Mel Waiters ‘True Love’ (Music Access Inc) 3/5

mel-waitersWith seven of his albums already on the shelves I’v noticed a slow decline in the man’s vocal talents. The early albums are full of top vocals but as the years have gone on he appears to be limiting his range, this album is a case in point, it’s not a bad album at all – very listenable, but I’v heard this man sing with passion and true grit, and he dosen’t seem to be doing that anymore. Another southern soul approach with no real instruments but the one thing Mel Waiters does get right is the music score, the track that immediately got my attention was a down tempo head nodder called “Not supposed to love you”, a real grower. Well worth a listen.

Brian Goucher

Tigran Hamasyan ‘Mockroot’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

tigran-mamasyanTigran Hamasyan makes his Nonesuch debut with “Mockroot”, a diverse, yet somewhat unsatisfying album. For his latest outing he is joined by Sam Minaie on bass and Arthur Hnatek on drums and electronic duties. Let’s get one thing straight from the off: Tigran is undoubtedly an exceptionally gifted musician. Born in Armenia in 1987, before relocating to Los Angeles 2003, he now resides back in his homeland. Trained classically and as a jazz musician, Tigran draws on a wide range of influences, including Armenian folk music, electronica, poetry, jazz and classical music. Maybe sometimes a blessing can be more of a curse. My issue with “Mockroot” is that it promises so much, but in the end delivers too little. For all its varied influences, ranging from lovely folk melodies to syncopated jazz-rock, a lack of cohesion permeates the album – It’s all a bit confusing. Yes there is some exquisite musicianship, and yes, there are some very worthwhile moments. Highlights include “Kars 1” with its sweeping beauty, as it effortlessly drifts into an early Pat Metheny-like opus; “The road that brings me closer to you” with its operatic-like vocal and grunge rock eventually blending into a thoughtful mindfulness of breathing; “Lilac” with its gorgeous folk melody and luscious melancholic beauty. But overall it leaves me slightly frustrated, wanting to like it more than I actually do. I struggle with some of the more up-tempo playing – it almost sounds as if he’s going through the motions, doing what’s expected in a perversely commercial kind of way. Some of the changes within each composition sound as if they are made simply because the writer has the talent to do so, not because they are the right thing to do. Energy and a cumulative emotion is one thing, making something louder through piling on the instruments or clever production is quite another.

Undoubtedly there is a 5 star album waiting to be made by Tigran, it’s just not happening at this moment in time.

Herbie Hancock once said he felt Tigran was now “the teacher”. Far be it for me to disagree with the legend that is Herbie Hancock, but if we take this CD on its own merit, Tigran is still very much the student, in need of the master’s guidance.

Mike Gates

Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research ‘Hat And Shoes’ (Between The Lines) 4/5

gebhard-ullmann“Vorsprung durch Technik” is a phrase most commonly associated with a leading German car maker. Roughly translated as “advancement through technology”, one might ask the question how is this relevant to music? Well, a car analogy may appear somewhat odd, but if you were to take the aforementioned soundbite and change it slightly to “Vorsprung durch Jazz” (advancement through jazz) and then throw in a large dose of America’s “Pimp my Ride”, Jeremy Clarkson’s head might explode. And that could only be a good thing…
Gebhard Ullmann’s Basement Research celebrate 20 years of making music with their 7th studio album “Hat And Shoes”. Astonishingly, this is Ullmann’s 50th release as a leader or co leader. Undoubtedly Mr Ullmann has been busy. Born in 1957, the multi instrumentalist is one of Germany’s leading musical personalities and one of the most prolific and creatively fertile composer-improvisers working on either side of the Atlantic today. For this album there is an international line-up as he is joined by some of the finest musicians around: Trombonist Steve Swell, saxophonist Julian Arguelles, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Whilst Ullmann is obviously the driving force for Basement Research, one cannot underestimate the contribution of his fellow musicians. German precision engineering is famous the world over, but not so immediately recognised in the jazz idiom. On this evidence it should be. But what really sets this album apart is the improvisation. How much of Ullman’s music is scored, and how much improv is practically impossible to tell. But what I do know is that without the solid structure to work from, it just isn’t going to build or work in a cohesive way.

Driving bass and drums open the album, leading the listener into an onslaught of sound that continues to weave, confuse, shock, surprise and delight throughout its entirety. A double-check is required to see that there really are only five musicians performing here. Much of the soloing is outstanding. At times there appear to be several solos taking place all at once. Are they random? I would suggest not, there is integrity throughout, as the interplay and understanding between the band members is tuned in to a place that few would venture to go. The first two tracks journey at a furious pace, with a muscular, energetic and impatient feel to them. As the dust settles and the album drives on, there is subtlety and beauty to be found, especially on “Five” and “Blue Trees and Related Objects”. Incredible soundscapes and individual brilliance from all five protagonists mark this recording out as something special.

