rose Royce and, to a lesser extent Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch did not receive the promotion he fully deserved. Whatever the case, these two albums generally stand the test of time remarkably well and include some hidden gems for lovers of deeper soul ballads and uptempo grooves alike. Willie Hutch would continue to record into the 1980s when he briefly returned to Motown and scored another club hit in the UK with ‘Inside Out’. He passed away in 2005.
Headhunters era bassist Paul Jackson has featured on some of the classic funk-tinged jazz albums of the 1970s and has moreover performed with the likes of George Benson, Chick Corea and Stevie Wonder among others, and this album as a leader certainly hints at a retro groove. However, if anything that groove is a good deal smoother than one might have expected with a strong soulful influence in the vocals which are primarily delivered by Jackson himself. Therein lies the dilemma for fans of the jazzier side to Jackson’s portfolio too much of the vocal material is at a similar downbeat tempo typified by the opener ‘Groove’ and greater variation is required to retain the listener’s attention for an entire album. The trio are at their best on the funk jam of ‘Tiptoe through the groove’ with the trademark bass intro and some eerie keyboard accompaniment. Likewise, the bass groove funk outing of ‘Slick it’ impresses with some subtle keyboards and wordless scatting. Elsewhere, there are some lovely electric piano vamps on ‘What you’re talkin’ about’ which in tone harks back to mid-1970s Stevie Wonder territory, with the drums only kicking in half way through proceedings and Jackson seems to be aiming at that market. All the more reason, then, to have some varied material on offer. On the all-too-brief percussive ‘Nuru’, there is a hint at a world fusion sound and this could be usefully explored further on future albums. It has to be stated that the musicianship throughout is excellent and one hope that on future recordings a greater balance between instrumental virtuosity and the more soulful side of Jackson’s repertoire can be struck. The trio will be performing a one-off concert at the Hideaway on November 14 as part of the London Jazz Festival.
Sicilian born singer-songwriter Calogero has become something of a phenomenon in France and this latest album has been well received by the rock press. To this writer’s ears the sound is very much stuck in a 1980s mainstream rock rut, but that is not to say that the era does not have music to commend and Calogero is a talented musician with an awareness of different musical styles and seeks to incorporate these into his music. On some numbers there is even a 1980s synth feel that harks back to Prince, though minus the funk element. However, the music works best when Calogero reverts to the classic singer-songwriter tradition as on ‘Avant toi’ and would be well served repeating that pared down formula. Rock and electronica combine successfully on ‘Un jour un mauvais endroit’ with again synths being an undercurrent. A departure from the rest of the album arrives in the form of a light dance rhythm on ‘Elle me manque déjà’ with a cod-house influenced piano vamp. In truth, this is music most likely to chime with a younger French audience that likes more traditional rock sounds, yet enjoys the odd nod to more exotic climbs.
East Anglia may not be an obvious location for jazz, but trio Mammal Hands have come up with one of the year’s unexpected melodic gems of a recording that cuts across the boundaries of world roots, jazz and contemporary classical with just a touch of folk. They are the brainchild of Norwich born brothers Jordan and Nick Smart who perform on saxophones and keyboards respectively while Jesse Barrett handles drum and assorted percussion. If the evocatively titled opener ‘Mansions of millions of years’ sets the scene for what is to follow with some minimalist piano and soprano saxophone and is an undoubted album highlight, then the laconic winter-like sound of ‘Snow Bough’ is equally impressive. The languid, rolling piano and lyrical saxophone on ‘Spinning the wheel’ is positively ECM-esque while for a change of tempo, the percussive-led ‘Sweet Sweeper’ conjurs up the maelstrom of urban surroundings. Influences are diverse and include African and North Indian music as well as Steve Reich and Pharoah Sanders. There are shades of a Michael Nyman soundtrack on the folk-infused ‘Kanadaiki’. What marks this trio out is the excellence of the compositions as well as a tightly knit sound. A performance with the Gondwana Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s in mid-July was the first taste of the ensemble sound in a live context at a major venue and will surely be a foretaste of further performances across the country. A group to definitely watch out for.
