Lucas Arruda ‘Solar’ (Favorite France) 4/5

lucas-arrudaBorn in 1983 near Rio de Janeiro, Lucas Arruda initially studied electric guitar, before a shift in emphasis led him to Rhodes and Keyboards. Whilst expanding his range of skills he started his own studio and began forging a musical career in Brazil. In 2012 Fabricio Di Monaco (from Modo Solar) introduced Arruda’s music to Favourite Recordings’ head honcho Pascal Rioux, and one year later the Brazilian released his first solo album “Sambadi”, receiving impressive acclaim for the writer’s compositions and arrangements. “Solar” further develops Arruda’s growing reputation, with its stylish and smooth mix of elements from his Latin musical background creating a magical fusion of jazz, soul and funk.
One could say “Solar” is a throwback to Brazilian 70’s music at its best. Soulful, warm and heartfelt tunes blend with subtle rhythms and melodies to create a highly expressive and enjoyable album. There are some key influences in Arruda’s music, think Azymuth, Marcos Valle and Ed Motta, but Arruda manages to combine these with his own voice, creating his own individual sound. His vocals sound so natural, with a soulful expression that adds to the grooves and rhythms of his Fender Rhodes, leaving us with a vintage sounding mix to be treasured.
The intro to Solar is a sweet and chilled piece that gently leads us into the album, with a warm and uplifting vibe that simply glows with its subtle musicality. Then it’s into the cool laid back groove of the wonderful songs with their funky bass lines, melodic synths, über-cool Rhodes and luscious vocals. On the catchy “Melt The Night” Arruda asked legendary producer Leon Ware for assistance. His 80’s collaborations with Marcos Vale are evident here, adding a sophisticated boogie and soulful Californian touch to this immediately likeable tune. For “Uma Onda” Arruda collaborates with Azymuth bassist Alex Malheiros and together they pay tribute to their specific fusion sound and influence on the Brazilian music scene. “Agua” is a song co-written with Arruda’s longtime friend Fabricio Di Monaco and is a beautifully worked ballad which illustrates perfectly the writer’s passion for Soul Music stars such as Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

“Solar” is an accomplished album from an artist who truly “feels” the music he is making. Track after track of natural flair and gorgeous grooves are performed with style and sensitivity – the result being a recording that once you’ve listened to it, you’ll keep coming back for more. Uplifting and celebratory. An extremely joyful experience.

Mike Gates

Nat Birchall ‘Invocations’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 5/5

nat-birchallIt was Sibelius who said: “Music begins where the possibilities of language end.” And there endeth this review. Or not (obviously). I am far from alone in having been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure at one time or another, to listen to music that somehow seems to bypass the usual route to our senses by directly affecting us in a way that transcends our normal thought processes, even taking us beyond what we would consider to be a heightened emotional response. It goes deep. Deep into our very being, into what it is to exist as a human being. Buddhists might experience this as the awakening of the lotus flower that rests within us all. A spiritual awakening that sets a person on the path to Enlightenment. In musical terms, it is the point where we don’t even need to think, extrapolate any information or consider anything to do with what we are hearing and feeling; it just is. A oneness within us that touches, holds and is effortlessly joined with the music we are listening to. This is how I felt when I first heard this album.

John Coltrane once said: “All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.” An apt and relevant quotation in more ways than one. Nat Birchall’s musical journey began in the early ’70s, listening to Jamaican music. Throughout the decade he delved deep into roots and reggae music, with passion and enthusiasm. To Birchall, it was the “sound” of these recordings, as much as anything else, that meant so much. Sometime around 1978 Birchall purchased his first Coltrane album, “Blue Train”. It felt slightly foreign to his tastes at that time but once again, it was the “sound” of what he was listening to that really struck a chord. A year or so later, after a brief flirtation with playing the guitar, Birchall bought his first saxophone. He explains: “So in gathering together the records featuring saxophones it gave me a taste for the saxophone myself.” Having made the purchase he goes on to say, “I went home with it, intending to fool around with it and impress people at parties. But as soon as I put the mouthpiece in my mouth and breathed air into it the sound spoke to me. It spoke to me in a way that the guitar never did. The sound had some kind of meaning to me. I decided there and then that I had to take it a little more seriously.”

