Musician extraordinaire Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) has an impressive and unusual musical pedigree. His great-aunt was none other than Alice Coltrane, his grandmother Marilyn McLeod (who regularly composed songs for Motown artists including Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross) and his uncle Ernie Farrow was a jazz musician who played under Yusef Lateef. The club-oriented music contained on this latest CD therefore encompasses a myriad of styles from Detroit house and L.A. hip-hop through to jazz-fusion of the more adventurous variety (Return to Forever, Weather Report) and subtle incursions into acoustic jazz. The fact that the musician has managed to cram all of this into just under forty minutes is a testimony to his skills of condensing diverse genres and still coming out with a distinctive voice. A previous album from 2012, ‘Until the Quiet Comes’ featured the vocals of Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke. On the latest recording, multi-keyboardist and musical polymath Herbie Hancock tickles the ivories while major league rappers Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar make brief appearances. One feature of the album is how successfully the relatively brief and largely instrumental pieces (vignettes might be a better description of them) that average just a couple of minutes merge into one another, thereby giving the impression of a long musical collage. The album works best for this writer on the moodier and more downbeat numbers which have more soulful beats, jazzy keyboards and a layered texture whereas the uptempo numbers have an element of the frantic dub-step groove to them and are sometimes not easy on the ear. Radio 6 DJ Mary Anne Hobbs described Flying Lotus as the ‘Jimi Hendrix of his generation’. For this writer, however, if Miles Davis were still alive and remade ‘Bitches Brew’ for the twenty-first century to reflect new trends in black American urban music, then it might just sound something like this. An intriguing musician to listen to for sure, but by no means easy listening and requiring repeated listens to soak in all the contrasting influences.
The revival of interest in 1980s electro-inspired pop reaches further here with the arrival of a box set of French singer Jeanne Mas who will be unknown to all but a few who resided across the Channel in the mid-late 1980s and was a true symbol of that decade for many French lovers and a very different and modern update on the classic French chanson tradition. Mas is in fact the first French singer to simultaneously reach number one on both the singles and album music charts in France, with the second single ‘Johnny, Johnny’ achieving one million copies sold, and was also the first woman singer to be awarded ‘Best newcomer’ at the Victoires de la Musique annual ceremony. What is contained on this set are the first four albums of her career and a later album of extended remixes of the hit singles that spans 1984-2004. This year represents thirty years of Jeanne Mas as a performer and she is one of the most instantly recognisable personalities on French television due to her dress style. However, she is also a gifted singer-songwriter, both for herself and for other musicians, and the albums stand the test well with that typically layered 1980s feel.
The albums work both individually and across the board with the mid-1980s hits ‘Toute première fois’, En rouge et noir’ ‘Coeur en stéréo’ et ‘Sauvez-moi’ probably the pick of the bunch. A first tour at the prestigious Olympia hall in Paris (where Ray Charles conquered the city back in the late 1950s) sold out for four days and the only pity with this selection is that we do not have the opportunity to hear Jeanne Mas live as on the double album from 1987, ‘Jeanne Mas en concert’. The remixes will appeal to clubbers and are probably worth the price of the box set alone. Though the French music press widely publicised Mas’ decline from the end of the 1980s onwards and it is true to say that she did temporarily retire from recording duties, in reality her fans never left her, While Mas spent a good deal of the 1990s bringing up her second child, she then returned triumphantly in 2001 with a mini album devoted to her fans entitled, ‘Je vous aime aussi’ and then settled in the US in the state of Arizona in 2005. This was not to be the end of her recording career in French, however, and she has recorded two critically acclaimed albums more recently in ‘Bleu Citron’ (2011)and ‘H2-Eau’ (2014). The time is ripe, then, for a re-evaluation of her early career and for fans of electro-pop with a French flavour, this may just be your nirvana.
