Ibrahim Maalouf ‘Kalthoum’ (Impulse!) 5/5

ibrahim-maaloufBorn in Beirut and now residing in Paris, trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is rapidly becoming one of the must see/hear musicians currently performing and recording on the world circuit. His unique sound comes from not just his East-meets-West style of composition, but is also inexorably linked to the instrument he plays; the quarter-tone trumpet. Designed by his father, renowned musician Nassim Maalouf, this is a custom made horn with four valves instead of three, allowing for a traditional Arabic technique to be integrated with modern jazz patterns to create a truly individual sound. “Kalthoum” is in every way an album that captures perfectly the magic of Maalouf’s distinctive sound, successfully integrating the cultural and artistic feel and passion with which he is becoming revered for.
Perhaps if we take a classic Ennio Morricone spaghetti western film score, add in a quintessential American modern jazz quintet, and mix together with the colour and vibrancy of traditional Arabic folk music, we would be getting somewhere close to explaining just what this recording sounds like. And yet it is so much more than that. “Kalthoum” is in fact an enthralling tribute to one of Egypt’s most legendary classical singers, Oum Kalthoum. During the fifty years of her incredible career, her songs were enormously popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Trumpeter Maalouf pays homage to the singer with his jazz-influenced interpretations of Oum Kalthoum’s enigmatic love song, “Alf Leila Wa Lella”, which translates as “One Thousand and One Nights”. Composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamdi, there have been many varied versions of this piece recorded over the last fourty plus years, with Maalouf’s interpretation coming over as being both respectful and daring, unafraid to push boundaries in an invigorating and fanciful way that surprises and delights in equal measure.

As is often the way with great music, this album is very much a team effort. Maalouf’s individuality is supported magnificently by leading American musicians Mark Turner on tenor sax, Larry Grenadier on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. German pianist Frank Worste completes the excellent line-up. Worste’s playing, at least in this quintet setting, reminds me of Tigran Hamasyan with his folk-tinged melodies being performed with an ease and grace that acts as the perfect counter-balance to Maalouf’s trumpet. The American trio of musicians are first class throughout, with Mark Turner especially proving once again what an incredible touch and mastery he brings to a session such as this. The album itself is presented as 7 pieces; Introduction, Overtures 1 and 2, and Movements 1 to 4. Most definitely “Kalthoum” is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety to get the most from; picking out individual tracks doesn’t work as well and loses the flavour and comprehensive feel of the masterful suite as a whole. There is a vast amount of skill employed by all the musicians, with Maalouf’s arrangements providing some wondrous music to this listener’s ears. The music glides effortlessly between Classical Arabic melodies, intriguing harmonic motifs, jazz improvisation and swing, funk and esoteric folksy musings. A colourful template and rich tapestry of sound. “Kalthoum” is ultimately an inspirational and delightful project that can be enjoyed by any type of music lover- no need to get hung up by genre or classification here- put simply, great music is just great music, wherever you come from.

Mike Gates


Afrika Mkhize ‘Rain Dancer’ (Private Press) 5/5

afrika-mkhizeSouth African born pianist and composer Afrika Mkhize is a name we had all better get used to. “Rain Dancer” is his long awaited debut album, and on this evidence we are going to be hearing much more from this incredible musician in the years to come. Having spent a number of years residing in Paris, it is perhaps no surprise that whilst his music does have its roots firmly planted in the African jazz tradition, this is very much a European sounding album, bringing together the best of both worlds in a stunning way. “Jazz is truth” says Mkhize, “It’s pure emotion, it’s like taking a knife and cutting out your heart and saying ‘Here it is, look at me, this is me'”. It is indeed a compelling originality that truly shines in Mkhaze’s playing, teamed with a flowing warmth and life-affirming beauty. “Being able to take your experiences during the course of the day”, the pianist continues, “then express them that evening at a gig, that’s jazz! You can’t just play it, it has to be lived”. It’s not often as a listener one feels immediately drawn, not just to the music, but also to the musician himself. Yet with Mkhize I do, pulled in on a wave of emotional pleasure emanating from the man and his music.