Fast forward to 2015 and I think we can safely say he has. Despite the fact that Birchall, to some extent, still appears to be, in jazz terms “The UK’s best-kept secret”, he has pursued his own path of discovery that has led him to become one of jazz’s true exponents of the kind of soulful, spiritual jazz perhaps first embodied by the trail-blazing recordings of John Coltrane. For “Invocations”, his latest album, Birchall is joined by his regular pianist Adam Fairhall, bassist Tim Fairhall and drummer Johnny Hunter. Birchall’s previous release, the excellent “Live in Larissa” featured Cory Mwamba on vibes and although he doesn’t feature on this session, we do have the addition of Christian Weaver on congas and percussion. What makes this album so special, apart from the obvious: outstanding compositions and a bandleader at the peak of his powers, is the contribution of Birchall’s fellow band members. They perform with such unity and skill that the resulting recording is lifted to an even higher place than one may have imagined. This is especially noticeable with pianist Adam Fairhall. His performance here is simply stunning. Throughout the session, he performs at such a high level of mastery, virtuosity and above all, intrinsic understanding, at times the listener is left speechless. There appears to be a rare natural musical bond between the musicians here, one that elevates the music well beyond normal expectations. Interestingly, in a recent interview for UK Vibe, Birchall makes reference to part of the recording process: “When we have a new song, usually at a recording session, I explain the different parts to the players and how they fit together. We then have a brief run through the beginning of the piece, maybe once or maybe twice, and then we go for a take. Each player has to really find his own space. The musicians are free to deviate from the written part after it has been played for a few bars or for the duration of the melody statement, but even this is not strict, it depends on the song.” Birchall’s approach pays huge dividends on this recording, allowing space and freedom for the band to shine. Without doubt this approach requires the players to be on the same wavelength, and it works with an unerring cohesion here. Birchall sums it up well: “I believe the best music is made when the musicians are free to play as they wish within the character of the song, and you have to be a certain type of player to do this.”

“Invocations” features five tracks, four Birchall compositions and Coltrane’s “To Be”. All the pieces sit very well together, the album as a whole being more like one conceptual spiritual vessel rather than separate individual tracks. The journey begins with “Song to The Divine Mother”, a searching, emotively powerful composition that draws the listener in from its first breath. The percussive and bass-led opening soon develops into a Coltrane-like floating hymn, the music caressing and comforting the soul with Birchall’s evocative and expressive tenor reaching out to the listener, at times subtle, at times explosive, but always with a deep meditative balance. The rhythm section plot their own course half-way through the tune, with pianist Adam Fairhall taking the lead in breathtaking fashion. There seems to be an awareness here, one of mindful unity and understanding from the musicians. It’s such an open, honest vibe being created that when the band leader’s sax brings the tune back in, it’s totally natural, nothing being forced, allowing the music to simply live and breathe. It’s almost as if Birchall and co are the divine vessels through which the music flows. Tim Fairhall’s double bass leads us into “Invocation”, a thoughtful piece that gradually builds on its reflective opening with Adam Fairhall’s piano holding it all together as Birchall soars. The extended intro, punctuated by some great drums and percussion from Hunter and Weaver, takes us into more familiar territory as the melody kicks in, underpinned by a cool, time-honoured bass riff that allows pianist Fairhall and saxophonist Birchall to express themselves, weaving in and out of the subtle nuances created by the band as a whole. One can only sit and marvel with a deep respect on hearing Coltrane’s “To Be”. Originally recorded during 1967’s “Expression” sessions, the tune featured Coltrane on flute, sharing the ambience with Pharoah Sanders’ piccolo flute. Birchall’s tenor playing suits the feel of the track perfectly. There’s a universal energy emanating here, one which sees Birchall leading his band to an ultimate truth through the lineage of Coltrane and Sanders. And when pianist Fairhall rides the waves of consciousness with such passion, it’s hard to imagine anyone else enhancing an old Trane tune with such skilful beauty and heartfelt understanding. Continuing in the same mood, “Njozi (Vision)” is a truly stunning piece of music. Birchall disappears into freer territory here, yet his soloing is so immersive and involving, that there’s never a doubt in my mind as to just how poignant and melodiously wondrous his playing can be. He’s on fire here, his inner flames darting out with metaphysical strength and prowess, engaging and atmospheric. During this tune he hands over the torch to Fairhall who provides us with an equally memorable passage of virtuosic piano playing. The emotional power in his performance lifts things to an even higher plane. The final track, “A Luta Continua” translates as “The struggle continues”. No matter what tongue we are speaking in, the universal language here is undoubtedly in the music itself. The improvisations around the core themes create an aesthetic of purity and unbridled, unashamed freedom of spirit and expression. Listen to this album by letting yourself go… by letting everything go… and you will be transported to a place where music rarely takes us, to the heart and soul of our very being.