If you’re not into free improv then it’s fair to say your ears might struggle with “Hat And Shoes”. On first listen the words “car crash” may come to mind. Your blood pressure will rise and you’ll be thinking about random acts of road rage. If however, it is, then you are in for a treat. You’ll be thinking of excuses to take the four wheels out onto the wide open road just as an excuse to be alone and put this cd on at full volume.

“Vorsprung durch Jazz” – as they should say in Germany.

Mike Gates

Marlena Shaw ‘Sweet Beginnings’ (BBR) 5/5

marlena-shawNew Yorker by birth, singer Marlena Shaw first made an impact via Chicago when signing for the famous Chess label in 1963. The label’s soul and jazz off shoot Cadet was to be the launching pad for her lengthy career and two critically acclaimed albums followed with two minor R & B/pop hits in vocal adaptations of jazz instrumentals, ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and ‘Wade in the Water’. Shaw left Chess in 1968 and for a few years embarked upon a sporadic live performance with the Count Basie Orchestra. Her studio career was re-energised when in 1972 she signed with the prestigious Blue Note label and among her recordings there ‘Live in Montreux’ remains a bona fide classic. Fast forward four more years to 1977 when Shaw left Blue Note and instead signed to major label Columbia and this is where the current re-issue fits in. Marlena Shaw belongs to a select number of singers who are equally adept at jazz and soul idioms and throughout her career, both live and in the studio, Shaw has straddled the two effortlessly. This album covers both sides of her output and in this task she is accompanied by some of the all-time great session musicians. Both bassist James Jamerson and percussionist Eddie ‘Conga’ Brown were seasoned Motown instrumentalists who recorded with Marvin Gaye and many others while jazz musicians of the calibre of trumpeter Don Ellis were on hand to ensure that the recording was a truly swinging affair. Keyboardist Jay Graydon would go on to produce Al Jarreau while arranger and producer Bert de Coteaux would give Shaw a more contemporary feel and became synonymous with soul/disco outfit the Crown Heights Affair.

Pride of place has to go to ‘Yu-Ma/Go away little boy’ and of the many versions Shaw recorded this is arguably the pick of the bunch. The epic monologue has seldom been bettered and the main song was a derivation by the singer of Steve Lawrence’s ‘Go away little girl’. Perhaps only Lou Rawls’ live monologues for Capitol and his later work for Philadelphia International have in any shape or form equalled this, but this magnificent interpretation is an all-time classic and was probably motivated by Marlena Shaw’s live supper club performances when ad-libbing was greatly appreciated by the receptive audience, and the considerable shortcomings of the male psyche from a female perspective voiced within in humorous fashion only serve to make the lyrics all the more memorable. However, it is not the only treat on offer and this writer is especially partial to the light and breezy jazzer, ‘Look at me, look at you. We’re flying’. This fusion of jazz and soul arguably served as the template for the then debutante Phyllis Hyman and further on in time for Anita Baker. Jean Carne would be a worthy contemporary of Shaw’s. Sublime orchestrations and a vocal delivery to match are a feature of ‘I think I’ll tell him’, another mid-tempo jazz-infused vehicle. What gives this album extra depth are the more contemporary soul numbers, with a definite hint of film soundtracks about them. A lovely uptempo song is ‘The writing’s on the wall’ with deeply soulful vocal harmonies courtesy of the Waters sisters while the title track is awash with wah-wah rhythm guitars and delicate flute. In stark contrast the gentle minor chord ballad, ‘Walk Softly’ demonstrates Shaw’s sheer versatility. One single was released from the album, the classy uplifting soul piece, ‘Pictures and memories’ and a separate shorter 45 version is available here as a bonus. Post-Columbia, Marlena Shaw would record a modern soul album favourite for indie label South Bay in 1983, ‘Let me in your life’, and then returned to a largely jazz repertoire in the 1990s signing with Californian jazz label Concord. However, ‘Sweet Beginnings’ will remain for ever one of the major highlights in her career. Extended and informative liner notes shed light on Shaw’s career are by writer/producer Christian John Wikane.