Mkhize represents the second generation of jazz mastery, being the son of legendary pianist and producer Themba Mkhize. Having started playing the piano at the age of six, when he turned eleven he was enrolled at Funda Centre Music school, Soweto to study classical piano. At fifteen he was accepted into the National School for the Arts, and four years later enrolled at Pretoria Technikon to pursue his interest in jazz composition and arranging. He has since gone on to perform with many notable artists including Zim Ngqawane, Dorothy Masuka, Papa Noel, Khaya Mahlangu and Oliver Mtukudzi. Having won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz, 2012, Mkhize has also scored full big band arrangements, most notably a recent project honouring his favourite pianist, the late Bheki Mseleku. His latest project finds him touring and performing with Banz Oester and The Rainmakers. It is, along with Mkhize’s own debut recording, this Swiss/South African collaboration that will surely turn many jazz heads in 2016, with an album set for release early in the year.

“Rain Dancer” features all original compositions, apart from the last track- Bheki Mseleku’s “Beauty of Sunrise”. Mseleku has obviously played a pivotal role in Mkhize’s style of playing, and this tune is a fitting final track to what is a wonderful session of warm, honest and heartfelt music making. The album opens with “Be Still”. The pianist has a style that although rooted in the past, is utterly contemporary and remarkably original. His use of acoustic piano mixed with keyboards is a revelation, with this opening track singing out with pure unadulterated class. The quality of the melodic writing, along with the sax/flute arrangements and the incredibly skillful soloing marks this out not just as possibly the track of the album, but also as one of the most magnificent tunes you will hear from anyone in the world of jazz. An instant classic. The highly engaging “South Coast” begins with a blues tinged piano, driven on by some great drumming before the African rhythms kick in with style. There’s so much depth and substance to this music, with Mkhize’s soloing being on a different level to most musicians I’ve heard in recent times. It’s just so filled with joy it is truly invigorating to hear. The warmth that permeates through the music continues on “Untitled Maracatu”, a softer tune, with Rhodes-like keys and strings adding a lush yet subtle sincerity to the music. African/European themes mix beautifully on “Rainmakers”, with the gospel/blues hued piano giving rise to sumptuous melodies and rhythmic patterns that dance with delight. The music screams I’m alive! – let’s celebrate the sun rising, let’s sing from our hearts, let’s embrace all things good and bad as part of our journey and do the very best we can as human beings. The short, sweet and simply stunning “Unlike Before” leads nicely into “South Coast Reprise” before “Xhensa” takes us into its warm embrace, offering much and delivering even more. “Ode to B” is a solo piano piece that just about sums up the passion and integrity with which Mkhize plays.

Incredibly enjoyable, “Rain Dancer” is an album to open your heart to, an album rich in the complexities and diversities of life and the human spirit. Afrika Mkhize successfully and skilfully blends multi-cultural musical influences, taking all the ingredients and mixing them into one exquisitely delightful dish. The path he walks shines brightly with a musical vision and empathy that leaves a lasting impression on this listener. May his journey continue to be bold and rewarding.

Mike Gates

The Dining Rooms ‘Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)?’ (Schema) 4/5

AV1248.AIf you’re after contemporary electronica, film score landscapes, RZA-type textures, trippy funk rhythms with touches of jazzy moments – then this is the album for you!
The Dining Rooms are a Milan-based duo comprised of Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti that have been active since the late 1990s, but they seem to have slipped under the radar with many music listeners, even though they have released over 10 albums during this time. For this release, they call upon the services of other Italian artists, musicians and producers, including Sacri Cuori, Bruno Dorella as well as UK Vibe favourite Jessica Lauren on keyboards.
With Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? The Dining Rooms explore, as mentioned, a variety of styles, genres and musical ideas but not in a contrived way. The blending of sounds is effectively achieved and not difficult to absorb, which is probably due to the high calibre of musicianship used. The 15 tracks contain eight that are under three minutes in length, with the longest clocked at four minutes exactly – so never a dull moment! But the album is not what I would call ‘experimental’ by any means, but it does contain sonic ideas not realised by most current artists.
Describing the album is actually quite difficult due to the differing palette of sounds used, but if soundtrack composer Clint Mansell produced a film score that was slightly funky, then this is what it may sound like. So there are no DJ play out tunes here, but a gathering of engrossing instrumentals that draw in the listener. Therefore it’s difficult to emphasise specific tracks here as I feel that the album is best listened to in its entirety, but worthwhile pieces include the Zero 7-ish ‘Love Story, the brooding ‘Interstellar’ and the Weather Report influenced Appuntamento Su Marte. And note that ‘Space Is The Place’ is not a cover of the Sun Ra classic (or the Jonzun Crew 1983 electro anthem for that matter).

