Marte Röling

marte-rolingMarte Röling, niece of artist Matthijs Röling and niece of the polemologist Bert Röling, is a Dutch lithographer born in Amsterdam on 16th December 1939. Since 1959 she has exhibited in Europe and the United States, and perhaps better known for her large paintings and sculptures (Sculpture of Röling at the Harmonie Building can be found at the University of Groningen). In the sixties she won the Hilversum Culture Prize and worked with Jeanne Rose, fashion editor at Het Parool, who asked her to make fashion drawings. Although she had already made her mark back in 1990, notably with a successful exhibition of examples of her work at the Paris Biennale, it is back in 1990 that we familiarise ourselves with her work for Fontana Records, now designing album covers, stamps, theatre sets, murals, posters, costumes, reliefs and even movies. It was then, during the 1990s, that her canal-side apartment in Amsterdam, lit by the broad Dutch skies, was perpetually cleared for action because during those days commissions from public bodies and private persons flowed in almost as fast as Marte could meet them. Art’s in the blood, luckily. Both parents were artists and the training Marte received at the Amsterdam Academy brought a ready talent to early fruition. Today, Marte’s deepest mental affinities are with Picasso, but she is not automatically bored by people who prefer Leonardo da Vinci; indeed, she is bored by no-one or nothing that gives her a “new slant on things.” She reads widely, but not systematically, and claims to be interested in politics. As for the growing reputation that has brought her (among other things) appearances on television, she remarks: “It would be unnatural if I didn’t like that kind of thing, wouldn’t it? But my real ambition is to become a better and better artist.” On January 17, 2010 Röling was appointed Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion.

Steve Williams

Various ‘Street Sounds presents Jazz Funk classics vol. 1’ 3 CD (Street Sounds) 5/5

jazz-funk-classics-vol.1The Street Sounds logo was synonymous in the mid-late 1980s for quality compilations chronicling the roots of the underground dance music scene and this ranged from classic disco/boogie with the West End label and rare groove plus the origins of hip-hop to the superb ‘Jazz Juice’ albums that skilfully pillaged the crème de la crème of instrumental, vocalese and Latin jazz, and they are all required listening for anyone who wishes to acquire a more specialist knowledge of the field. Re-vamping the label for the twenty-first century is henceforth label owner Morgan Khan’s new goal and this new compilation of the golden era of jazz-funk from the 1970s is first up and served as a musical platter that is packed full of tasty saboroso vibes. Jazz-Funk is a much used and at times misunderstood and abused term, yet at its essence it was about gaining a foothold into the world of jazz via accessible groove-driven music that focused on instrumental prowess, but never at the expense of losing the melody. It was largely, but not exclusively inspired by the sounds emanating from the United States (groups such as Atmosfear, Central Line, Freeez, High Tension and Level 42 all being examples of the UK side and are not included here, but might form part of a future anthology of the UK scene). Musicians such as Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Lonnie Liston Smith to name but three became the heroes for a new generation of youth who were tired of the sugar-coated offerings of the BBC dictated pop charts.

Revisiting the generously timed tracks on offer here some thirty years after they initially surfaced, one cannot but be impressed by how successful these numbers in their extended version proved in both the pop and soul/R &B charts from the mid-1970s through to the early 1980s. Tom Browne scored a major hit with ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ while pianist Rodney Franklin went into the higher echelons of the top ten with a virtually instrumental 45, ‘The Groove’, something that only the likes of Acker Bilk, Dave Brubeck and Ramsey Lewis had achieved previously. It is still the catchiest of grooves and stands the test of time. Less of a major commercial hit, but arguably a greater influence on the movement as a whole was Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’ which is now rightly regarded as an anthem and the various albums and compilations of his music last year re-issued on the ACE label are well worth exploring if you are unfamiliar.

