Nino Rota ‘Fellini, Visconti, Decadence and other Dreams’ 2CD (ÉL) 5/5

nino-rotaWhat would the films of Alfred Hitchcock be like without the accompanying atmospheric soundtrack of Bernard Hermann? Would ‘Psycho’ be anywhere near as enthralling and chilling an experience without the dramatic orchestrations? One could make exactly the same argument for one of Italy’s greatest contemporary composers outside classical music and whose music will immediately conjur up images of post WWII Italian cinema. His name is Nino Rota and there have been several tribute recordings to him in recent years, including one a year or two ago by Richard Galliano reviewed in this column. However, this wonderful double CD re-issue is the original soundtrack music from the main man and what comes across is the sheer eclecticism of approach from Rota who was influenced himself by Rossini, Ellington as well as popular entertainment music.

One of the greatest films of all time is Federico Fellini’s ‘Otto e Mezzo’ (‘Eight and a Half’) and Rota penned some of his finest music and ploughed all his creative efforts into that project. Rota has a unique listening ear which enabled him to capture disparate musical genres and combine them into a cohesive whole that his very own imprint marked on it. In this vein listen to the métissage of musical hall of classical meets music hall on ‘Carlotta’s Galop’, or the jazzy excursion of a piano trio on ‘Guido e Luisa. Nostalgico Swing’, complete with clarinet and tenor saxophone. Sheer genius and one musician who has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by this cross-fertilisation of sounds is Paolo Conte. Just soak up the relaxed joie de vivre on ‘L’Harem’ with orchestrations that are right out of the Ellington master class and you will start to realise how other musicians have taken on board Rota’s incredibly perceptive and sensitive ears and mind. Italian folk music tradition is not forgotten either and on the rustic accordion plus guitar accompaniment on ‘Ricordio d’infanzia – discesa al fanghi’ this leads on to a memorable dance sequence.

The package as a whole is terrific value for money and includes the soundtrack to Fellini’s later film, ‘Boccaccio 70’ in addition to the other major director’s film included here, ‘Il Gattopardo’ (The Leopard’) by Luciano Visconti. The music is more conventional in tone in keeping with the film itself which depicts the struggle for Italian national unity and cementing of a united nation state. The inner sleeves notes are significantly enhanced by some terrific black and white photos of the films and bring to a life a magical era in Italian neo-realism cinema. Once again El/Cherry Red are to be commended for such a sterling piece of re-issuing work. While Nino Rota passed away in 1979 aged sixty-eight, his music will live on and it remains in a golden time capsule just like the glorious cinema he composed the compelling soundtracks for.

Tim Stenhouse

Theo Jackson ‘Shoeless And The Girl’ (Dot Time) 5/5

theo-JacksonOnce upon a time in the relatively recent history of music, original songwriters were encouraged, loved and nurtured, allowing them the time, space and freedom to develop their art at a sensible pace. As they matured so did their music, and the listener could share their journey across many years and resulting album releases. Some made it into mainstream success, the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Donald Fagen and Billy Joel. Some did not, but garnered cult status; the likes of Nick Drake, Tom Waits, John Martyn and Ben Folds. These days it is of course very different, with record companies demanding immediate success, people looking for instant fame and fortune, and accountants looking at profit and loss, the depressing cause and effect being a dumbing-down of music across a wide spectrum. So for a new, original artist to succeed in bringing us a fresh voice in the year 2015, above all else it takes three things: an unswerving dedication to his art from the musician, a record company willing to support and share the true value of original music, and an audience that is prepared to actively pursue and seek out new music in the hope of finding something fresh and enlightening. Little wonder then that the longevity of the songwriter is not what it used to be. But there is always hope. There is always a bright light at the end of the tunnel if you look hard enough. And the more you look, the more you find. Like an underground counter-culture the word spreads and the music rises above the norm, lifting our spirits and bringing a ray of sunshine back into our lives.