If you have an open mind then you cannot dislike this album as it’s far too interesting and absorbing and not something that a listener would get tired of easily. Nonetheless, it isn’t perfect and I would have liked longer track lengths and the guitar work could have been more intricate, but overall this is a strong release from the Italian group and should definitely be tracked down.

In addition, the Schema record label, which is also Milan-based, should be applauded for releasing albums of this nature especially as it’s available physically in both CD and vinyl formats and not just digitally.

Damian Wilkes

Various ‘Feeling Nice, Vol. 3’ (Tramp) 3/5

feeling-nice-vol3Following on from Tramp’s compilation of rare funk releases, Feeling Nice Vol. 3 continues where the previous two volumes left off and is another collection of late 1960s and early 1970s funk records that documents the somewhat endless supply of funk titles from this era.
On the record collecting scene, the appetite for rare funk 45s has somewhat diminished over the last decade or so and been replaced with the search for obscure boogie and disco 12”s, unknown afro beat and rare spiritual jazz LPs, but the raw funk scene is still healthy and Vol. 3 again showcases some lesser known records, many being very expensive in their original form.
Here, there are 17 cuts in total with 12 vocal tracks and five instrumentals. Most are quite unknown records outside of the rare funk scene, with only the classic ‘Sad Chicken’ by Leroy and the Drivers being a quite obvious addition to the album and is featured on other numerous funk comps. The others are a mix of drum heavy mid and up-tempo funk numbers including a string of punchy break beats, infectious vocals chants, swelling Hammond organ parts and chunky guitar rhythms.
Specific highlights include the Miami Funk of Clarence Reid’s ‘I Get My Kicks’ from 1971, Nadine Brown’s ‘Leave Me Alone’, a £1000+ rarity on its original pressing (both previously reissued on Tramp Records 7”), and something that I’ve never heard before, Walt Bolen’s ‘Breaking Out’, a funky Prestige sounding groover that ticks all the right funk boxes. But as like most funk compilations, there’s nothing musically ground breaking here and this album stays very much within the confides of rare funk 45 territory, but all are well chosen and possess that raw funk energy from the period.
It’s now been over 20 years since the first wave of rare funk compilations first emerged in the beginning of the 1990s, with the Pure series from France, the ground breaking Nuggets albums and California’s Luv N’ Haight compilations provided the world with an exposé on the amount of unknown and high quality black music available around the world. And a generation later, Germany’s Tramp Records continues that tradition of discovering lost, forgotten or unknown records.

Damian Wilkes

Notable Deaths 2015

Natalie Maria Cole (February 6, 1950 – December 31, 2015) – American singer

William Franklin Guest (July 2, 1941 – December 24, 2015) – American R&B/soul singer

Sam Dockery (1929 – December 23, 2015) – American jazz pianist (Art Blakey, Roy Haynes)

Isham Russell “Rusty” Jones II (April 13, 1942 – December 9, 2015) – American jazz drummer

Svein “Chrico” Christiansen (6 August 1941 – 25 November 2015) – Norwegian jazz drummer

Albert “Al” Aarons (March 23, 1932 – November 17, 2015) – American jazz trumpeter

Hubert Leroy “Herbie” Goins (February 21, 1939 – October 27, 2015) – American rhythm & blues singer

Lee Shaw (June 25, 1926 – October 25, 2015) – American jazz pianist and composer

Nat Peck (January 13, 1925 – October 24, 2015) – American jazz trombonist

Mark Howe Murphy (March 14, 1932 – October 22, 2015) – American jazz singer

Donald Percy ‘Don’ Rendell (4 March 1926 – 20 October 2015) – English jazz musician and arranger

Larry Rosen (May 25, 1940 – October 9, 2015) – American producer/musician/recording engineer

Otis Ray “Killer” Appleton (August 23, 1941 – October 7, 2015) – American jazz drummer

