Ronnie Dyson ‘Lady in Red. The Columbia Sides Plus’ (Cherry Red/SoulMusic) 4/5

ronnie-dysonNorthern Soul fans know him best as a result of this compilation title track, but the precociously talented falsetto vocalist Ronnie Dyson was easily able to adept to ballads, gospel-inspired and uptempo numbers with aplomb and this long overdue tribute covers the essential first album on Columbia plus some tasty and hard to find 45s. There is some overlap with the 1995 US CD re-issue on the Collectables label with the album as a whole reproduced in its entirety here, but that is where the parallel ends and this new single CD anthology incorporates some excellent singles from slightly later in his relatively brief career as well as at the very beginning. It begins with the one RCA label number, ‘Aquarius’ and this is fact the point at which Dyson’s career took off when he earned the lead role in the musical ‘Hair’. By 1970 Dyson had secured a deal with Columbia and that first album featured a mixture of originals and covers, the latter represented by a lovely interpretation of ‘Make it with you’. The album ‘(If you let me make love to you)why can’t I touch you?’ was a top ten R & B album chart hit and was just outside the pop chart top fifty and the title track itself was a minor soul hit with a mid-tempo groove and an uplifting percussive drum beat. A stronger song was the follow-up, ‘I don’t wanna cry’ which included some gorgeous gospel-infused female vocals. Fast forward a few years and Ronnie Dyson was now in peak form and delivering Philly-inspired ballads, covering ‘Just don’t want to be lonely’ and then the pièce de résistance, ‘Lady in Red’. This was recorded under Philly International musician and producer Norman Harris and it is such a stunning and classy mid-tempo dancer that one wonders why it never enjoyed any success at the time. It has entered northern soul legend and why Dyson was not immediately hooked up with Sigma studios for an entire album of the Philly sound will remain one of the great mysteries for his voice was ideally suited to the lush jazzy orchestrations. A second album did in reality include a first single written by Philly song writing duo Thom Bell and Linda Creed. One joyous bonus cut is the extended version of a gospel song, ‘Jesus is just alright’ and Dyson could and, perhaps, should have enjoyed a parallel career in this field. Tragically his life was cut short and he passed away in 1990 aged only forty. A great loss to the world of soul music. Informative inner sleeve notes featuring an interview with the singer are rounded off by the original LP notes reprinted in full. A fine way for newcomers and long-time fans will still want to acquire the rarer 45s in one place.

Tim Stenhouse

Maurizio Minardi ‘Piano Ambulance’ (Belfagor) 3/5

maurizio-minardiSince moving to London in 2008, Calabria born pianist Maurizio Minardi has released three studio albums, each with various themes and instrumentation. “Piano Ambulance”, his fourth album, is a piano trio plus one. Minardi on piano, Nick Pini double bass, Jason Reeve drums and Shirley Smart cello. Routed firmly in the European classical tradition, but with enough free spirit to allow us use of the phrase “classical/jazz crossover”, in truth the album falls into neither camp particularly well… But this is a good thing. Perhaps what would better describe this release is that of one man’s journey through a lyrical, emotional, interwoven walk of life. “April Sun” starts out as a procession, an uphill march, before allowing a short pause for thought, then onward once again but at a canter. Much of the album moves thus, quick, slow, quiet, louder, quiet again, quick quick slow… A yearning for lost love inflects “Dangerous Innocence”. I love this track’s clever mix of calm on the outside, with an excitable and impatient Cinematic Orchestra style backbeat kicking on the inside. Many of Minardi’s compositions have a child like innocence and fragility, none truer than on the gorgeous “Friday Almost”. But a change of pace is always just around the corner and there is a brightness of spirit and youthful exuberance to “Goodbye London”… An animated rush of the blood that captures a hustle and bustle of life and brings to mind a certain character: I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! An onlooker with a stoic reverence is how one might describe “Indulgence” – a stiff upper lip type of tune old boy. The title track “Piano Ambulance” (I’ve no idea why it’s called that…it doesn’t really evoke sad thoughts of a piano taking its last breath in a London ambulance…hmm, or does it?), is one of my favourite tracks on the album. A tuneful remembrance, bringing to mind many memories and reflections on life. The journey takes a few more interesting diversions before coming to an end with “Seven Sisters”, an acceptance of who we are and an affirmation of all the things that brought us to this place.