Enter then, centre stage, Oxford based singer, pianist, composer, Theo Jackson. It is April 2015 and most people will not yet be familiar with his name. Let’s hope by April 2016 many are, because we have here an original songwriting troubadour of quite some merit. At 29 years of age, Theo Jackson has had time to hone his songwriting and performance skills to a fine art, and his resulting debut album “Shoeless and The Girl” is as close to perfection as a debut will ever be. Perhaps best described as an original songwriter performing in a jazz style, this album is so refreshing in so many ways. For starters, the songs and the singer have a unique voice, making for an inspiring and hugely enjoyable listening experience. Jackson’s lyrics are often quirky yet always sincere and are delivered in that slightly English restrained way that never forces the issue. His music is melodic and lyrical with hooks-a-plenty effortlessly singing out from the keys of his piano, his jazz chops never in doubt. It is important to point out that this is no “jazz singer for the mainstream” album, this is every inch an original writer performing with a true understanding of jazz, old and new. A perfect example of this can be heard on two of Wayne Shorter’s classic tunes, “Footprints” and “Wild Flower”. For a young performer to take these pieces on, add his own lyrics, and to seek and get approval from Mr Shorter himself for said adaptations, shows a rare confidence and understanding. Shorter’s music is in fact the only non-originals on “Shoeless”, the other tunes all being Jackson compositions. The opener “Little do you know” quickly allows Jackson to assert his storytelling talents and introduce us to his musical collaborators, in particular the brilliant saxophonist Nethaniel Facey, of MOBO award winning band Empirical. Facey and Jackson have collaborated for years now and this shows, the duo obviously enjoy each other’s musical company. “Moonchild” takes us on an unconventional journey, to the moon and back, with a beautifully harmonised vocal at the heart of its chorus. Most of Jackson’s songs have an ethereal, other worldly quality to them. None more so than on the gentle, touching “Lonesome George” with its endearing bass melody line. The title track is a moving piece. As Jackson himself comments, “The characters I am most interested in tend to be loners. They are people who don’t feel as though they fit in with the societies around them. The song itself deals with the loneliness of two characters but it is also a sort of parable- the idea being that despite our seemingly vast differences, we all still share so much and that therefore none of us are truly alone in anything.” Well said indeed. The haunting and emotionally engaging “Bella’s Coming Home” shows a maturity in Jackson’s songwriting that belies his years. A gift for a foreign language is added to the proceedings with Jackson enjoying singing “Peu M’importe” in French. “Love and a shoestring”, one of many highlights on this recording, once again showcases Jackson’s distinctive and inventive approach to storytelling within a song. The session closes with what has to be the album’s killer track: “Camberwell Butterfly”. If there is to be a single released from this wonderful set of tunes, this has to be it. Stevie Wonder-esque in its nature, it’s a clever, enjoyable, crowd pleaser with all of Jackson’s talents succinctly rolled in to one.

Rarely does a debut album come up with the goods so consistently and wonderfully as this. Being very picky, one might like to hear Jackson sing out a little more…at times the vocals are just a tad too restrained. On a wider level, let us hope that Theo Jackson is given the continued support and encouragement to continue on the path he has started. It would be devastating if he took the tired old well trodden route of singing the predictable jazz tunes some audiences expect. If he continues writing and performing in his own unique and natural style, I for one will be waiting impatiently for the follow-up to this beguiling debut.

Mike Gates

Ant Law ‘Zero Sum World’ CD (Whirlwind) 3/5

ant-lawComposer, guitarist and leader Ant Law has performed with an array of current jazz talent including Tim Garland and pianist Gwilym Simcock , but has not been content to restrict himself to the jazz sphere and outside of this has played with both soul singer-songwriter Leon Ware and singer Camille O’Sullivan. His present quintet is a step up from the first album, ‘Entanglement’ (33 Jazz), and is an example of progressive acoustic jazz for the twenty-first century with a relaxed feel to the project as a whole. The recording works best in the use of the intricate interplay between guitarist and multi-reedist Michael Chillingworth, the latter of whom, to these ears at least, comes across as something of a Lee Konitz acolyte. Indeed the two perform effectively in tandem on the delicate piece ‘Waltz’ with plenty of opportunities for the piano to operate and Ivo Neame is a seasoned professional who is more than capable of exploiting this space fully. Jazz-fusion hues are prominent on ‘Mishra Jathi’ with the just faintest hint of Pat Metheny, though the number is a little too intricate for its own good in parts. A more relaxed groove is in place on the title track and here the alto solo is taken at a leisurely pace and is heard at its most lyrical on the ballad ‘Asymptotes’ with guitar again playing an active supporting role. Law studied guitar under the tutelage of professor Ben Monder and among influences the guitar sound hints at both Kenny Burrell and Pat Metheny and he would do well to take on board some of their compositions while perfecting his own writing skills. Never one to sit on his laurels, Ant Law is a busy musician and will be featured on a forthcoming album on the Whirlwind album by the Paul Riley Quintet, ‘Into the View’, which is due out in April.