David Samuel Pike (March 23, 1938 – October 3, 2015) jazz vibraphone and marimba player (MPS Records)

George Coleridge Emerson Goode (29 November 1914 – 2 October 2015) – British Jamaican-born jazz bassist (Indo-Jazz Fusions)

Willie Akins (April 10, 1939 – October 2, 2015) – American jazz musician

Harold Lomax Ousley (January 23, 1929 – August 13, 2015) – American jazz tenor saxophonist and flautist

Russell Audley Ferdinand “Russ” Henderson MBE (7 January 1924 – 18 August 2015) – jazz musician on the piano and the steelpan

Hugo Rasmussen (22 March 1941 – 30 August 2015) Danish bassist

Masabumi Kikuchi (19 October 1939 – 6 July 2015) – Japanese jazz pianist/composer

Howard Rumsey (November 7, 1917 – July 15, 2015) – American jazz double-bassist

John Taylor (25 September 1942 – 17 July 2015) – British jazz pianist

Bruce Edward Washington, Jr. a.k.a. Hussein Fatal (April 3, 1977 – July 10, 2015) American rapper (Outlawz)

Archie Alleyne (January 7, 1933 – June 8, 2015) – Canadian jazz drummer

Paul Bacon (December 25, 1923 – June 8, 2015) – American book and album cover designer and jazz musician.

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015) – American jazz saxophonist/violinist/trumpeter/composer.

John Landry “Buddy” Boudreaux (December 27, 1917 – June 13, 2015) – big band and jazz saxophone/clarinet

Allan Vincent Browne OAM (28 July 1944 – 13 June 2015) – Australian jazz drummer/composer

Harold Raymond Battiste, Jr. (October 28, 1931 – June 19, 2015) – American music composer/arranger/performer/teacher (Sam Cooke)

Gunther Alexander Schuller (November 22, 1925 – June 21, 2015) – American jazz musician/composer/conductor//author/historian

Eddy Louiss (2 May 1941 – 30 June 2015) – French jazz musician

Samuel McClain a.k.a. Mighty Sam McClain (April 15, 1943 – June 15, 2015) – American soul/blues singer/songwriter

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015) – American jazz saxophonist

Jerome Cooper (December 14, 1946 – May 6, 2015) – American free jazz musician

Luz Ercilia Fabery Zenón a.k.a. Lucy Fabery (January 25, 1931 – May 13, 2015) – Puerto Rican jazz singer
Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly (1945 – May 15, 2015) – American R&B and jazz singer

Marcus Batista Belgrave (June 12, 1936 – May 24, 2015) American jazz trumpeter

Raymond Huston “Ray” Kennedy Jr. (1957 – May 28, 2015) – American jazz pianist/composer/arranger

Margo Reed (c. 1942 – April 15, 2015) – American blues singer

Marty Napoleon (June 2, 1921 – April 27, 2015) – American jazz pianist (Louis Armstrong)

Percy Tyrone Sledge (November 25, 1940 – April 14, 2015) was an African American R&B/soul/gospel singer

Benjamin Earl King a.k.a. Ben E. King (September 28, 1938 – April 30, 2015) – American soul and R&B singer/producer

Orrin Keepnews (March 2, 1923 – March 1, 2015) – American jazz writer/producer (Riverside, Milestone, Fantasy, Landmark Records)

Lewis Michael Soloff (February 20, 1944 – March 8, 2015) – American jazz trumpeter/composer/actor (Machito, Tony Scott, Maynard Ferguson and Tito Puente)

Robert “Bob” Parlocha (April 18, 1938 – March 15, 2015) – American jazz expert/radio host/programmer/saxophone player

Paul Jeffrey (April 8, 1933 – March 20, 2015) – American jazz tenor saxophonist/arranger/educator (Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Lionel Hampton and B.B. King)

John Newton “Johnny” Helms (February 10, 1935 – March 27, 2015) – American jazz trumpeter/bandleader/music educator (Woody Herman, Clark Terry and Chris Potter)

Billy Butler (June 7, 1945 – March 31, 2015) – American soul singer/songwriter

Zane Musa (January 1, 1979 – February 2, 2015) Alto/Soprano/Tenor Saxophonist /vocalist