Pianist Simon Purcell has followed an interesting trajectory as a musician in that a large part of his career has been spent as an academic lecturing in music for almost three decades and he is currently head of jazz at a music conservatory in London. A parallel career as a performer has thus been sporadic, but has notably included duties as leader of 1980s group Jazz Train in which singer Cleveland Watkiss plied his trade. For this debut on the Whirlwind label, nothing is rushed and there is an underlying sense of the leader’s maturity in the ensemble playing which bodes well. The quintet is an impressive one with Gene Calderazzo featuring on drums, Steve Watts on acoustic bass and a horn section comprising Julian Siegel on tenor and soprano saxophones and Chris Batchelor on trumpet while vocalist Lianne Carroll guests on a wonderfully reflective vocal number, ‘Ithaca’, with reflective piano from Purcell. Indeed, in general there is something of live feel to the recording owing to the absence of isolation between musicians in the studio. Influences are wide-ranging, but in terms of the piano include British musicians John Taylor and Gordon Beck while the ensemble work has clearly been influenced by the likes of Art Blakey and Miles Davis respectively during their expansive and explorative 1960s recordings. On the extended eleven and a half-minute piece, ‘Answers for Job’, Purcell in fact seems to have taken a leaf out of the Herbie Hancock acoustic piano period and this at once a delicate and impressionistic number with gorgeously melodic ensemble performances, and in the intro piano soloing of some distinction. The Jazz Messengers are conjured up on the opening to ‘Spirit Level’ and there is a lovely piano vamp from the leader and tenor soloing from Siegel that recalls Wayne Shorter in his mid-1960s prime. Elsewhere mid-1960s period Miles is evoked on the adventurous ‘Pandora’ with a fine trumpet solo from Batchelor while piano remains out of proceedings here. Overall, a fine debut for Simon Purcell on this most enterprising of London jazz labels and the leader would do well to retain this formation and undertake some live performances in the near future.
Produced by fellow guitarist and MPG label founder Nicolas Meier, London-based guitarist Pete Roth belongs firmly to the contemporary school of the jazz guitar, with influences ranging from John Scofield to Pat Metheny, and on this latest release is accompanied by a five piece group that includes multi-reeds, drum and percussion and a guest appearance on one track by producer and fellow musician Meier. The album works best on the reflective numbers such as ‘Morning Prayer’ which has a lovely ECM feel to it and on the pared down acoustic guitar on ‘The Return’ which is Methenyesque in execution. Indeed, throughout the album Roth is supported by some subtle percussive work from Gabor Dornyei and Terl Bryant while the duetting between the leader and multi-reedist Loren Hignell is another positive feature and exemplified on the reposing ‘Malaika’. There are still questions, however, to be resolved over whether Roth has yet to fully establish his own identity and some of the lengthier jazz-rock excursions as on ‘Uprise’ can become a tad laborious in places and needs to be reduced to avoid excessive filler. Nonetheless, there is a good deal of promise in the ensemble interplay and the mid-tempo ‘Smile’ is a genuine highlight with some delightfully lyrical tenor saxophone playing from Loren Hignell. For a funky twist on the jazz-fusion idiom, ‘RB School’ fits the bill and features some excellent tenor saxophone and electric guitar soloing.
Travel back in time to an era when the latest sounds could be heard in the major cities of the United States on a jukebox containing 45s that were the dancing soundtrack to an entire generation. From this époque that spans from the late 1940s through to 1960 comes a second volume of R & B gems that have taken on to a greater or lesser extent the Spanish-tinged hues. The project has been some years in the making to search out and discover these wonderful slices of vintage vinyl, but it has been well worth the wait. One of the joys of this compilation is finding out how R & B fused with other styles and here Caribbean flavours are a major feature. Philadelphia-based group Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames contribute the wonderful ‘I come from Jamaica’ with hi-hat cymbals and mambo-infused percussion. In a classic Latin meets R &B mélange comes ‘I got a cold – calypso’ from Note and Toe and the Grenadiers with manic male lead vocals. For slightly more conventional Latin grooves, look no further than the big band brass of ‘Chano’ by the exotically named Ron Rico with Sax Kari and Orchestra. The piano soloing is out of the top drawer and recalls the great Eddie Cano in his prime. Dance crazes were once upon a time the flavour of the day and in ‘Mambo Hop’ Oscar Saldano lays down some stunning Latin piano vamps, R & B flavoured saxophone handclaps galore and collective vocal chants. If there is one name that will be immediately familiar, then it is surely that of T-Bone Walker, but he is in a very different musical surrounding here with Latin accompaniment, though the blues-inflected delivery is all his own on ‘Plain Old Down Home Blues’. Quite apart from the rest is the somewhat raw and rustic sounding ‘Denga Denga’ by Ashton Savoy from 1956 and this sparse recording feature the vocalist and guitar. New Orleans piano à la Professor Longhair is a feature of ‘She wants to mambo’ by the Chanters who actually hail from Santa Monica, L.A. Another excellent trip back in time, then, to when the jukebox ruled and we await a third instalment with bated breath.