Tim Stenhouse

Tom Harrison Quartet – Tour Dates

Award-winning saxophonist Tom Harrison tours the UK with his ‘2 Quartets’ tour throughout March and April.


Photo: Courtesy of Ben Amure

Tom Harrison’s 12-date ‘2 Quartets’ tour of the UK in April pays tribute to the Grammy-winning Joe Lovano of the same name, bringing together two excellent bands for two separate weeks of touring.

Since graduating from the renowned Trinity College of Music in 2012, Tom Harrison has performed or recorded with a host of internationally recognised Jazz musicians in 12 countries, including Terell Stafford, Jason Rebello, Cleveland Watkiss, Michael Buckley and Jean Toussaint, as well as commercial artists such as Heather Small, M-People and The Fall. His debut album ‘DAGDA’ was well received by the media, described as “impressive” by Jazzwise and “a strong calling card” by All About Jazz. The album was launched with a 22-date UK tour, featuring a series of guest tenor saxophonists including Jean Toussaint and Paul Booth Appearing with Tom will be long-time collaborators David Lyttle and Conor Chaplin as well as Jamil Sheriff, head of Jazz Studies at the prestigious LCoM. Expect a mixture of original compositions and hard-hitting standards.


Tuesday 31st March – Frederik’s, Liverpool
Wednesday 1st April – The Lescar, Sheffield
Thursday 2nd April – Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
Friday 3rd April – Glyde House, Bradford
Saturday 4th April – Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
Sunday 5th April – Splinter @ The Bridge, Newcastle
Wednesday 8th April – Dempsey’s, Cardiff
Thurs 9th April – The Blue Boar, Bournemouth
Sunday 12th April – Southampton Modern Jazz Club
Saturday 25th April – Oliver’s Jazz Bar, London

Eberhard Weber ‘Encore’ (ECM) 3/5

eberhard-weberVeteran German bassist Eberhard weber celebrated his seventy-fifth anniversary on the planet in January with an all-star live performance in Stuttgart that featured among others Jan Garbarek with whom the bassist has become synonymous, Paul McCandless and Ralph Towner, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs, Pat Metheny and the SWR Big Band. This album is the follow up to ‘Résumé’ which came out in 2012. In fact Weber has been a stalwart of the ECM label for some five decades and recorded one of the finest debut albums for the label with ‘Colours of Chloé’ back in 1974 before an extended tenure with Garbarek of twenty-seven years and ended only in 2007.
However, for this latest recording, the sound is as sparse and pared down as one could possibly imagine, and one cannot help but feel that a few guest appearances from the aforementioned might have added just the right amount of variety required to proceedings. As it is, the layered synths over the flugelhorn of the only other musician present, Ack Van Rooyen, lends an atmospheric contribution to the music in general and the number ‘Frankfurt’ has something of a film soundtrack quality to it. The mood is at once gloomy and sedate on ‘Cambridge’ which is notable for some virtuosic musings on bass by the leader while underneath the keyboards on ‘Konstanz’ the feel is altogether more eastern with the creative use of keyboards as a quasi-brass ensemble. Sadly, the mood does not brighten somewhat on ‘Seville’ which is surprisingly sombre and all too brief ‘Granada’ when one might have expected a certain joie de vivre.

All of the pieces are titled after cities that Eberhard Weber has visited while on tour and they are relatively short in nature with the longest weighing it at around four and a half minutes. Informative and detailed inner sleeve notes seem to becoming an increasingly common sight with new ECM releases and that is to be welcomed because the musicians deserve to have their thoughts on the recording process aired and this is the case with Weber who, in conversation, comes across as a somewhat modest musician.