William Thomas McKinley (December 9, 1938 – February 3, 2015) – American composer/jazz pianist

Richie Pratt (March 11, 1943 – February 12, 2015, born Richard Dean Tyree) – American jazz drummer

Keith Copeland (April 18, 1946 – February 14, 2015) – jazz drummer/music educator

Hulon E. Crayton (c. 1956 – February 14, 2015) – American smooth jazz saxophonist

Clark Terry Jr. (December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015) – American swing and bebop trumpeter/composer/educator

Erik Amundsen (1 February 1937 – 22 February 2015) – Norwegian jazz bassist

George Arthur Probert, Jr. (March 5, 1927 – January 10, 2015) – American jazz clarinetist/soprano saxophonist/bandleader

Cynthia Layne (February 27, 1963 – January 18, 2015) – American contemporary jazz vocalist

Donald James Randolph a.k.a. Don Covay (March 24, 1936 – January 31, 2015) – American R&B/soul singer

Corrie Dick ‘Impossible Things’ (Chaos Collective) 3/5

corrie-dickGlaswegian drummer Corrie Dick studied music at the Glasgow Conservatoire and has travelled to North and West Africa to listen carefully to the manner in which the drum is deployed there. Now resident in London, his debut recording is as much folk influenced as it is by jazz and features various female guest vocalists including Alice Zawadzki, with some world beats bubbling just underneath the surface. As well as being a musician, Dick is co-founder of the indie label and the collective gained useful live experience in November, performing at the Jackdaw Jazz Café in London. Stylistically, the group weave in and out of styles and this is illustrated on the free-form intro to the title track that then morphs into a vocal plus piano number that is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. The drummer’s travels are alluded to on ‘Annamarakech’ which has something of a jazz-fusion feel with trumpet solo and layered keyboards, and a rolling drum to propel the number. In a more reflective mood, ‘King William walk’ is a tribute to Dick’s father and, with the use of flute and fiddles, hints at Scottish folk music before fusing into a folk meets jazz piece that takes a little time to get used to. If the whole has yet to gel into a cohesive, individual sound, that will surely come in time with future recordings and greater exposure to how jazz and other beats can effectively blend together.

Tim Stenhouse

Tiffany Austin ‘Nothing But Soul’ (Con Alma) 4/5

tiffany-austinHailing from North California, but for a long time off the radar when she settled in Tokyo and performed pop, gospel and jazz, vocalist Tiffany Austin comes up with an assured debut that is more like an extended EP, weighing in at around forty minutes. She displays a command of the classic American songbook, soaking up the influences of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dee Dee Bridgewater among others, and has chosen this recording to focus primarily on the compositions of Hoagy Carmichael. The jewel in the crown here is undoubtedly ‘Baltimore Oriole’ that has received a few famous treatments (notably from Lorez Alexandria), but this compares most favourably with any of them and is an uptempo vehicle with the stripped down drum beat of Sly Randolph where Austin engages in some fine ad-libbing to mark her imprint on the standard. This writer warmed to the cohesive mixture of new approaches combined with a respect of the jazz tradition. Austin’s phrasing is impeccable and ideally showcased on quality ballads such as ‘I get along without you very well’ and ‘Stardust’ that opens the set. However, she breathers new life into ‘Skylark’, attempting it at a completely different and more upbeat tempo and a warm tenor saxophone performance from Howard Wiley that works extremely well. In fact Austin and Wiley combine on a co-written original, ‘Tête à Tête’ that augurs well for the future. The album title by the way refers to a song Betty Carter made her own during the 1960s, ‘Jazz ain’t nothing but soul’, but this is not included here. Tiffany Austin is a name to watch out for and any enterprising jazz label would do well to check her out before she is singed up by a major.