Mike Gates

Artyom Manukyan ‘Citizen’ (Ghost Note) 4/5

artyom-manukyanArmenian born Cellist Artyom Manukyan studied classical music in his home country, along with Russia, Germany and Greece before becoming inspired by the jazz of Avishai Cohen (bass) and Marc Johnson. His influences spread far and wide, seeing him perform with his own Armenian based bands, along with the funk-fusion band Katuner, Joe Zawinul, Night Arc, Karim Ziad and many more. His love and passion for all styles of music led him to form the hip-hop influenced band New People, before moving to Los Angeles and taking to the stage with Tigran Hamasyan and working as a session musician with the likes of Peter Erskine, Bobby Brown and Gretchen Parlato, to name but a few. Having travelled the world and fully immersed himself in so many different musical styles and genres, it comes as little surprise that “Citizen” is filled to the brim with so many multi-cultural, genre-bending flavours and influences. What could be more surprising is how it all fits together so well. Manukyan is obviously one driven musician, and it is his skill, passion and understanding that seems to hold everything together on this excellent recording. His innovative approach to playing the cello like a bass emerged from a combination of his conservatory training and exposure to the music of legendary bass players, in particular Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller. “We listened to jazz 27 hours a day in our house,” he says. “At the time I didn’t know a cello player who played jazz, so I copied what the bass players were doing.” Out of this was born his unique style and sound, with this album the result of many years of nurturing and developing his playing, combined with a whole host of world-renowned musicians that add their own impressive contributions to what is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining album.

“Citizen” delivers 10 original compositions by Manukyan, some of which are breathtakingly bold and energetic whilst others employ a thoughtful, stirring beauty. One thing that is consistent throughout is the composer’s strong sense of identity, as heard through his confident cello playing. Highlights are many, and just as the listener thinks he knows what’s coming next, Manukyan is very adept at springing a surprise; from jazz to classical to rap to folk and electronics, there really is never a dull moment. This festival of music begins with the expressive “Sailors Song”, a rock-driven anthemic number that introduces the cellist in bold fashion. “Waltz for Maya” mixes subtle electronics with hauntingly beautiful laid back vocals, all in a classical setting. The gorgeous “CityZen” features the bass style of playing from the cellist before leading us into a lovely piano-cello folk melody, somewhat reminiscent of a Lars Daniellson tune. The energetic “Dark Matters” leads us into “3 Mas Dub” which highlights the technical skill and jazzy edginess of the cellist. Really nice production values here as rapper A. Chilla, pianist Tigran Hamasyan and percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan all combine to create a highly original piece of music. The darker “Old New Home” allows the core band; bassist Tim Lefebvre, pianist Vardan Ovsepian, drummer Jamire Williams and electronics maestro Troy Zeigler to lay down a wonderful platform for the unique improvisations of the cellist. “Turgut to be true” is awash with Brazilian/Flamenco flavours featuring the percussive talents of Arto and the guitar of Vahagni. Manukyan once again employs some clever and thoughtful production techniques, reminding me very much of Nitin Sawhney. “Duet N.1” is a stunning piece of music, with pianist Tigran and the cellist at their peak. There’s a distinctly cinematic feel to “All Yours” with the combinations of violins, electronic drums and rap artist A. Chills working very well together. The album closes with “Words”, a chamber music piece which rounds off this musical adventure very nicely as it slowly turns into a warm and welcoming jazz tune.

“Citizen” gives much to the listener, not least an introduction to a cellist who is anything but the run of the mill cello player one might have imagined prior to listening to this innovative and invigorating album. Supremely talented and with an extremely bright future, I can’t wait to see where Artyom Manukyan’s journeys take him next.