Pianist Jason Moran has made a reputation both as a leader and sideman, but he enters new territory on this thoroughly modern update on the canon of work by Fats Waller. The genesis for this project was Moran becoming artistic director at the Jazz at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. While occupying this function, Moran received an artistic command by New York arts venue the Harlem Stage Gatehouse to create a tribute to master of the stride piano, Fats Waller. In order to achieve this objective, Moran has enlisted his regular trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits as well as an additional horn section. However, the more contemporary R & B groove flavour is supplied by both producer and singer Meshell Ndegeocello who recorded her own modernised homage to Nina Simone in 2012. Vocal duties are generally shared between Ndegeocello and singer Lisa E. Harris. It should be self-evident by now that strictly speaking this is not a jazz album per se, though Moran does afford himself some soloing as the album progresses. Moran and Ndegeocello have clearly spent a great deal of time reflecting on how to adapt these famous tunes to a contemporary setting and on the uptempo staccato beat of ‘Yacht Club Swing’ this works a treat with the leader extending out on electric piano. One of the more successful transpositions is of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ that has a blues accompaniment on piano and some tasty horns whereas the more sedate interpretation of ‘Ain’t nobody’s business’ with gentle female lead by Harris sounds a little artificial and even odd. The nearest Moran comes to his usual sound is on the excellent solo piano of ‘Lulu’s back in town’. A gentle electric piano and male vocal on ‘Two sleepy people’ helps create an intimate setting and the number builds up into a mid-tempo groove complete with horns. As a fascinating aside to the project, Jason Moran recorded this project at the age of thirty-nine, precisely the same age at which Fats Waller prematurely departed this world. In live performance Jason Moran adopts a papier mâché mask of Waller’s head complete with bowler hat created especially for the pianist by Haitian artist Didier Civil.
Nigerian musician Orlando Julius first came to international attention back in 2000 with a sumptuous on Strut re-issue of his ‘Super Afro Soul’ album plus bonus tracks which revealed an artist who was listening to the then contemporary sounds of James Brown as well as forging a new modern style of his native country’s music. It is certainly the case that Fela Kuti owes Julius a debt of gratitude in creating what has now come to be termed Afro Beat.
Fast forward several decades and in the last fifteen years saxophonist, singer and composer Julius has enjoyed something of a renaissance with a 2003 album ‘Orlando’s Afro Ideas’ and more recently Orlando Julius and his Afro Sounders recording ‘Voodoo Funk’. Enter British based band the Heliocentrics who have become something of a house band for the Strut label and in particular have backed Ethio-Jazz star Mulatu Astatke on some excellent albums in recent times. For this latest project the idea was to include a mixture of reworkings of older material taken from the formative period in Julius’ career with some newer compositions and this works by and large extremely well indeed and crucially has an authentic feel throughout. A key number is ‘Love thy neighbour’ with a stunning intro and this unquestionably hits the spot with some the funkiest licks on the entire album. Fans of the classic Afro Beat style will be delighted at ‘Be Counted’ while there are even shades of James Brown’s soul on the intoxicating ‘Buju Buju’ where the instrumental prowess of the band on keyboards is displayed to full effect before the leader himself sets off on an extended solo. The title track incidentally is noteworthy for its interesting lyrics that allude to the boyhood musical exploits of Julius. A UK tour is likely in 2015 and this writer for one is looking forward immensely to hearing this band in a live context.
Mexican roots meet rock, electronica and more besides band Los de Abajo personify the eclectic approach to music in twenty-first century Mexico and this latest project is an intriguing one for it is a modern update on the myriad traditional sounds of the country. No single CD could ever capture the sheer diversity of music available in Mexico, but this covers quite a few styles and in a thoroughly contemporary setting. One of the strongest numbers is the funk-tinged ‘Ya me voy’ which has Latin percussion and horns that might reasonably grace a salsa recording. Equally there is a salsa feel in the intro to ‘Toro y Regina’ where flamenco and modern drum beats collide to great effect. For some rootsier material, the fast paced ‘Cicatrices’ works extremely well with lead singer Tania Melo in the ascendancy while the sound of the accordion, often associated with the Tex-Mex genre, is heard on ‘Mexicano’. Cumbia is a hugely popular style that Mexicans have in the first instance borrowed from Columbians and then made into their own unique variety and Los de Abajo expertly fuse this with some Chic-esque rhythm guitar on the opening section of ‘Turn Off’. Only the rock-electro flavoured ‘Downtown’ disappoints to any extent with the melody lost amidst the instrumentation, though even this may track be club land destined. For jazzier flavours, the flute and saxophone in the intro to ‘Mexican Underdogs’ impresses with the title a nod, perhaps, to the famous Charles Mingus autobiography title and a musician who regularly sampled Mexican music in his own work. All in all a typically fine album from a group at the heart of Mexico City’s creative hub.
