Reverend Gary Davis ‘Harlem Street Singer’ [Extended Edition] (Soul Jam) 5/5

SJ 600878 Or Reverent Gary Davis book.inddThe re-release of this 1960 classic could not have been more timely since it coincides with the passing of the sound engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, and it may come as a surprise to jazz fans in particular that Englewood Cliffs recording studio played host to some of the veteran blues performers at the beginning of the folk revival era via the Prestige Bluesville off-shoot that recorded the great Lonnie Johnson among others..
From the outset this is folk-blues in the demonstration class, and as ever with the good Reverend, features an extra strong dose of gospel that intersects with the blues. Davis always sought to speak the truth and it is certainly true that the lyrics in the songs he performed (often adapted from traditional verses) have never gone out of date, and indeed in several cases can be applied to present day events. This is exemplified by the haunting, ‘Death don’t have no mercy’, that might be a pertinent observation on the tragedy that has befallen victims of the recent Italian earthquake. The opener, ‘Samson and Delilah’, is a stunning number that had previously been recorded by Blind Willie John under a different title, ‘If I had my way, I would tear this building down’. One of eight children and raised by his grandmother, Davis was partially blind from childhood, but that only served to motivate him to seek a higher musical path as well as a religious one, and he was ordained a baptist minister in 1933. The rasping vocal delivery was in some respects uncompromising, yet still provided the perfect counterweight to his beautifully melodic guitar playing and the two combine on a song such as, ‘Pure religion’.

What is sometimes overlooked is how fine a guitarist the Reverend Davis was and he was largely self-taught and by the age of six was making his own improvised form of stringed instrument, made up of a pie pan and a broom stick. This is one of the most endearing aspects of the album as a whole. As a bonus, further RVG recorded songs dating from 1961 augment the original selection and of these, the heart warming, ‘Motherless children’ and the optimistic, ‘There’s a bright side somewhere’, stand out. As ever with Soul Jam releases, extremely generous timing at just over seventy-five minutes, extensive liner notes with three separate commentaries including the original line notes from Larry Cohn and numerous photos and album covers all make for unbeatable value for money.

Reverend Gary Davis was an influence on both his contemporaries such as Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee, but equally on countless subsequent musicians from Bob Dylan and Richie Havens through to Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and current folk-blues singer-songwriters of the calibre of Eric Bibb. Quite simply the music of Reverend Gary Davis represents one of the towering building blocks of twentieth century American folk music.

Tim Stenhouse

Hiromi Uehara ‎’Spark’ CD/DVD/DIG (Telarc/Concord) 3/5

hiromiOK, if there was a single criticism I would make of this and in fact most other Hiromi releases, it would be the covers. The covers give no clue to her talent as an extraordinary pianist & composer. I am a great believer in an album cover ‘drawing you in’ and have discovered many an artist over the years just by picking up the record based on the cover and reading the sleeve notes and taking a chance on it. Hiromi is a beautiful young lady but her talent is her playing and not her looks. This kind of marketing just feels a little regressive in my mind and detracts from the matter at hand and I feel could denigrate her as an artist.
I must admit coming to the ‘party’ late on Hiromi – I had only heard of her about 3 or 4 months ago via an online video. That video woke me up to an artist who has been recording & releasing music for 13 years now; who has duetted with Chick Corea and also recorded a trio album with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White.
The jazz piano trio format has come a long way since the days of Art Tatum, Nat King Cole and Bill Evans and now takes on an all-powerful edict that could rival a rock band.
The Hiromi sound does have a Neil Cowley Trio feel at times and when the group do veer towards a fusion direction, you will hear little murmurings of the aforementioned Mr. Corea.

This is the 4th outing as ‘The Trio Project’ with the UK’s own Simon Phillips on drums and ex Bob James bass man Anthony Jackson and the evidence of their continued success is clear – they work extremely well together and sound like a power trio to be reckoned with.
The title track of the album epitomises this – starting with a light piano theme which then opens up into a world of sound, rhythms and varying time signatures – her playing is always sharp and on point here and her 2 comrades do not let her down.
‘In a Trance’ seems to carry on where the previous left off – more odd time signatures but just upping the tempo and throwing in a little Afro-Cuban section in for good measure.

We take things a little easier on for ‘Take me Away’ & ‘Indulgence’ but the trio never lets you forget what they can do and throw in the odd tempo change and time shift.

The CD goes through this pattern on the other tracks with the track ‘Wake up & Dream’ being a solo piece sounding quite classical in its structure.

Overall, a nice album but not one that will leave a lasting impression on me. There are a couple of tracks that contain some use of synthesizers which sounds a little ‘clunky’ and a little too retro for my liking and that is a shame.

If you are a Hiromi fan then I don’t think you will be disappointed with this release. I for one cannot wait to hear what a future project could sound like.