Mike Gates

The Sorcerers ‘The Sorcerers’ LP/CD (ATA) 4/5

the-sorcerersLeeds, England does not at first seem to be the epicenter of contemporary Ethiopian influenced jazz, but new band, The Sorcerers are beginning to create an authentic buzz with their take on probably the hippest of all sub genres.
With their self-titled debut released on local Leeds label ATA Records, The Sorcerers have created an absorbing, unique and quirky eight-track album that is full of rich ideas from across the musical spectrum, but it’s their obvious Ethio-Jazz references that the music press are mostly talking about.
Fluid organs, rhythmic brass parts and a driving percussion foundation provide a solid outlet for some well written and constructed groove heavy tracks, coupled with some nice flute touches on top and the instantly Ethio-Jazz-esque use of vibes – I would have actually liked greater use of vibes as they are only featured on certain tracks, but maybe that’s just me!
Being honest, it probably isn’t an album for the purists who want something with the integrity of a Mulatu Astatke release, the undoubtable king of Ethiopian Jazz, but those with a bit of a broad mind will truly love this album. I’ve already mentioned it amongst my circle of like-minded music fiends, geeks and nerds and no one has been disappointed, as it is very original. ‘The Horror’ takes its influence from, guess what, creaky, old organ horror film soundtracks, but it actually works. My personal favourite is ‘Night Of The Sorcerer’, which is a little more traditional sounding.

My only gripe is the short track count and running times, (although ‘Kasalefkut-Hulu’ and ‘Kulunmanqueleshi’, my favourite pieces from Mulatu’s 1972 masterpiece “Mulatu of Ethiopia” combined only clock-in at just over four and half minutes in length). Thankfully the album is available on vinyl – at the moment, and will surely be a short vinyl run and definitely one to collect.

My hope that this isn’t a one-off project and that the group can continue to grow and develop, as they may succeed in what Antibalas did for contemporary Afrobeat but for the Ethio-Jazz world.

Damian Wilkes

JD Allen ‘Graffiti’ (Savant) 4/5

jd-allenTenor saxophonist JD Allen has been on the New York jazz scene since 1993, when his youthful precociousness earned him many admirers. Since then, the Detroit born musician has released eight albums, “Graffiti” being his ninth, and his fourth consecutive outing on the Savant label. For this trio recording, Allen is joined by his frequent collaborators bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. This accomplished threesome know each other well, having performed together now for several years… and it shows. The intuition they so obviously share allows them to make trio music of the highest standard, effortless interplay combining with well written, open and honest compositions. Allen’s playing style might well be compared to two of the greats; Coltrane and Sanders. One can also hear touches of Shorter, Webster and Hawkins. He plays with such fluency, his imagination and expression creating a wholesome, spiritual, post-bop vitality that is at times breathtaking. “Graffiti” is a no nonsense recording; the sound captures the essence of the music perfectly as the trio work their way through nine compositions, leaving the listener in no doubt that they are experiencing three musicians so effortlessly integrated with one another and on top of their game that it’s difficult to imagine hearing a more accomplished sax/drums/bass outfit.

The album opens with “Naked”, a drum and sax duet. There’s an immediate spontaneity which grabs hold, yet at the same time managing to retain its cohesion which underlines much of this album’s success – the fine line between the two points being met with skill and poise. Inspired by the African-American folktale, “Jawn Henry” has an urgency and purpose to it that spills out of the saxophonist’s mind, sounding like there’s an uninhibited outpouring direct from thought to mouthpiece. “Third Eye” is looser, with its free flowing energy setting up some back and forth responses from drums, bass and sax. Whilst the title track “Graffiti” charts a course firmly routed in historical jazz trio symbolism, “G-dspeed, B. Morris” pursues a very different path. The trio know how to groove, with this melodic and lyrical blues-inflected piece really hitting the spot. Infectious writing and playing from all three musicians, August’s bass is just so on the money here, this is a prime example of how well the trio combine, time and space afforded by the composer for the drums and bass to work their magic. “Little Mack” sways with its own jaunty rhythm, leading into the soulful blues of “Sonny Boy”, a deep groove allowing the tune to ring out with hope and deep affection. There’s a comforting and familiar feel to the swinging “Indigo (Blue Like)”. Allen’s sax speaks the words of many time-honoured saxophonists, yet somehow manages to herald a new beginning with its uncomplicated and honest, open attitude. The session closes with “Disambiguation”, a more lyrical, free flowing take on what has come before. Sharp, incisive and totally at ease, drums and bass add some wonderful textures and embellishments to Allen’s supreme saxophony.