The influence of disco played its part in the late 1970s on jazz-inspired musicians and this is illustrated by the vocoder vocals on Herbie Hancock’s classic ‘I thought it was you’, or on the percussive ‘Black is the colour’ by Wilbert Logmire. A good deal of the dancefloor oriented jazz put off jazz purists, as on the excellent trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s ‘Prance On’, but then jazz for a long period of time from the 1920s through to the mid-1940s was precisely a music that was intended for dancefloor consumption and nobody complained when Duke Ellington and Count Basie adapted their music to these new dance trends. Donald Byrd came in for a whole raft of criticism when he wholeheartedly embraced the new jazz-funk sound and served as educator and leader to the Blackbyrds with their offering ‘Rock Creek Park’ a definitive slice of jazz-funk magic. Byrd’s Blue Note label mate Bobbi Humphrey followed suit and still managed to incorporate flute solos on the exquisite ‘Harlem River Drive’ while Grover Washington Jr. extended the boundaries of the Motown franchise with his soulful take on jazz and ‘Mister Magic’ is a fine illustration. The Crusaders were one of the key groups of the era and are featured here on more than one occasion and in various guises. They contribute the backing instrumental sound to tenorist Wilton Felder’s epic 1981 number ‘Inherit the wind’ which showcased the fabulous vocals of one Bobby Womack who has sadly recently departed. Only the soul boy anthem by Frankie Beverly and Maze, ‘Before I let you go’, sounds slightly out-of-place, but that is minor quibble and it is a fine song in its own right. A nice touch was to include an updated and excellent version of George Benson’s ‘Breezin’ with vocals coming courtesy of soul-jazzer Al Jarreau. He could have had a song included as a leader. Fantastic value for money as always with Street Sounds and one hopes that Street Sound will go on to explore some other more specialised aspects of the music scene.

Tim Stenhouse

Andy Bey ‘Pages From An Extraordinary Life’ (High Note) 4/5

andy-beySinger-pianist Andy Bey has in recent times finally received his due with a Grammy nomination for his 2013 album ‘The world according to Andy Bey’ and this comes after a lengthy career that began in the 1960s singing with his two sisters before he went solo and performed alongside Gary Bartz, Horace Silver and even Archie Shepp. His latest release takes matters a step further with a stripped down instrumentation to just voice and piano and is an absolute treat. The album is conceived like a book and is divided up into four parts, each playlist containing a combination of philosophical and/or romantic elements. Indeed Bey sets out to explore the roots of American song with composers of the calibre of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers and Billy Strayhorn showcased alongside some of his compositions. The new originals fare well and are designed both to provide wisdom for the listener and entertain and succeed on both counts. It is the vulnerability of Bey’s baritone voice that comes shining through on ‘Good morning heartache’ and Billie Holiday would have approved of this interpretation while for an uptempo rendition, ‘Take the A Train’ is an undoubted album highlight. Bill Evans had a soft spot for ‘My foolish heart’ and Andy Bey conveys the fragility of the song to perfection and mention should be made of his pianistic skills which are influenced in part by Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson. An interesting choice of cover is the far well less known ‘Dog eats Dog’ that Harold Arlen composed. Of the self-penned songs, ‘All that glitters is not gold’ is worthy of attention as is the languid ‘Jealousy’. It should come as no surprise that no less than Aretha Franklin in her formative years in the 1960s used to go out after performing herself and check out Andy Bey who was then singing live in Greenwich Village. That is an indication of how highly the singer is regarded by other musical greats.