Tim Stenhouse

Fabiano do Nascimento ‘Dança dos Tempos’ LP/CD (Now-Again) 4/5

FabianoAlbumCoverIt’s pretty much a given that if you’ve got Airto Moreira on your debut album then you’re working at a certain level… And from that point of view this album doesn’t disappoint. It is beautifully played and recorded (no overdubs – straight to 2” analog tape), very natural and with minimal interference or production. The not-yet 30 years old Fabiano do Nascimento’s guitar work is exquisite and the rapport between him and the rhythm section intriguing, yet effortless. The vast majority of tracks feature guitar in a dialogue with kit drums or percussion – and it’s testament to the artists that they are complete in themselves with just that. The legendary Airto Moreira is on percussion (rich, yet subtle) and his excellent, long-standing, drummer, Ricardo “Tiki” Pasillas is on kit (played more like percussion than standard kit). Female vocals are by the delightful Kana Shimanuki and male vocals by Do Nascimento himself. (See track listings below for details). The whole album is like an evolution of Brazilian folklore. Brazil’s musical heritage is both wide and deep – and but a fraction of it leaves the country. On this album Do Nascimento and his collaborators dive into this lake of music and come up with pearls every time…

The opening track “Forro Brasil” is a lovely, breezy entrée into the rhythms of Brazil’s nordestino culture. Whereas much forró music evokes hot, sweat-driven parties with gyrating dancing couples packed onto dance floors this one points more to the airy, uninhabited interior of the sertão (the dry, semi-desert region of North East Brazil with the semi-mythical history of outlaws and hard men). There is loads of space in this instrumental (with just acoustic guitar and drumkit as a duo hard-panned right and left) and a wistful air of melancholy in a private conversation.

“Ewe” is, again, a piece full of air and rustling sounds as Fabiano’s curiously-treated guitar ‘clacks’ out a pretty melody and Airto gently clatters around in the background with woodblocks, seed-filled shakers, rope-tied nuts and dried fruits. When Kana Shimanuki’s vocals come in they flow over the over two instrumentalists like a bubbling stream. The effect is both enchanting and calming.

The album returns to the North of Brazil once more with “O Ovo” a fast dance piece using just drum kit and guitar again – but in the hands of these two, who on earth needs anything else?

“Iemenja” – features just guitar – and it’s a real mood piece: as deep and blue as the sea of which Iemenja is the afro-brazilian goddess.

“Primeira Estrella” – is a dance piece featuring Do Nascimento’s vocals. The guitar and kit then segue into a 6/8 with shekere percussion and male/female vocals.

“Etude” – is very much in Classical Guitar territory with rippling arpeggios and subtle descending chord sequences that lead you deeper and deeper into a musical labyrinth. The drumming is of course exemplary and just drives the whole piece along. My mind kept conjuring images of someone being chased through a woodland or maze at twilight never quite seeing what was behind them and only glimpses of what lay ahead. Magical.

“Minha Ciranda” – Kana’s crystal clear vocals return over this lively Pernambucan classic written by Capiba.

“Nana” – Acoustic bass joins the trio of guitar, kit and male vocals for this beautiful piece in 6/8. Do Nascimento’s guitar seems to double as a percussion instrument here.

“Tocatta em Ritmo de Samba” – another guitar and drum work-out with a guitar breakdown in the middle.

“Se Ela Preguntar” – one of my favourite pieces on the album; but I am a complete sucker for sentimental, heart-string plucking South American romantic tunes. Love this. Fabiano’s guitar work marks out the melody without overly embellishing it, allowing the simple but innate loveliness of the composition to speak for itself. For me, gorgeous.

“Tupi” – finally, another piece that hints at the majesty and grandeur of Brazil’s vast tracts of land and empty spaces and the history of it’s early inhabitants. Guaranteed to take you to another place and time…

Glyn Phillips

Tom Green Septet ‘Skyline’ (Spark!) 4/5

tom-green-septetAmongst the new releases that I have listened to so far, “Skyline” is simply a jewel. The septet’s debut album was launched at the small but cosy St James’s Studio in Palace Street in London last Thursday, 29th January. Tom’s band step onto the stage, eager to play, perhaps a bit nervous, but wow, what a sound and what melodies. Their sound is energetic, vibrant and yet gentle enough in parts to allow for some dreaming… Incredible playing by Sam Miles on tenor saxophone, Matthew Herd on alto & soprano saxophone and James Davison on trumpet. Misha Mullov-Abbado on double bass: his playing reminds me a little bit of John Edwards. Micha’s double bass is magic and melancholic at the same time. “Equilibrium”, some sad tones there, but it expands into a beautiful crescendo perfectly executed. “Arctic sun”, how lovely to listen to such a refreshing tune: strong in sound and yet melodious enough to move. Tom Green on trombone playing: pure, passionate and full of promise. Most loved track: “Winter halo”. Subtle perfection. The band plays with such unity and mellifluous ease, “Skyline” is here to be enjoyed and played over and over and over….