There is undoubtedly a lyrical beauty that runs through the entire album, with enough twists and turns to make it a rewarding listen. For me though, it’s just a little too formulaic and a tad too clinical. Imagine Michael Nyman piano music played by Jaques Lousier with Lars Danielson orchestrating the bass and cello over some lovely Tigran and Einaudi compositions and you’re just about there. The quartet embark on a UK journey imminently, beginning in London with their album launch at The Vortex on 18th February, driving northwards to various venues throughout March.

Mike Gates

Casey Golden Trio ‘Outliers’ (Scrampion) 4/5

casey-goldenIt’s not too often Sydney, Australia and jazz are used in the same sentence, so it was with both curiosity and apprehension that these ears readied themselves for this new release from Casey Golden (piano/compositions), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums/percussion). Excited first by wonderful cover artwork by Ron Frenz (Marvel/DC Comics) and consistency through the website, it was clear there had been much thought and care spared in the preparation and execution of this album. The opening piece, ‘Flatpack Empire’ lured me in through the contemporary back door, past impressions of ECM and onto front stage where the trio fuse majestically together – with very few years between them, may I add. The clear lead from Casey’s piano drives the album through the title track into ‘Paralysed’, a well-structured and modern piece that leaves the listener most contented. Reaching finalist for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year in 2011, and enjoying as he does, a great deal of listening and reading about new jazz music, the youthful Casey has clearly achieved much with this project, one which can only see greater things ahead of him. There is richness to the overall production of the album, evident more so with ‘Home’ and ‘Us Or Them’ with a fulfilling warm timbre from the bass notes that envelops the listener. The album has a very untypical slant in the absence of solos through the compositions, although each member’s individualism can be easily picked out. The finale ‘One Of Two Places’ sits highest for this listener for the energy it has, but the album is a whole and it’s denouement most satisfying. Whether a stalwart of such names as Jack Brokensha/Bruce Hancock/Ed Gaston, an approachable listener to new names like Matt McMahon and Ben Gurton, or a sponge for all things jazz, perhaps Australia has much more to offer. Maybe Casey Golden will have a place in your collection and stay on our respective radars in anticipation of a UK tour this year, or sometime soon. We wish them every success.

Steve Williams

Adam Birnbaum ‘Three of A Mind’ (Daedalus) 4/5

adam-birnbaumPianist Adam Birnbaum is a rapidly rising star on the New York jazz scene. For this acoustic trio album “Three of a mind” he is joined by two celebrated rhythm section partners, Al Foster (drums) and Doug Weiss (bass). Foster and Weiss have a formidable pedigree, between them having worked with such luminaries as Miles Davis, Marcus Miller, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. Over the past decade Birnbaum has performed with veteran masters such as Eddie Gomez and Wynton Marsalis and also worked with well established contemporaries Pedro Giraudo and Marshall Gilkes. On “Three of a mind” Birnbaum, Foster and Weiss complement each other perfectly, sharing an enviable chemistry and understanding which fuses with the ear of the listener. The album opens with “Binary”, a positive statement of intent: This is who we are! This is what we do! Upbeat and adventurous, bright and uplifting, Birnbaum’s compositions are often playful and engaging, and “Dream Waltz” facilitates some well-balanced interplay over an alluring melody. On the bluesy “Thirty Three” you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to an uncomplicated Brad Mehldau play the blues. By contrast the swinging “Brandyn”, one of Al Foster’s two compositions on the album, dazzles and shimmers with some exciting playing from all three protagonists. The reflective “Rockport Moon” allows a delightful change of pace. A lyrical and melodic ballad, it highlights Birnbaum’s lighter, softer touch. ‘Stutterstop”, a bright and breezy hip little number, gives way to “Kizuna”, an elegant piece punctuated with a gorgeous melody line. “Dream Song No. 1: Huffy Henry” is more ambitious. A darker, moodier tone lifts it above its blues inflected theme. The album closes with “Ooh what you do to me”, a joyous and confident end to a well-balanced, enjoyable album.