Jazz legends pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland need little or no introduction and their extended tenures with Stan Getz and Miles Davis respectively were the for their glittering careers. However, their personal collaboration is a relatively recent one and dates back to 2012 when the duo formed a musical partnership and performed globally thereafter. This 2014 studio recording is the summation of that experience. The delightful opener and Holland composition, ‘The Oracle’, hints at other worldly things and is characterised by some refined piano from Barron and melodic bass accompaniment. One of the most beautiful pieces is the Latinesque in expression ‘Dr. Do Right’ penned once more by Holland and recalling Barron’s own long-term love affair with Latin music that stretches way back into the 1960s and his sideman duties with Dizzy Gillespie. Bop influences emerge on the brisk uptempo bop tune ‘Segment’, a Charlie Parker composition and one in which Barron displays his mastery of the keyboards with an underlying nod to Bud Powell and on the Monk penned, ‘In walked Bud’. A tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler, ‘Waltz for K.W.’ finds the duo performing in genteel fashion and is reflective in keeping with Kenny Wheeler’s own demeanour. Delicate phrasing from the pianist is a feature of the ballad ‘Rain’ and the album ends in a contemplative mode on ‘Day Dream’ which is a Billy Strayhorn written piece. The interplay and natural empathy between the two musicians makes for over an hour of unadulterated pleasure and it goes without saying that the performances are of the highest order.
Drummer Shelly Manne was thirty-nine years of age when he cut these lengthy sides of live jazz at the Black Hawk night club in San Francisco in mid-September of 1959. The intimacy of the venue was ideal for recording purposes and thanks to the wonders of digital technology the transfer here is a wonderfully clear one. Manne opted on these sessions for a quintet comprising tenorist Richie Kamuca, who sounds throughout as though he is under the influence of Hank Mobley, trumpeter Joe Gordon, pianist Victor Feldman (soon to become a member of the transitional Miles Davis group of the early-mid 1960s before the great mid-1960s quintet took shape) and Monty Budwig on bass. Both Budwig and Manne would thereafter perform regularly as part of rhythm sections and this included a brief sojourn as part of the Bill Evans piano trio on the album ‘Empathy’. Proceedings get off to a relaxed start with a gently reposing ‘Summertime’ and Gordon plays on muted harmon in a fashion that Miles Davis had perfected at the time. Matters speed up significantly on the next number, a rousing and slightly too rapid for this writer’s taste take on ‘Poinciana’, which is transformed into a neo-bop number with Kamuca undertaking an all-out assault on the tune. The second DC is notable for the inclusion of a Horace Silver composition, ‘How deep are the roots’ and the ensemble playing has all the hallmarks of the Jazz Messengers with unison horns in the intro and overall a classic mid-1950s feel, yet deeply soulful for all that. A leisurely ballad, ‘Whisper Not’, penned by Benny Golson, offers Kamuca the opportunity to lay down some warm tones while Feldman is content to comp in the background. Two twenty-minute blues have something of a jam session atmosphere and ‘Black Hawk Blues is the pick of these. The final CD features a lyrical take on Cole Porter’s ‘I am in love’ with Gordon taking the lead on the main theme while a lesser known piece from the Duke Ellington cannon, ‘Just squeeze me’, receives a most delicate of interpretations with sensitive piano and horns working in unison to good effect.
Stylistically, the West Coast label did not fit all musicians that originated from that geographical location with Ornette Coleman being an obvious example while even Mr. cool school himself, Chet Baker, could blow hot when performing with musicians on the East Coast. However, if lyrical and melodic jazz taken at a swinging relaxed tempo is your bag, then these live dates are well worth the admission price. This slimline edition of the box set still enables a twenty page booklet which sheds valuable light on the original performances and at virtually seventy minutes for each CD makes for terrific value for money. Above all else, however, the music remains timeless and is near definitive of the West Coast sound that could be hot and cold as and when required. By 1960 Shelly Manne had opened his own club, the aptly named Shelly Manne’s Hole and this would remain in existence for some fifteen years and host the very best in jazz talent of that era.