As a newcomer to the music of JD Allen, “Graffiti” has now inspired me to check out his back catalogue. With more than a handful of albums already under his belt, I somehow think I won’t be disappointed. There’s something special about this man’s playing, he has such a natural sound and feel, I look forward to immersing myself deeper into Mr JD Allen’s musical adventures.

Mike Gates

Tom Paxton ‘Peace Will Come’/’New Songs For Old Friends’ (Morello) 4/5

tom-paxtonA handy pairing of two albums that US folk legend Tom Paxton recorded in the UK during his sojourn here in the early 1970s and previously unavailable in CD format, this welcome re-issue sheds useful light on the post-Elektra period of Tom’s output when briefly he achieved a modicum of popular acclaim, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Of the two, the second, a live recording before an invited audience at the Marquee club in London is by far the superior one and captures Tom in performance with some of the UK’s finest folk musicians including Danny Thompson, Ralph McTell and, perhaps, unusually some nifty percussive work that adds vibrancy to the set.
The gentle-paced numbers work best with a highlight being, ‘Faces and Places’, with lovely melodic double bass and guitar accompaniment and McTell doubling up on vocals. In general, there is a deceptive simplicity to Tom’s sound and the often gorgeous melodies give way to some serious reflection on life. One classic folk melody is to be found on ‘When you shook your long hair down’ while for a deeper message, look no further than ‘When princes meet’ which focuses on social class divisions. Producer Tony Visconti deserves credit for the excellent sound quality and this lends a surprisingly contemporary feel to the music with harmonica, classical guitar double bass and percussion all featured at various points. Tom has always excelled as a quality storyteller of some conviction and this is showcased on the intimate reading of ‘Who’s been passing dreams around’. The joint harmonies with Ralph McTell work a treat on ‘Hob in my mind’ whereas those of Tom’s then young daughters are, with the passing of time, a little hard going on ‘Fred’. Nonetheless, his devotion to his family comes to the rescue on ‘Katy’, written for his daughter and sung a cappella throughout. It is at once humorous and entertaining and Tom’s skills as a witty raconteur are beyond question.

In 1972 Paxton scored a minor pop chart hit with the title track of the first album here, the studio recording, and the significantly enhanced instrumentation on the album with drums, cello, harp, vibes as well as banjo gives the album a layered, but in some respects a somewhat dated sound. Where the sound is most traditional is where Tom’s voice come shining through and ‘You come throwing colours’ is probably the pick of the bunch, though a homage to the west coast in ‘California’ is not at all bad with just guitar and bass, and with Mary (Hopkin) Visconti backing on vocals. Neither album sold as well as Tom Paxton had hoped and, after completing his label contract with Reprise, Paxton moved back to Long island with his family, though the contacts with both the UK and Ireland have remained permanent ones.