Tim Stenhouse

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin ‘Jane et Serge 1973’ Super Deluxe Book Edition 2CD + DVD (Mercury/Universal France) 5/5

serge-gainsbourg-jane-birkinFor many Serge Gainsbourg will forever be remembered for the single ‘Je t’aime moi non plus’ and the album ‘Melody Nelson’. However, his career continued to flourish directly after both these and this is where this latest chapter in the homage to Serge and his muse Jane Birkin fits in nicely. The first album, ‘Di doo dah’, continues the collaboration between Serge and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier, dating from late 1971, and there is still something of a psychedelic feel to the recording which is by some distance the strongest and most consistent of Jane Birkin’s career to date. The title track is a song that has endured through the subsequent decades and is regularly reprised in a live context. Overall, the album has a lovely relaxed feel to it and that is probably an indication of how Serge felt about life at this point with a new daughter born in Charlotte. Of course he was still lyrically in both a playful and provocative mood and this is perfectly illustrated on ‘Les capotes anglaises’ (French slang for what is termed ‘French letters’ in English) and the irony of this message being delivered by a native English female singer and with the sweetest of orchestrations was very much in the Gainsbourg tradition harking back to ‘Les sucettes’. A strong candidate for best album song aside from the title track is ‘Kawasaki’ and here the use of minor chords and dramatic strings works wonders here. Country and folk hues are in evidence on a couple of songs with slide guitar and strings a curious combination on ‘Puisque je te le dis’ and folk-style harmonies in evidence on ‘Banana Boat’. A couple of bonus songs includes the salacious ‘La décadanse’ which Serge hoped would become a new dance form.

Gainsbourg’s own recording, ‘Vu de l’Extérieur’ from 1973 is an important stage in his life and career. It was recorded after he suffered a near fatal heart attack and is a different kettle of fish from Jane’s album with Vannier now departed and a new more intimate and stripped down instrumentation to the fore that is not without recalling the US/UK singer-songwriter recordings of the same era. It also features one of his subtlest and most melodic compositions in ‘Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais’ which was melancholic and a change from what preceded. Serge must have felt a new lease of life after so narrowly escaping death and there is plenty of the witty, humorous artist contained in the album song lyrics. Gainsbourg’s love of words is reflected in the difficult to pronounce ‘L’Hippopodame’ and in addition there is his child-like sense of fun on the rude but utterly hilarious ‘Des vents, des pets, des poums’ in reference the sound made by unpleasant smells emanating from the human body. An overtly sexual ‘Panpan Cucul’ is reduced to quasi-baby language while for lyricism and the capacity to bend and manipulate words at will, ‘Pamela Popo’ could hardly be bettered. Long-time Serge fans will be delighted at the plethora of bonus numbers with several instrumental versions, alternate takes and a 2014 remix of ‘Tout mon tout doux’. Sumptuous packaging in the super deluxe edition with family photos of the couple and a major bonus in a fifty minute DVD documentary in black and white, ‘A bout portant (Point blank)’ which conveys the era to perfection. Unfortunately, for non-French speakers this edition, aimed squarely at a French audience, does not contain subtitles in English. Future editions aimed at an international public will hopefully rectify this shortcoming.

Tim Stenhouse

Lee Konitz and Bill Evans ‘You and Lee’/’Lee Konitz meets JImmy Giuffre’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