Folk-blues singer-songwriter Eric Bibb is a consummate performer and this is perfectly exemplified on this fine all acoustic album, which is both a tribute to the ‘I have a dream’ speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King and a homage to the seminal book on the evolution of African-American music, ‘Blues People’, by Le Roi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka), with major league guests arriving in the form of Taj Mahal and the Blind Boys of Albama. The leader’s trenchant depiction of hobo life is showcased on ‘Driftin’ door to door’ with some neat slide guitar work from Bibb. Indeed Ry Cooder would not feel ill at ease on the old-time feel that permeates ‘Chocolate Man’ and the use of banjo and tuba as sound effects merely enhances the ambiance. In a more contemporary vein, ‘God’s Mojo’ is at once a catchy and haunting number with vamping on the piano to good effect while there is some welcome soul-blues on the mid-tempo outing ‘Dream Catchers’ with rhythm guitar and soulful female vocals in the background. Back to a more intimate setting, ‘Rosewood’ is reminiscent of the end of career pared down recordings of Johnny Cash and here Eric Bibb is accompanied solely by guitar and the subtle use of keyboards. In general there is an assurance about Eric Bibb’s delivery with the deliberate use of plenty of space in between the music and a relaxed and confident air that the listener will readily warm to. This is an authentic slice of retro folk-blues given just the slightest of modern twists and it works extremely well within those parameters.
This new album celebrates twenty-five years of Popa Chubby as a musician and he indeed started up in 1989 as a professional, though in fact his first gigs go way back in time to 1977 when he operated in the Queens district of New York. Essentially Poppa Chubby plies his trade as a blues-rock musician and this has its plus and minus factors. At his best, he works within the tradition as on the old school R & B of ‘One leg at a time’ on which pays homage to the old masters of the 1950s. Fast forward a couple of decades and ‘I’m feelin’ lucky’ features some funky 1970s clavinet. For a more reflective side to the leader’s music, ‘Too much information’ is a sparse sounding number and a treat at that. Where Poppa Chubby sometimes falls down is on the excessive use of rock guitar on the storming blues-rock songs and, when this is toned down, he is fully capable of delivering melodic and soulful blues as illustrated on the gentle paced ‘Come to me’ with female background vocals supplied by none other than Dana Fuchs from the Royal Southern Brotherhood. His guitar playing works best on the driving opener ‘Three little words’ which in the soulful delivery on lead vocals and soaring guitar hints at the influence of Carlos Santana on Popa Chubby. A second CD of bonus songs features some of the rare and early material from his career. An extensive biography of the leader is contained in the excellent inner sleeve notes. Poppa Chubby is currently undertaking an extended continental European tour that takes in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, though no UK dates are planned.
Southern American soul-blues has a long-standing reputation and has in recent years become better known outside the United States among soul aficionados. Think of singers of the calibre of Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Little Johnny Taylor and O.V. Wright to name but a few and you have some idea of the quality sound of the voices that abound. Veteran singers Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have paired up on this new recording for a highly entertaining trip down memory lane. The former is best remembered for his early-mid 1970s recordings for the Hi label while Rawls came to prominence as musical director of O.V. Wright as well as being a guitarist. The two have in fact already collaborated on ‘Remembering O.V.’ which was awarded ‘Southern soul album of the year’ in 2013. The new album charts a similar path with tight arrangements and vocal harmonies to the fore. This is the real deal and the soul-blues on offer consequently has a decidedly gritty feel to it. A reworking of the Tyrone Davis mid-1970s classic ‘Turning back the hands of time’ works a treat and the full brass section plus the use of vibes ensures this is a winner of a tune. On the co-written ‘Living on borrowed time’, Clay’s rasping vocals are complemented by some melodic guitar licks and this is the catchiest of mid-tempo songs. Among the most compelling reprises is a reworking of the Jimmy Ruffin tune becomes of the broken hearted’ and Otis Clay delivers a fine interpretation that adds some tasty southern topping on this occasion. Tales from New Orleans form the inspiration for ‘Voodoo Queen’ that is an intricate blues with punchy horns and another stunning delivery from Clay. In a funkier vein, the uptempo ‘Mama didn’t raise no fool’ is noteworthy for the use of clipped rhythm guitar à la James Brown and a heavy bassline. Quality music from start to finish.