Tim Stenhouse

Criolo ‘Convoque seu Buda’ (Sterns Africa) 4/5

crioloSinger-songwriter-rapper Criolo is something of a household name in his native Brazil and over 400,000 downloads were sold of his previous album that effortless fused Afrobeat, reggae and samba into the mix alongside rap while retaining a profound respect for the Brazilian folk tradition and this is continued on the new album with the creatively graphic cover testament to a genuine quest for the roots of Brazilian music. 2012 saw Criolo’s first European tour and a first live performance in London. A wider audience is likely to be falling under his deeply melodic spell after listening to this latest album which repeats the formula, but remains highly inventive in the subtle and well researched and thought out cross-fertilisation of styles. This is typified by the samba-pagoda sub-genre of ‘Fermento pra massa’, a lovely acoustic samba. It should be stated from the outset that Criolo is a gifted vocalist whose natural voice sounds not dissimilar to Caetano Veloso and it is something of mystery why he persists with the rap alter ego side as evidenced on the title track with a thumping backbeat to accompany it. Arguably the strongest song of all and one that encapsulates the eclectic approach of the album as a whole is ‘Pegue pra ela’ which commences with a jazzy intro before developing into an Afro-Beat flavoured number and into this mix comes some funk-tinged guitar riffs that Niles Rodgers would be proud of. The three producers on the new album, Daniel Ganjaman, Marcelo Cabral and Rodrigo Campos have brought together seemingly disparate genres, yet it works as a whole. This writer particularly likes the dub-soaked roots reggae of ‘Pé de Breque’ where it is a genuine treat to hear some proper brass accompaniment and just to add to the occasion there are some special effects straight out of the early 1980s Pac-Man era. For some left-field glory, the North African dervish intro to ‘Fio de Prumo (padê onã)’ includes delightful guest vocals courtesy of Juçara Marça plus rapping from the leader while the soprano saxophone that wails in the background betrays a love of the musings of one Wayne Shorter, who knows a thing or two about Brazilian music. One of the year’s most intriguing new releases and this could prove to be an unexpected hit outside strictly world roots or Latin music boundaries if given the right promotional support.

Tim Stenhouse

Tim Warfield ‘Spherical’ (Criss Cross Jazz) 4/5

tim-warfieldTim Warfield’s “Spherical” is a homage to the legendary Thelonious Sphere Monk. Warfield’s eighth release as leader for Criss Cross Jazz oozes class and has that “steeped in history” feel about it from beginning to end. With Warfield on tenor and soprano saxophones, the album features the cream of the crop with Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Orrin Evans on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. “Monk’s music lends itself to saxophone.” Warfield remarks, “The nature of the instrument allows us to be just as fluid playing intervallically as when we play linearly.” As Warfield also notes, it’s hard not to be individualistic when addressing Monk’s “elusive” music: “Some of the songs have simple melodies, but then the chord changes are not at all what you’d expect.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons that this sax and trumpet led album works so well. Another is the simple fact that the personnel on this recording all seem to perform with a unity and clear affinity for Monk’s writing.
“Spherical” embraces nine Monk compositions (including “‘Round Midnight, co-written with Hanighem and Williams), the traditional “That Old Man” and Warfield’s own “Blue Hawk”. Warfield approaches Monk’s music in a sincere, reverent way, using his experience and skill, along with the other band members, to create a wonderfully individual and creative take on these time-honoured tunes. His playing is at times breathtaking, especially on the sensational eleven minute long “Off Minor II”. Matching Warfield’s brilliance throughout is Eddie Henderson, whose no-limits chops and go-for-broke attitude belies his 74 years of age. When asked about Henderson, Warfield comments: “We haven’t had an opportunity to play together as much as I would like, and this is an endeavour to hopefully change that. He’s very kind and intelligent, and the spirit that he brings to the music is inspiring. It’s difficult to find musicians with whom you feel comfortable taking chances, but Eddie is completely undaunted to the idea of musical exploration.” The two horn players compliment each other very well throughout the recording. Another pleasing feature of this release is Warfield’s intelligent arrangements. “Ugly Beauty” features Warfield on soprano sax and the spacious, reharmonised arrangement allows Henderson to show us the warmth he has in his playing. “Oska T” is a prime example of how the quintet work together, with the rhythm section providing a slightly different environment for each soloist. Henderson makes his declaration and then Warfield raises the temperature another notch. Both front men solo with a cool air of authority on “Gallop’s Gallop”, whilst the smouldering, graceful “‘Round Midnight” has a soul to it that few versions have managed to capture.