lee-konitz-bill-evansBill Evans as leader of a superlative piano trio that changed the very way in which we perceive at once the logic and sound of that musical formation has been well documented and rightly so. However, his sideman duties invariably tend to be neglected and that is a great pity since there are some memorable sides that require a re-examination of his work as a whole. That is where this latest re-issue from AJC serves an extremely useful purpose, thereby enabling the listener to compare and contrast two recordings that both Evans and Lee Konitz feature on here, with the second further showcasing the highly individual talents of arranger and multi-reedist Jimmy Giuffre, who has been wrongly dismissed in some quarters as an arch-traditionalist, but in reality was anything but. The first of these albums, ‘You and Lee’ (both originally on the Verve label and dating from 1959), is the more conventional of the two, focusing on the standard repertoire and with an excellent line-up of Sonny Dallas on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. It is the great American Songbook which serves as the major inspiration on this occasion and that means quality material written by the likes of Arlen and Mercer, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, not forgetting the vastly talented Ned Washington. Stand out interpretations include an engaging ‘You’re clear out of this world’ and a relaxing ‘The more I see you’. The second album, ‘Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre’, is more experimental in nature and was formerly available on a late 1990s 2 CD set for Verve that basically assembled some of the Third Stream collaborations of jazz and classical with strings incorporated. It is this album that is the more cohesive and challenging of the two and for this recording, alongside pieces written by the Gershwin brothers and Hammerstein and Kern, we find in addition three meaty originals. The rhythm section comprised Buddy Clark on bass and Ronnie Free on drums, but of great interest is the substantially extended reed section that includes Konitz’s long-time musical partner Warne Marsh as well as Giuffre himself on baritone saxophone and arranging duties. It was clear that the two leaders were keen to break out of the standards mode and this is reflected in the modernistic sounding ‘Cork ‘n’ Rib’, composed by Konitz and Giuffre’s two offerings, ‘Somp’m outa’ nothin’ and ‘Uncharted’. What is fascinating is how Evans merges into the greater whole as if he is taking on board the innovatory work he is involved in. Evans would likewise record in the mid-late 1950s with George Russell and that work is well worth re-investigating. There are no bonus cuts, but instead a brief interview with Lee Konitz dating from 1998 as well as new liner notes and clearly printed original album liner notes that includes an extended review from noted British jazz critic Leonard feather on the former album.

Tim Stenhouse

Junior Mance ‘Trio’ 2CD (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

junior-mance-trioNot dissimilar to the late great Gene Harris, Chicago born Junior Mance belonged to a generation of pianists that were steeped in the blues and for this group blues and jazz formed an umbilical chord. Others included Bobby Timmons and Ramsey Lewis, the latter of whom has enjoyed success in the UK on the northern soul circuit. Mance served in his formative years as a sideman throughout the 1950s, firstly as a Chicago house pianist between 1953 and 1954 at the famous Bee Hive club, then for Cannonball Adderly (1956-1957), and then briefly with Dinah Washington before a slightly longer sojourn with the Dizzy Gillespie band between 1958 and 1960. The three albums neatly squeezed into this new two CD set cover the piano trios that Junior Mance fronted between the relatively short period of 1961 and 1962 for the Jazzland and Riverside labels and are hard to find in their original vinyl format. In recent years there has suddenly been a plethora of re-issues from Mance’s classic trio period and there is some overlap between them. Both Avid and Fresh Sound brought out collections of albums worthy of attention and usefully add to the Mance discography. However, the new AJC re-issue does offer some hitherto hard to find albums at a fraction of their collectable price and these date from the outset of Mance’s career when heading a piano trio formation. Ideally, one would have liked at least one example of Junior Mance in a complete live recorded setting and it is regrettable that the ‘Trio at the Village Vanguard’ album was not included here and that is a truly definitive example of Mance’s craft. In fairness, AJC have instead opted to offer a live trio broadcast from the radio in 1961 that enables the listener to hear and compare four live number interpretations recorded elsewhere on the three studio albums. That said, there is much to compensate the listener this time round, not least the wonderful recording ‘Junior’s Blues’, the tile of which typifies the cross-fertilisation of blues and jazz on offer. Morevoer, Mance is equally adept at covering classics of the calibre of ‘Blue Monk’ or Ellington’s ‘Creole Love Call’ as well as his own compositions and this is unquestionably a major highlight and reason in itself to purchase. Only marginally less enticing is the excellent ‘Big Chief’ recording with delightful takes on evergreen tunes such as ‘Summertime’, ‘Love for sale’ and Monk’s ‘Ruby my dear’, while ‘Happy Time’ continues the blues-inflected message with a lovely rendition of Clark Terry’s ‘The simple waltz’ and a rousing Latin jazz take on ‘Tin Tin Deo’. The trios oscillate in membership, but include the likes of Ron Carter and Bob Cranshaw on bass and Micky Roker on drums. The latter two musicians would be stalwarts of the Blue Note label in the mid-late 1960s. Junior Mance would record consistently throughout the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in Japan where he remains especially popular, and at the venerable age of seventy-two made his debut performing solo piano at the Lincoln Center in New York. This re-issue is significant in that it showcases the historically vitally important connection between jazz and blues and, sadly, there are precious few of this generation still alive today.