“Three of a mind” captures well the essence of the jazz trio. Whilst not too demanding, Birnbaum’s compositions rise above the norm, allowing space and freedom for Foster and Weiss to show their consummate skills without being too overpowering or headstrong. Adam Birnbaum plays with a refreshing intuition throughout the album. With hints of Steve Kuhn, Michel Petruciani and Kenny Baron occasionally working their way in, on this evidence Birnbaum is definitely one to look out for.

Mike Gates

Tubby Hayes @ 80

JANUARY 30th 2015 MARKS EIGHTY YEARS OF SAXOPHONIST TUBBY HAYES – Britain’s Greatest Jazz Performer.

2015 will see the release of a DVD ‘Tubby Hayes – A Man In A Hurry’ narrated by actor and Hayes fan Martin Freeman (produced by Mark Baxter/directed by Lee Cogswell – Summer 2015)

Featuring exclusive interviews with people that knew him, worked with him, musicians influenced by him, people from the music industry and fans, Tubby Hayes – A Man In A Hurry charts the life and times of Tubby Hayes.

January 30th 2015 marks what would have been the 80th birthday of Edward Brian Hayes, known to the world of jazz as Tubby.

A professional jazz musician at just fifteen, by his untimely death at thirty-eight, he had left behind a body of work, that has both stood the test of time and has proven to be an inspiration to many like minded musicians today.

For ten years from the mid 1950s to the middle of 1960s, jazz musician, composer and arranger, Tubby Hayes became a household name in Britain.

He had his own shows on national television and he played on some of the most iconic recordings of that era, including the soundtracks to the films ‘Alfie’ and ‘The Italian Job’.

Tubby became the first solo UK jazz performer to be invited to play in the United States, where Miles Davis attended his first gig in New York and his services were much in demand here in the UK by the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie.

However, the combination of years of over work, drug abuse and the rise of Pop music in the UK – much to the detriment of the world of British jazz – ultimately found Tubby struggling to complete sometimes poorly attended concerts.

He had burnt very brightly but then quickly faded from the general publics consciousness soon after his untimely death in June 1973.

Perhaps, now a forgotten man by many.

But 2015, over forty years since his sad demise, Tubby and his numerous recordings from a highly productive twenty-year period have steadily attracted a growing band of dedicated fans around the globe.


Renegades of Jazz ‘Paradise Lost’ CD/2LP/Dig (Agogo) 2/5 & 4/5

renegades-of-jazzThe fusion of hip-hop beats and electronica with jazz has taken myriad forms and with mixed results, the latter most successfully blended by the likes of Nils-Petr Molvaer. This latest attempt sadly fails on several accounts and is stylistically a confused mélange of genres that simply do not compliment one another and merely confuses the listener. It has to be said that there is little or no improvisation going on save the repeated use of loops and beats and the odd bit of brass, but in truth the only real attempt at a jazz component is a repeated bass line that simply never takes off in any coherent direction. At best the combination of electronica with acoustic instrumentation conveys something of a cinematic soundtrack feel as evidenced on ‘Hellesens’ with strings, but then that atmosphere is transformed into a rock-tinged second half. Too much of the album is delivered at a frantic pace and too little thought has gone into how the listener might react in trying to fathom what is happening. Balkan brass emerges on ‘Neverday’ and then disappears altogether elsewhere. Only the opener, ‘Haunting the North’ evokes any emotional response and this features bass clarinet and choral background. There are cod-Chic guitar riffs on ‘Imperial Breed’ which may hint at the band aware of Daft Punk’s efforts to fuse electronic instrumentation and classic disco.
Renegades of Jazz is the brainchild of leader David Hanke who was inspired by African music while there as a child and then later in the 1990s discovered sample beats. The hip-hop meets jazz approach is now a little dated and the band would be better served mixing electronic beats with Latin flavours as they successfully achieve on ‘Flemish Cap’ with vocals by Karin Ploog. The major question remains: which direction does Renegades of Jazz wish to take? This writer is firmly of the opinion that they should ditch all pretence of a jazz background and instead they should stick to dancefloor material where funk, Latin and African rhythms can be incorporated in a more cohesive and compelling manner.