Sammy Goulbourne

Ping Machine ‘Ubik’ CD/DIG (Neuklang) 3/5

Ubik-Cover-complet2.inddOne of the worst sins of a review is to suggest that a given record is that you’ll “love or hate it”, or in essence, “people have different tastes and I don’t really have an opinion”. Some albums are more tempting than others to lazily group into that critique limbo. The sentiment is a rather Pontius Pilate move. Go out and buy it yourself because I don’t care enough to lay my cards on either side of the fence. So, as an act of defiance against this kneejerkiness, I am going to endeavour to make some firm statements about Ubik by Ping Machine.
First, this is a composed album with a large ensemble. The arrangements are intentional, paced with purpose and performed the same. I shan’t list the instruments involved. A large cluster of the usual suspects, saxes of all types, marimbas, percussion, brass are all present. A couple of notable mentions are some cracking distorted bass guitar and the use of electronics within the familiars.
Broken up into fourteen tracks, Ubik seems to be a unified whole, just marked out by the tracks. Almost all blend into each other either by actual sound or by a continuing motif or chord sequence. The overall effect is one of a wider piece, performed in one take. Whether or not this is the practical truth is neither here nor there, the record flows as one.

The tracks have no names to give any sort of thematic background or conceptual framework. This is a surprising piece that, jumps and starts, fits and burbles at you. Moments of cinematicism (why not? Try that word on your uncle, yeah?) abound across all tracks from frantic to melancholy to fraught to comfort. And there are even leitmotif bookends, framing the whole scattergun affair. Bursts of wind and brass punctuate very free composition. There is very little melodically to hold onto from moment to moment, shifting tone and harmony as it feels.

Some of Ubik is genuinely thrilling. I especially enjoyed the distorted bass riding underneath a driving ensemble. As a counterpoint to more familiar “jazz” sections (and I say familiar loosely), there are effective dynamic shifts that pushed the right buttons. They were, however, too few and far between for me. At just over an hour in length, I felt my patience dwindle and crave for either more variation or more identity. This record wriggled and squirmed with my attention, and where that can be fun and thrilling, I was ready to finish (only slightly) before Ping Machine were.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Sounds of Denmark festival


In September 2016 PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB in Soho, London will host a remarkable new festival of Danish Jazz called ‘Sounds of Denmark’. Eleven Danish groups (including double-bills and special UK guests) will perform in the seven-day festival, representing the dynamic Danish jazz scene, including both established names and exciting new talent.
Sounds of Denmark is a collaboration between JazzDanmark, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Sue Edwards Management and the Danish Embassy in London.

Friday 16th September – MORTEN SCHNOZ GODSPEED


Saturday 17th September – PHRONESIS

Sunday 18th September – HESS/AC/HESS SPACELAB

Sunday 18th September – HESS IS MORE

Monday 19th September – MANISCALCO/BIGONI/SOLBORG featuring guest EVAN PARKER

Tuesday 20th September – SIMON TOLDAM TRIO / MADHAS (double bill)

Wednesday 21st September – JAN HARDBACK QUARTET

Thursday 22nd September – GIRLS IN AIRPORTS

All performances take place at:
Tel: 020 7439 4962

Various ‘The Beat of Brazil: Brazilian Grooves from the Warner Vaults’ (Stateside) 4/5

untitledThe end of the Rio Olympics is nigh and in spite of various reservations voiced, from a cultural perspective, the Games have afforded a wider public the opportunity to sample some Brazilian music, which is where this latest compilation comes in. Warner recorded some of the all-time greats at key periods in their careers and this anthology, compiled by Warner Brother archivist Florence Halfon (who elsewhere is the mastermind behind the excellent and extensive classic Atlantic jazz re-issue series), covers both the obvious highlights and more besides. All tracks feature their original album cover and individual track details provided which helps fill in the bigger picture.
One of the greatest of all Brazilian singers, and arguably the greatest female vocalist, was Elis Regina and despite her tragic death aged thirty-six in 1982, she nonetheless managed to pack over twenty years of an illustrious career into her relatively brief life. A major end of career high was reached when Regina recorded a live album as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival and fans of Tania Maria will warm to the funkier edge to the instrumental accompaniment. Two examples from that historical recording are included here with ‘Upa, Neguinho’ a virtual signature tune while ‘Madalena’ is almost on a par with the immortal duet album with Tom Jobim, ‘Elis e Tom’ from 1974. The latter rightly features here and outside Brazil is referred to by his full name of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but Brazilians hold him and his music dear to their hearts and affectionately call him ‘Tom’. Little wonder, then, that one of the major airports in Rio is named after him. Jobim is better known as a towering composer, and in this journalist’s estimation, on a par in his contribution to twentieth century music with Duke Ellington and Igor Stravinsky. Here, the sumptuous arrangements of Nelson Riddle (who famously arranged for Frank Sinatra) fit like hand in glove with the smooth vocalising of Tom on ‘She’s a Carioca’, and Jobim’s wordless scat ad-libbing is simply priceless. A second offering, ‘Berimbau’ is almost as good.