Erminia Yardley

Jackie Moore ‘The Complete Atlantic Recordings’ 2CD (Real Gone Music/Rhino) 4/5

jackie-mooreIf fans of disco will instantly remember ‘This time baby’, then there is in fact a more soulful side to the voice of Jackie Moore and this is precisely the angle which this fine anthology of her work for the Atlantic label aims to focus attention on. For aficionados there is major bonus of no less than thirteen songs previously unreleased from the vaults and these are generally of excellent quality. The music as a whole covers the period 1969-1974 and Moore was about to enter into a particularly productive part of her career and this was due in no small part to her musical collaboration with her cousin, producer and pianist Dave Crawford who would a few years later facilitate Candi Staton’s rise to fame. The jewel in the crown of her early recording career was unquestionably her 1970 top thirty and number one R & B single, ‘Precious Precious’ and this is one southern soul groover of a tune that still sounds as fresh as when it was first cut. What was less known about the mid-tempo number is that it featured some of the top southern instrumentalists and these included Dr. John on piano and the Memphis Horns, the latter of whom provide their trademark stabbing horns while the female background harmonies are straight out of deep gospel territory. A stunning rendition, then, and an ideal way to gain a foothold and reputation nationally. Equally compelling is the lovely relaxed ambiance that permeates ‘Wonderful, marvellous’ and this is greatly aided by the support of the Dixie Flyers while Moore offers a dramatic interpretation on the tear-jerking, ”Sometimes it’s got to rain (in your love life)’. The varied set of tempos is reflected in some Stax-style driven funk on ‘I forgive you’ which settles into a gritty soul-blues hue and this suits Moore’s voice perfectly while the gospel-infused ‘Here I am’ is a pretext for Dave Crawford to join his cousin for a vocal duet. Jackie Moore was influenced by some of the finest singers at the time and the spoken intro on ‘Set me free’ reveals a stylistic nod towards Shirley Brown whereas ‘Do wrong man’ surely takes a cue from Aretha’s ‘Do right woman’ which is not bad thing. Incredibly the former has remained unreleased until now and one wonders why since it is an irresistible slice of early 1970s soul music. Among the male singers that Moore listened to, Percy Sledge was probably one and her take on ‘Cover me’ was a song that Sledge had attempted previously in 1967. The second CD is more contemporary in nature and has a less cohesive feel to it. There are examples of Philly-inspired and composed songs, notably from the pen of Bunny Sigler, while arguably one of the strongest numbers is the cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I love every little thing about you’. Once again informative sleeve notes from soul specialist writer David Nathan leave no stone unturned and take the picture up to and beyond 1983 which was the last time Jackie Moore secured a chart entry. Now in her late sixties, we have the opportunity to hear the singer in her prime and that is very good news indeed for any self-respecting soul music fan.

Tim Stenhouse

Linda Jones ‘The Complete Atco, Loma and Warner Brother Recordings’ (Real Gone Music/Rhino) 5/5

linda-jonesDeep soul singer Linda Jones hit the big time with a major R & B and pop success in 1967 with ‘Hypnotized’, but although she scored minor hits subsequently, Jones never again enjoyed that degree of popular acclaim and sadly passed away in 1972 aged only forty-two. Soul music was deprived of one of its most gifted and distinctive voices. Her influence can be heard on later singers, notably Teena Marie who bears a remarkable similarity in tone. While there is some overlap with an earlier re-issue on the Collectables label, this new anthology is superior and features several songs previously unavailable on CD, notably from the Turbo label 45s.This writer immediately warmed to the gritty soul laid down on ‘Make me surrender (baby, baby please)’ and the saxophone solo is straight out of the funky King Curtis school. Of course the stunning beautiful ballad ‘Hypnotized’ was a worthy chart entry and its flip side, the northern soul stomper, ‘I can’t stop lovin’ my baby’ has gone on to become a favourite on dancefloors and in a similar vein is the non-holds barred ‘You can’t take that’. The follow-up to ‘Hypnotized’ continued in the balladry tradition ‘What’ve I done (to make you mad)’ is a quality song that should have fared better. A real discovery to these ears was the Philly International sounding ‘If only (we had met sooner)’ which is in fact produced by Norman Harris at Sigma studios and it has been remarked that it could easily be a vintage O’Jays song. Sounding as though it belongs to the Motown hit stable, ‘A last minute miracle’, comes across as a punchy, brassy number while the mid-tempo ‘Fugitive from love’ has a decidedly gospel-blues flavour that showcases what a versatile singer Linda Jones could be. Out on a different limb is the glorious cover of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’ while ‘I who have nothing’ was a credible alternative version to that of both Dee Dee Warwick and the later interpretation by Ben E. King. Highly informative sleeve notes courtesy of British born, but long-time US resident David Nathan, round off an outstanding re-issue.

Tim Stenhouse