Tim Stenhouse – Rating 2/5

Fans of Renegades of Jazz will love “Paradise Lost”, but then again, new listeners will do that, too! RoJ’s album is out now. This is the group’s second album, an innovative return, and, as Ornette Coleman would put it, “something else…” Sounding dark, very dark indeed, eight of the twelve tracks feature collaborations with some intriguing artists, Greg Blackman and Karin Ploog, to mention but a couple. The rest are up to the listeners to discover and enjoy, but suffice to say that all combinations work well. They are at the core of this new album. “Paradise Lost” needs to be handled with care, as one proceeds to listen, track by track, whether upbeat or not, the music draws one in and one is lost, yes, lost, just like John Milton intended it with his beautiful work… To delve a little bit into the world of literature, as Milton put it, Paradise Lost was “to justify the ways of God to men”, in parallel RoJ’s “Paradise Lost” is not a justification, but rather an invitation to discover a world where dark and light mix but where one doesn’t know what to expect until one has entered that world. And it is just this delving into the unknown that makes the album such a great one. Enter at your peril? Yes, with such delights waiting in the penumbra.
Outstanding tracks are: “Ban-Shee” – a dark upbeat song pulling one into an irresistible crescendo and “Tamerlane” (feat. Greg Blackman) – like a rough-cut diamond. “Lucifer’s rising” is an incredibly mesmerizing track and, at times, scarily so. Then one listens to the track “Fire” featuring Aspects. What to do, but be in awe. This is a genius collaboration. The Bristol hip-hop band are just right and add even more value to an already precious album. A remembrance of the good old “Jazzmatazz” era! The voice of Chima Anya is suave realism on “Death Grip”. A reminder of how well rap and jazz can go together at times. And, to add to this already beautiful gem, the album cover is by the great 19th century artist, Gustave Dore’ (one of his engravings for Milton’s book), so all in all, music, literature and art all mix into one. Just perfect!

Erminia Yardley – Rating 4/5

Eugene Record ‘Eugene Record’/’Trying To Get To You’ (Expansion) 4/5

eugene-recordAs well as being the lead singer of the Chi-Lites, Eugene Record enjoyed a separate solo career and the first two albums that he cut for Warner Brothers in 1977 and 1978 are showcased here on a twofer that illustrates how strong the Chicago music industry still was in the mid-late 1970s. Some of the cream of the Windy City’s studio musicians were on hand to offer support and these included members of the Earth, Wind and Fire brass section as well as jazz guitarist Phil Upchurch. A modern soul classic is contained on the first album in the sublime ‘Overdose of joy’ and this is deserving of a place on any best of 1970s compilation and it is surely one Record’s finest ever compositions. Nothing quite hits that heady height, but there is nonetheless a well balance selection of mid-tempo and ballad numbers and this is exemplified by ‘Here comes the sun’ (not the George Harrison classic, but instead a self-penned Record composition) which is an altogether classy affair with lovely harmonies and instrumentation that is not without recalling Marvin’s ‘I want you’ production house. Fans of the Quiet Storm sub-genre will be in lovers heaven when listening to songs of the calibre of ‘Love don’t live by sex alone’ and ‘Putting it down (to the way I feel about you)’. Even the uptempo numbers, which pay a passing nod to the disco era then in its ascendancy remain deeply soulful and this is certainly the case with ‘Danger! Love under pressure’.