Warfield sums things up himself: “I think people sometimes get into the habit of saying that Monk’s songs must be played in a certain fashion, without looking at other possibilities.” He concludes, “It may not seem this way now, but at the time Monk first introduced his music and started to become publicly recognised for his pieces, it was a pretty brash idea in comparison to the sound trending at the time. I think he would have liked what we did.”

Mike Gates

Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges ‘Clube de Esquina’ (RPM/Cherry Red) 5/5

milton-nascimentoBrazil has contributed some of the twentieth century’s greatest musical exponents and one need think of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and the wordsmith Dorival Caymmi family to name but three with Elis Regina another prime candidate. To this list must surely be added a singer-songwriter who possesses a voice like no other, truly angelic in tone. His name is Milton Nascimento and, as is the case befitting a national musical treasure whom Brazilians can immediately identify with, he is usually known simply by his first name just as Jobim is affectionately referred to as Tom.
Milton’s opus to greatness was ‘Clube de Esquina’ that originally came out in 1972 in the then unusual (for Brazilians that is, used to single LPs often under the thirty minute mark) as a double vinyl offering, crammed with creative songs and spanning myriad musical styles. These included Cuban and more generally Latin American folk, while the harmonies of the Beatles, American jazz and soul were skilfully incorporated also. All come together in a seemingly effortless interweaving of genres on this fabulous recording. What is sometimes forgotten is that this was very much a collaborative exercise with songwriter Lô Borges both a critical factor and contributor to the album’s success and his own work is deserving of re-issue in the UK. This was post bossa-nova and just by a whisker post-Tropicalia period too and an acoustic recording that combined elements of Brazilian folk, jazz and even choral influences was by no means an immediate success with the Brazilian press, far from it. Furthermore, its release coincided with a period of military junta rule from 1964 through 1985 when personal freedom of expression was brutally suppressed and Brazilian singers would play a pivotal role in countering these restrictions, in some cases having to seek exile as was the case with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, or as in the case of Chico Buarque, using clever allegorical references in their work to criticise the regime in subtle ways.

Enter Milton and his ‘Street Corner’ band (the title translated into English) with what would become an unofficial anthem in ‘Nada serà como antés’. This was a direct message to the regime that things could no longer be like they were before and was later covered by Elis Regina. It has since become part of the Brazilian songbook and rightly so for its importance goes beyond purely musical genius. Milton’s passionate interest in the roots of Brazilian music has never been better expressed than on ”Cravo e canela’ (Cinnamon and Clove’, a title which novelist Jorge Amado later used for one of his superlative novels of a mystical Bahian woman who casts her spell over men) and this has become a firm favourite among Brazilian music aficionados in this country. George Duke reprised it on his ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ album with Milton contributing wordless vocals. The original is still the definitive version and is an uplifting emotionally charged experience. As a whole, the music shifts in both tempo and mood and while the stereotype of Brazilian music is of happy samba music, in reality the nuances are far more subtle and on songs such as ‘Cais’ and especially ‘Ao que vai nascer’ it is the melancholic sobriety of the music that truly comes across. Psychedelic hues permeate ‘Pelo amor de Deus’ with the title taking on quasi-religious hues. However, if one song were to typify the joyous nature of the recording overall, then it must surely be ‘Tudo que vocé podia ser’ (‘Everything that you could be’) and never has Milton’s purity of tone allied so beautifully with the acoustic instrumentation to reach a thrilling end that beggars belief.

Milton Nascimento would go on to international stardom on the back of this incredible album and two years later contribute to the stunning ‘Native Dancer’ under the leadership of another musical wizard, Wayne Shorter. RPM/Cherry records have done a fine job of squeezing the twenty-one songs onto one CD which makes for marvellous value for money with an illuminating article including an interview with Milton. The only pity is that the original lyrics have not been included for listeners to sing along to.

Tim Stenhouse