Tim Stenhouse

Ella Fitzgerald and Various ‘Christmas with Ella and Friends’ 2CD (Decca/Universal) 4/5

ella-fitzgeraldChristmas tribute albums may be in vogue for one month of the year, but seldom do they last throughout the decades and most are readily forgotten and quickly fall into obscurity. One towering exception to that rule is Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas’, originally released on Verve from 1959, that has remained an evergreen, and this forms the template for this new compilation that brings together jazz singers crooners and more easy listening artists who occasionally dipped into jazzy waters. From Ella’s epic release no less than eleven songs are selected and they are all more or less gems, ranging from the anthemic, ”Have yourself a merry little Christmas’ to the swinging, ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ and changing mood and tempo to the reflective, ‘Baby it’s cold outside’. Nobody has ever bettered Fitzgerald’s vocal interpretations and most likely no one will ever reach this level of competence. Quite simply, they are definitive treatments. However, some of her contemporaries do feature from the frolic antics of Louis Armstrong on ‘Zat you Santa Claus?’ to Billie Holiday and an intimate reading of, ‘I’ve got my love to keep me warm’.
Mel Tormé offers up an excellent take on ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire)’ that Nat Cole immortalised and is also included that makes for a terrific comparison. For some gospel hues mixed in with the blues, a left-field offering of ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ by the great Sister Rosetta Tharpe is a joyous listening pleasure while in the fun stakes, the big band swing of Louis Prima’s ‘Shake hands with Santa Claus’ adds some much needed laughter to proceedings. Humour is the order of the day from the Nat King Cole trio (and Nat was a mighty fine pianist, something often ignored) on perennial request, ‘All I want for Christmas (is my two front teeth)’ while Nancy Wilson holds sway with a more affirmative, ‘That’s what I want for Christmas’.

Some of the easy listening material from Andy Williams and Perry Como is a tad jazz-lite, but on the other hand Bing Crosby, Julie London the Platters were all capable of fine musical moments. Ideally, one would have liked a little more variety with some classic jazz instrumentals and the back catalogue is sufficiently wide to include examples of say Count Basie’s ‘A very swinging Basie Christmas’ and various others into the bargain. That said, for fans of vocal jazz who wish to celebrate the festive season, this is a fine way to sample some of the all-time great singers.

Tim Stenhouse

Barbara Dennerlein ‘Christmas Soul’ LP/CD (MPS/Edel) 4/5

barbara-dennerleinChristmas as depicted from a jazz perspective can be something of a hit and miss affair. Interestingly, one of the most accomplished was an all instrumental outing from the mid-1960s by Hammond organ maestro Jimmy Smith and German Hammond player Barbara Dennerlein has followed suit, updating slightly , but retaining that earthy, blues-inflected feel that Smith perfected. An all-star band includes multi-reedist Marcus Lindgren who alternates between tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet, while the overall production is in the extremely competent hands of Italian DJ and musician Nicola Conte and that means a subtle Latin undercurrent to the album as a whole. Factor in vocalist Zara McFarlane and you have a Christmas recording that departs from the norm and can be enjoyed in its own right as a quality listening experience. A genuine highlight is the modal flavoured ‘Chim Chim Cherie’ that John Coltrane radically transformed in the 1960s. Here the Mary Poppins tune becomes a soul-jazz vehicle with wailing tenor and punchy Latin percussion. The flute was an instrument that Roland Kirk excelled on and one of his favourite covers was ‘We three kings’. Dennerlein sounds very much like Larry Young on this brooding interpretation and Lindgren reverts to flute. thus evoking Rahsaan Kirk’s masterful version. This new one compares most favourably. Miles Davis and Bob Dorough came up with a yuletide favourite in ‘Blue Xmas’ and a new reworking gives the song an eerie, atmospheric intro before developing into a swinging number that remains faithful to the original. Of course, being German, Barbara Dennerlein is well versed in some of the classic German language songs that are associated with Christmas and no less than three are on offer here. ‘Little drummer boy’ is treated to a funky 1970s makeover with flute and Latin percussion making this virtually unrecognisable from the original while ‘Oh Tannenbaum’ starts off in a more traditional mode before taking off in a soul-blues direction. Only ‘Silent Night (original German title, ‘Stille Nacht’) is left as a conventional ballad. Elsewhere ‘Sleigh Ride’ receives a gritty Stax sounding makeover while an Ella Fitzgerald perennial, ‘Let it snow’, becomes a swinging mid-tempo groove-;aden song. In general, the arrangements are both tasteful and thought-provoking and enable the collective to stamp their own distinctive imprint on the Christmas classics. Likely to remain a popular Christmas release for many years to come.

Tim Stenhouse