Former Genesis musician and lead singer and producer Peter Gabriel is a pioneering figure on the world roots music scene and it was by no means an obvious choice to create his own recording studio near Bath in the 1980s, launch the now annual and internationally prestigious Womad festival back in 1982, and then launch a brand new label towards the end of that decade devoted to promoting the music of hitherto relatively unknown musicians from other countries throughout the globe. Twenty-five years on and we have a celebration of those efforts with the release of a box set devoted to just some of the music contained on the Real World label. One could argue that even three CDs barely touches the surface, but importantly it does go beyond the surface to provide an excellent overview of some of the names, now household, established musicians in some cases, and yet still relatively unknown in other cases, that have graced the studios.
Probably one of the biggest critical as well as commercial successes have been the various albums recorded by Pakistani devotional music legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, both in collaboration with Western musicians of the calibre of Michael Brook and with Khan’s own band. For the former category, ‘Mustt Mustt’ is quite simply a world roots fusion classic and never fails to encourage listeners to dance in enjoyment while ‘Sweet Pain’ focuses on his more meditative side. Sheila Chandra typifies the approach of the label and scored a major pop hit with ‘Ever so lonely’, proof that in the right setting world roots music could reach out to a wider non-specialist audience. Africa has frequently featured on the label and from the east of that continent in Tanzania comes Remmy Ongala and the Orchestra Super Matimila with a recording that fully stands the test of time. Acoustic African folk flavours can be heard from Daby Touré hailing from Mauritania on ‘Iris’ while one of the continent’s most compelling voices of dissent against corruption, Thomas Mapfumo, is most deserving of a place. Attempts to specifically target Western audiences with a more pop-friendly sound were the raison d’être for Congolese superstar singer Papa Wemba’s presence and, though differing from his sound aimed at his compatriots, this is nonetheless music of great interest and integrity.UK-based bands that specialise in fusing world roots styles have been regular participants and among these we find the Afro Celt System, Juju and Imagined Village where folk and world roots musicians have met and worked together in total harmony, another major underlying theme and objective of the label’s creator. More recently the Creole Choir of Cuba have recorded a wonderful album showcasing the Haitian influence on music in eastern Cuba and enjoyed a triumphant tout of the UK, and thus it is only fitting that they should be represented here. Elsewhere, Los de Abajo from Mexico, Värttina from Finland and even Tibetan musician Yungchen Lhamo all contribute to the intoxicating cultural mix.
One could argue about the omission of some musicians who have recorded for Real World. Tabu Ley Rochereau would have been a worthy participant as would Cuban big band Orchestra Revé while Irish flautist extraordinaire Matt Molloy and live recordings from his ever musical pub in County Mayo would have added some Celtic flair to proceedings. That said, it is still the case that this anthology is representative of the plethora of music on the Real World label and the world roots scene as a whole should be externally grateful to Pete Gabriel for having the foresight and courage to chronicle so much of it.
This marks the debut album on Whirlwind for German drummer, composer and leader Jochem Rueckhert and he has been New York resident since 1995, and is now an integral part of the jazz music scene there. Among others, Rueckhert has worked with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Seamus Blake and Sam Yahel. For this debut, he has enlisted tenorist Mark Turner who is very much in demand, electric guitarist Lage Lund and acoustic bassist Matt Penman. Overall, if the musicianship is excellent, then the compositions need to be refined and improved upon in order to sustain repeated listens and remain memorable. That said, there are some lovely understated melodies here and these include the pretty sounding ‘Saul Goodman’ with fine tenor work from Turner in unison with Lund. Meanwhile the opener ‘Eggshells’ hints at late 1960s Wayne Shorter in outlook from around the ‘Schizophrenia’ album period and is an intense number with an extended guitar solo and some impassioned tenor playing. One slight weakness as a whole is the tendency of guitar and tenor to perform together when the ensemble seems to work best with one or the other out. Leader Rueckhert excels on the polyrythmic ‘Yellow Button’ where once again Turner evokes early period Shorter on tenor. A promising start nonetheless.