Tim Stenhouse

Hypercolor ‘Hypercolor’ (Tzadik) 4/5

hypercolorAs far back as the 1960’s, where many musical developments erupted, the combination of jazz and rock could be heard. A collaboration between improvisation, usually associated with jazz, joining forces with the plug and play amplified rock phenomenon. Together, over time, they created some of the most memorable albums with ‘Love Devotion Surrender’ by Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin and ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ by The Mahavishnu Orchestra sitting tall in this powerful world. This fusion has metamorphosed itself many times over the years, with perhaps Soft Machine sitting at the head of the table for this reviewer. Now rock, skip and jump to 2015 and welcome guitarist Eyal Maoz, bassist James Ilgenfritz and drummer Lukas Ligeti, who together make Hypercolor. The Trio’s self titled ten-track release is in response to their desire to learn complex arrangements and work them in a free improv way to produce music that is interesting – and something they have certainly achieved. You may have expected Eyal Maoz’s Israeli heritage alone to have opened up a colourful blend of influences here, but it is fair to say the trio do all bring an abundance of flamboyance to this release. African rhythmic traditions are very much behind Lukas Ligeti development, having traveled regularly to Africa for now twenty years, and the work of James Ilgenfritz has seen him branch into music for Opera albeit with a jazz and contemporary classical training background. Be sure to sharpen your senses before listening, as the abilities within each musician here bring the listener such a diversity of sound across the album that any attempt to formulate on a brief listen would be futile. From the delicate ‘Far Connection’ through the structural excitement of ‘Transist’ to ‘Little Brother’ – a crescendo which should be highly regarded by both listener, and creator of, such magnificent pieces of progressive 1970s music as mentioned earlier, there is beauty. Remembering first, that each experienced musician here has his own strong direction, it is then delightful that on their debut release together they can fulfill and execute this collection of songs with such impeccable skill.

Steve Williams

Various ‘The Eve Folk Recordings’ 2CD (RPM/Cherry Red) 4/5

eve-folk-recordingsThe current resurgence of interest in the UK folk scene has led to a re-examination of the first generation of musicians that emerged back in the 1950s and 1960s and this excellent double CD, featuring an extended review article by renowned folk music journalist and author Colin Harper, focuses attention on some of the unrecognised greats of the English folk scene as well as re-investigating an early work by one of Scotland’s great practitioners, Donovan. Some hard to find Columbia recordings of musicians from the mid-1960s make this a real treat for folk fans and pride of place probably belongs to Mick Softley and his album, ‘Songs for Swingin’ Survivors’. Born in Essex to Irish parents, Softley spent the early 1960s busking in Paris before returning to England to start up, and manage, his very own folk club ‘The Spinning Wheel’, and this served as the inspiration for his debut album for a major label. Softley soon became friendly with both Donovan and a then young Maddy Pryor (late to become lead singer of Steelye Span) and his voice sounds as thought it has been influenced by the likes of Tim Buckley, especially on a song such as ‘All I want is a chance’. In approach Mick Softley was closest to the US folk singers, accompanied only by guitar, and his lyrical voice is heard to great effect on ‘After the World War is over (or how I learnt to live without myself)’. The ode to a girl he once knew, ‘Jeanine’, is added as a bonus 45. All but two songs on the album were originals with interesting covers of Billie Holiday’s atmospheric and evocative ‘Strange Fruit’ and Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Plans of the Buffalo’ rounding off the bill. The first CD is completed by a couple of 45s recorded by Donovan and these fit very much into his folk-pop sound while the second CD is dominated by two separate albums by Vernon Haddock’s Jubilee Lovelies and Bob Davenport and the Rakes. In fact the latter was an a cappella singer from the Gateshead in the north-east of England and belonged very much to the classic folk singing tradition and Davenport performed regularly on the live folk circuit and indeed had even been invited to perform at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in the States alongside Joan Baez, Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. it should be explained that the Rakes were in fact two instrumentalists providing minimal accompaniment when required and this included accordion on the entertaining ‘William Brown’ and assorted instruments on ‘Reel’ where an interest in the Irish folk tradition is evident. Davenport’s plaintive voice is heard to best effect on the all too brief ‘Wake up my love’ while on ‘New York Girls’ collective vocals come into play. Old-time music with an emphasis on reviving the American Jug band tradition provides the backdrop to Vernon Haddock and the Jubilee Lovelies and the leader performs here on mandolin, jug and swanee whistle while key musician David Elvin plays banjo, guitar and kazoo. The songs showcased date roughly from the 1920s and include a rousing rendition of ‘Don’t let your deal go down’, a banjo and guitar intro to the excellent ‘Stealin’ and harmonica plus vocal accompaniment to the ‘Viola Lee Blues’. At the time the original album sold approximately only four hundred copies and has been sought after ever since. Extensive inner sleeve notes offer an informative historical overview of the recordings and round off a terrific package of music.