The second album is notable for an original version of a song that became a cult rare groove number when later interpreted by Valerie Carter and this is ‘Trying to get to you’. Marvin Gaye’s influence can be heard further in the intro and mid-tempo shuffle of ‘We belong together’ and this is a stand out track that has been sampled. Throughout the albums the attention to detail in the use of brass and strings is supremely subtle and no better is this exemplified than on the gentle groove of ‘Come to my party’. Several of the songs on the two albums have been sampled extensively by a younger generation and that is a clear indication of how influential Eugene record has become. After recording his final album for Warner in 1979, Record became a born again Christian and enjoyed a parallel career in gospel while simultaneously performing sporadically with the Chi-Lites until he passed away in 2003.

Tim Stenhouse

Vijay Iyer and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) ‘Radhe Radhe. Rites of Holi’ DVD or Blue Ray (ECM) 4/5

vijay-iyerThis is an interesting venture from ECM that combines wordless documentary and music to useful effect and is a homage of sorts to the music and dance collaboration of Russian composer Stravinsky and choreographer Nijinsky on the famous ballet ‘Le Sacré du Printemps. An initial thirty-five minute documentary on India provides a visual feast and backdrop with dance sequences featuring Nawazaddin Siddiqui. From a musical perspective, Iyer performs on acoustic piano with accompanying in the form of the ICE who add something of a classical edge with brass, flute and woodwind. The extended suite goes through various stages and this is reflected in the pace of the music with one part sounding as though it has been heavily influenced by Manuel de Falla’s ‘Fire Dance’ and here the combination of flute, brass and percussion works especially well. A bonus near twenty-minute segment includes the band in live performance. Full marks to ECM for having the foresight to undertake this exploration of music and dance. Hopefully, at some stage there will be a resulting CD with extra pieces.

Tim Stenhouse

Robin Williamson ‘Trusting in the Rising’ (ECM) 3/5

robin-williamsonVeteran Scottish folk singer and former member of the Incredible String Band returns with an esoteric release that is inspired in large part by the poetry of Blake, Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman. Produced by Steve Lake, what immediately attracts the listener’s attention is the unusual array of instrumentation for a folk album and this includes vibraphone, viola and percussion. This is certainly folk music, but with a difference. Now an octogenarian, there is something of a zen-llike quality to some of the songs as illustrated on the intro to ‘Just West of Monmouth’ which features a spoken delivery. It has to be stressed that the voice is not quite what is once was and the lyrics are, in parts, a tad clichéd. That said, there is still lyrical beauty to be found on songs such as ‘Roads’ and expansive instrumentation when let loose on numbers such as ‘Night comes quick in L.A.’. Maybe not the first port of entry for newcomers to Robin Williamson’s work, but a piece of work that gains in interest with repeated listens.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Afrosound of Colombia Vol. 2’ CD/2LP (Vampi Soul) 5/5

afrosound-colombia-vol2If it is old-school cumbia, charanga and Afro-funk with a Colombian flavour you are after, then this beautifully presented and put together compilation by DJ Bongohead aka Pablo Yglesias is definitely for you. Recent years have seen the classic vaults of Discos Fuentes well and truly pillaged, yet there is still music of quality to be unearthed for a wider audience and this is very much a connoisseur’s guide to Afro-Colombian music with the offshoot labels Tropical and Machuca the subject of an-depth investigation here and the listener is most certainly the winner. For some collective call and response vocals plus accordion, then the percussive ‘Juventud flaca y loca’ by Lisandro Meza y su Combo Gigante will delight and there is some fine flute playing into the bargain. Breezy and rustic, ‘Cumbia de luna’ by the intriguingly named Combo Loco (crazy Combo) is an irresistible trip back in time while there are echoes of early salsa with brassy saxophone and joint lead vocals on Orquesta Ritmo de Sabanas and ‘Qué se hicieron’. Arguably strongest of all is the heavyweight Afro-Cuban rhythms of Michi Sarmiento y su Combo Bravo on the gorgeous sounding ‘Calenita’ with a fine piano solo. Sumptuously packaged in a deluxe edition inner sleeve complete with photos galore and extensive liner notes that leave practically no stone unturned on the information front, this mini anthology is finely rounded off by a terrific illustration on the cover with cartoon images of individual singers. A lovely creative way to attract our attention to the music, but in truth it needs little or no hype and stands up to the test of time magnificently.

Tim Stenhouse