Tim Stenhouse

Ashford and Simpson ‘Come As You Are’ (BBR) 4/5

ashford-simpsonArguably the least well known of any of the Warner releases for the duo, ‘Come as you are’ is fully deserving of a re-issue and was the third album the pair recorded for the label together in 1976, following on from ‘Gimme something real (1973) and ‘I wanna be selfish’ (1974). Up until then, they were primarily known as seriously talented songwriters who had delivered a number one pop hit for Ray Charles in ‘Let’s get stoned’ as well as major hits on Motown for Marvin Gaye, the latter in tandem with Tammi Terrell as well as the post-Supremes hit ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ for Diana Ross, and they would continue the collaboration with Ms Ross. In comparison to the other later albums, this recording has an unexpected gospel flavour to it and, judging by the comments from Valerie Simpson, it was quite unintended. Nonetheless, it adds a refreshingly different edge to proceedings and the glorious joint vocal harmonies complement this approach to perfection. A real left-field winner that has rapidly become a favourite with this reviewer is ‘Sell this house’ and it is a stunning flowing mid-tempo number with an atmospheric bass line that hints at Marvin’s ‘Inner City Blues’ period without ever being derivative, and the classy strings alongside the gospel-infused vocals make this a contender for the album’s strongest number. A modern soul stepper which only made it as B-side is Caretaker’ and, with nifty guitar licks courtesy of ace session guitarist Hugh McCracken and Eric Gale, this is another strong composition. While no single became a pop or R & B hit here, a new departure for Ashford and Simpson came in the form of a minor disco hit in ‘One more try’ and this would be the first of a series of more dance-oriented songs that would feature on subsequent albums and this particular one was co-written by Raymond Simpson, brother of Valerie, and Bobby Gene Hall. It stands out as a soulful interpretation of the disco idiom and nestled just outside the disco charts top ten at the time. As an extra bonus, and similar to Teddy Pendergrass, a new and younger generation has become familiar with Ashford and Simpson’s work via their more dance-oriented material and there is the very welcome inclusion of a re-edit by Dimitri of Paris of the vastly underrated disco number, ‘One more try’. This makes for an interesting contrast with the original 12″ cut that is also included, with the latter featuring a storming instrumental breakdown where the studio musicians are clearly having a ball and the isolated bass and rhythm guitar groove is a precursor to the classic Chic side that would emerge just a year later. As a first attempt at an outright disco sound, this was a pretty successful stab. For ballad fans, ‘Somebody told a lie’ is an interesting number in that both singers take solo leads and then join in on harmonies in the chorus and the song has continued to appeal since it was revisited by Valerie Simpson on the latest Terri Lyne Carrington album, ‘Mosaic project: love and soul’. Another ballad, ‘Believe in me’ was reprised by Cheryl Lynn and Luther Vandross in 1982 so that album was heard and respected by fellow musicians. Of note is the important contribution made by a bevvy of crème de la crème studio musicians with jazz keyboardists Don Grolnick and Richard Tee, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Ralph MacDonald along with the aforementioned guitarists all contributing to the quality accompaniment. Excellent and extended inner sleeve notes with graphics of various 45s and 12″ labels and full back cover sleeve lyrics.

Tim Stenhouse

Soul Jazz Orchestra ‘Resistance’ (Strut) LP/CD/Dig 4/5

the-souljazz-orchestraCanadian outfit the Soul Jazz Orchestra have consistently hit the mark with a series of Afro-Latin themed recordings for Strut including their debut for the label, ‘Rising Sun’ (2010), ‘Solidarity’ (2012) and most recently Inner Fire (2014). For this new recording, the sound departs from Afro-Beat and Ethio-Jazz to an exploration of pan-Caribbean music from some of the French speaking islands and what may surprise some is that the African influence is still very much present. In fact zouk music from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique bears a remarkable resemblance to Congolese soukous in its underlying beat and among France’s Caribbean and central African communities this connection has not gone unnoticed and was positively encouraged. A major contributor to the development of zouk music was the founding of group Kassav’ in the late 1970s in Paris and that city became the focal point for musicians from the Lesser Antilles with vocalists such as Jocelyne Béroard emerging and gaining success during the 1980s.
For francophones residing in Canada (the group, though, hail from English-speaking Ottawa) which is the case of some members of the Soul Jazz Orchestra, and more specifically those from Montreal, where it is perfectly possible to pick up an original album by say Malavoi or Tabou Combo, this has served as the pretext for a serious examination of the diverse styles and the result is some delightful dancefloor grooves.

A heady mix of soukous guitar riffs and Afro-Beat horns predominate on the uptempo ‘Shock and Awe’ which could be a Fela Kuti title. The Soul Jazz Orchestra expand the cross-fertilisation of genres on ‘Courage’ with a lilting Caribbean back beat and collective chorus that are married to the guitar riffs of late 1970s disco and this makes for compelling dance music. In general there are more vocal contributions on this release than previously and that is in keeping with Caribbean music, but for fans of their modern update on the classic Afro-Beat the opener ‘Greet the dawn’ will certainly appeal.

Those seeking a more detailed historical overview would be well served seeking out excellent compilations such as ‘Tumbélé. Biguine, Afro and Latin sounds from the French Caribbean 1963-1974’ (Soundway 2009) and ‘Haiti Direct’ (Strut 2014), reviewed in these columns previously, and both of which direct the neophyte listener to a plethora of hitherto unknown sounds and music that would be near impossible to find in the UK. Two UK dates in October include the Jazz Café (4 October) and Bristol (19 October).