Tim Stenhouse

Laurel Aitken ‘Original Album Collection’ 5 CD Box Set (Cherry Red) 4/5

laurel-aitkenReggae legend Laurel Aitken has enjoyed at least two separate periods of popularity and the original skinheads in the 1960s paid homage to him with his 45s and albums and then a second generation of aficionados discovered his music in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he became associated with the Two Tone movement. This excellent box set brings together some of the key mid-late 1960s sides that Aitken cut in the UK with four original albums and includes arguably his strongest vinyl LP of all, the majestic ‘The High Priest of Reggae’ from 1969. However, there is an entire CD of extra bonus 45s to keep both long-time devotees in search of rarities as happy as well as the first-time listener in search of a more general introduction. Not included on this anthology are the Blue Beat 45s that Aitken recorded, but these are now available elsewhere and this does not detract in any way from the quality songs on offer here. Pride of place belongs to ‘High Priest of Reggae’ and some of Laurel Aitken’s most enduring compositions are showcased on that superb album, beginning with the storytelling ‘Jesse James’ and ‘Landlords and Tenants’. Aitken, though, was aware of the changing tide in Jamaican music and the roots driven ‘Haile Selaise’ (sic) was a clear indication of his listening to new musicians emerging on the reggae roots scene. Another interesting album was ‘Laurel Aitken Says Fire’ and this included the hilarious ‘Fire (in your wire)’ as well as ‘Rice and Peas’, the staple Jamaican diet and a remake of the pop tune ‘Quando Quando’. Going back to the ska era when Laurel Aitken was one of the pioneers, a Rio album from 1965, ‘Ska with Laurel’ is included and features the anthemic songs ‘We shall overcome’ (a civil rights anthem given a decidedly Jamaican flavour here) and ‘Hallelujah Train’. Fast forwarding to the very end of the 1960s, Aitken became interested in the roots movement and cut the deeply melodic ‘Haile Haile (The Lion)’ and ‘Lion of Judah’, both which stand the test of time remarkably well as does the fascinating tale, provocatively entitled ‘The rise and fall of Laurel Aitken’. In reality, the 1970s witnessed a decline in Aitken’s popularity when younger artists emerged and appealed to a younger audience. By the end of that decade, however, thanks to the efforts of the Specials, the Selector and others, Laurel Aitken rose again and his earlier works were being enjoyed by that same younger generation. He remained a firm favourite on the live concert scene in the UK right up until his death in Leicester in 2005.

Tim Stenhouse