Tim Stenhouse

Cæcilie Norby and Lars Danielsson ‘Just The Two Of Us’ (ACT) 4/5

caecilie-norby-lars-danielssonHusband and wife musicians Danish vocalist Cæcilie Norby and Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson both have impeccable jazz credentials inside and outside Scandinavia. For the former, a lengthy tenure as a Blue Note artist gained useful exposure internationally and Norby has now been an ACT artist for some five years. In the case of the latter, the bassist has worked with some of the greats past and present including the Brecker Brothers and Charles Lloyd. Recorded in Sweden and mixed at the famous Rainbow studios in Oslo, famous for the ECM sound, this new recording makes inventive use of the duet format and manage to keep things varied throughout, and consequently the music gels together beautifully. Norby possesses a deep voice in a not dissimilar vein to Dianne Reeves (on other songs the influence of Billie Holiday is sometimes evident, though never a carbon copy attempt), is clearly well versed in the jazz vocal tradition, and ad-libs wonderfully on the original number, ‘Double Dance’.
The duo have previously contributed two albums with a classical bent under the ‘Libretto’ title and here ‘Libretto Cantabile’ continues the quasi-classical connection with a piece that is more in a gentle folk vein. Wordless vocals in the intro and bass work in tandem on ‘Toccata’ with a melodic story line and an intriguing combination of jazz and classical bass lines. Even a couple of Abbey Lincoln covers are attempted and of these the blues-laden ‘And it is supposed to be love’ is a highlight which hits as lovely percussive groove and cello adds to the layered texture as does what sounds like a marimba solo. A stripped down to the bare minimum reading of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both sides now’ works a treat where once again one discovers a lovely blues undercurrent bubbles just below the surface. The minimalist accompaniment adds intimacy to the standards elsewhere with a slower tempo in the bass than the original on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ where Norby excels and is at once a gentle and reflective way in which to end the album.

Tim Stenhouse

Quantic presents ‘The Western Transient – A New Constellation’ (Tru Thoughts) 3/5

quantic‘Quantic presents the Western Transient’ is the latest musical endeavour from Will Holland, a.k.a Quantic. Holland has an insatiable hunger for sonic exploration, which has produced over 15 albums and has taken him all around the world, more notably from his Worcestershire roots to spending seven years in Colombia. Previously exploring Funk, Latin, Caribbean and African styles, he has spent more recent time touring the States where he has rediscovered his love for instrumental Jazz.
His albums represent an impressive musical scrapbook that document his travels. With that in mind, this album takes you on an intimate journey through the West coast of America, although recorded in Brooklyn, he recruited the musicians involved from Los Angeles. Holland explains that; “The themes reflect the beginnings of living in a new city, a creative intermission and a desire to experiment with an instrumental jazz format on American soil”.
The first track off the album to be released ‘Creation (East L.A)’ Is one of the more iconic and animated songs and stands apart from some of the other, more sober tracks. It coasts along with a predominantly disco feel, thanks to Hollands distinctive ‘Quantic’ rhythm guitar combined with Wilson Viveros grooving away on the hi-hat throughout. This is a bizarre, yet brilliant tune that really incapsulates the hybridity of Hollands music, with elements of disco, jazzy horns, Caribbean style steel drums finished off with electronic synthy sounds.

The opening track ‘Latitude’ has a relaxed and more sophisticated sound, giving a nostalgic nod to the golden days of Jazz. With soft meandering horn lines from saxophonist Sylvester Onyejiaka and trumpeter Todd Simon accompanied by the laid back jazzy flair of Viveros, Holland has definitely hit the nail on the head in terms of creating soulful and intimate instrumental jazz.

Tracks like ‘Mirzan’ and ‘Requiescence’ are equally chilled, but bordering on a little dull, with elements of Bossa and Samba that lack the punch he has formerly packed into these sounds. ‘A New Constellation’ is again, a little slow, and dare I say it, Lounge? I think that as I have always been a big Quantic fan, this is just a little too down beat for me, but that is me being a little too personal, as there is no denying that this is a good album, well executed with exceptional musicians all directed by the very talented Will Holland. An enjoyable listen, but quite different to many of his previous colourful and vivacious albums, so be sure to listen with fresh ears.

Lindsey Evans