In general, the compilation focuses on instrumental Brazilian music with a strong jazz influence and Herbie Mann delivers an authentic samba-inflected jazz groove on ‘Groovy samba’, that is taken from a gorgeous album ‘Latin Fever’ (see other review) that demonstrates that when Mann was paired with authentic Brazilian musicians as here with Sergio Mendes and Bossa Rio, featuring Dom Um Romão on percussion and Paulo Moura on alto saxophone, he was a difficult act to follow.

A discovery from 1974 that is on collectors want lists is the delicious keyboard-led ‘Eu Bebo Sim’ from Osmar Milito with duet vocals while for fans of Rio funk, the Earth, Wind and Fire inspired, ‘Funky Samba’ and ‘Maria Fumaça’, are unrivaled slices of jazzy Brazilian funkadelica from Banda Black Rio. Early Azymuth feature on one of their earliest late 1970s albums, with a homage to Brazilian percussion instruments on, ‘Tamborim, Cuica, Ganza, Berimbau’ and the melodic, ‘Circo Marimbondo’. From a non-Brazilian approach, pianist Eddie Cano is better known for his Afro-Cuban jazz contributions, but on this occasion the relaxed reading of Edu Lobo’s ‘Reza’, with saxophonist Nino Tempo works wonders as does Cano teaming up with Louie Ramirez on ‘Barsanova Brown’.

Only the excessively slow rendition of a re-titled, ‘The Boy From Ipanema’, by Mary Well sounds out-of-place, laudable though her vocals may be. A minor quibble is the absence of the outstanding pairing of Frank Sinatra with Antonio Carlos Jobim and that album is highly recommended, and perhaps an example of a left-field groove from multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. On the other hand, the gentler sounds of maestro Joao Gilberto are quite possibly best sampled on various Warner Brother albums, with the self-titled 1991 recording with arrangements by Clare Fischer worthy of any Brazilian aficionado’s collection. Otherwise, a near perfect trip into musica brasileira and one that will lead on to other discoveries, which is surely what the very best compilations are all about. The album is promoted by a double A side 45 with Airto Moreira’s ‘Celebration Suite’ and Gilberto Gil’s samba-disco hit, ‘Maracatu Atomico’, a great way to introduce yourself to Brazilian music for more casual listeners.

Tim Stenhouse

Jeff Parker ‘New Breed’ LP/CD/DIG (International Anthem) 3/5

jeff-parkerJeff Parker’s take on music is most succinctly articulated by the artist himself on the landing page of his website – “I’m mainly a guitar player. I like to make music in many different ways”. This pick and mix approach took hold early on. As a kid he played in jazz and rock bands and whilst fellow Berklee graduates Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner took the well trodden route to New York, Parker decided to go in the opposite direction, to Chicago. Here he found himself actively involved in a number of different scenes, loosely connected by their experimental nature. Parker’s resumé to date encompasses improvised jazz with fellow AACM members Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell and Ernest Dawkins, avant-garde sounds with the Chicago Underground Collective, as well as post-rock, with bands like Tortoise and Isotope 217°. Most recently Parker featured heavily on label mate, Makaya McCraven 2015 release, “In the Moment”.
“New Breed” is Parker’s fifth album as a leader. The compositional process started out as a series of beats and loops that Parker has been working on whilst he was learning how to edit and sample like his hip-hop heroes Dilla, Premier and RZA. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013/14, in part because he needed new musical challenges, and revisited these projects, building the compositional ideas and sharing them with his collaborators, bassist Paul Bryan, drummers Jamire Williams and Jay Bellerose (who appears on one track, a cover of the late Bobby Hutcherson’s “Visions”), saxophonist Josh Johnson. Parker enlisted his daughter Ruby to sing on the only vocal track, “Cliche”.

Overall the sound has a low tech, DIY feel to it, looped samples embellished with a mixture of composed and improvised playing. Tracks like “Here Comes Ezra” and the aforementioned “Cliche” retain that art-pop/post-rock vibe Parker has picked up during his time with Tortoise. Elsewhere the tone is funkier, with emphatic drumming underpinning Parker’s jazzy, lyrical stylings (think Grant Green or early George Benson) on “Get Dressed” and “How Fun it is to Year Whip”.

I have to admit that having read generally good media reviews before listening to the album I was somewhat underwhelmed by the results. The tone is a little too low-key, and as a whole isn’t really expansive or colourful enough to elevate any of the tracks beyond a fairly half-hearted OK. “Jrifted” is a good case in point. It samples a personal favourite, Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming”, and therefore could easily have been the track to turn round my apathy, but it seems to run out of ideas towards the end looping into a repetitive round of drums and guitar licks. A sure sign that my attention was not being held was that after a while I found myself getting slightly distracted by the heavy, metronomic drumming on this and other tracks.

For me this album throws out some interesting ideas without blowing me away in their execution. The search for the perfect cross of jazz with hip-hop continues..

Andy Hazell

Coffee – Slippin’ and Dippin’ (BBR) 3/5

coffeeBest known in the UK for the disco stormer, ‘Casanova’, included here in its full length 12″ version, Coffee were in actual fact a deeply soulful trio of female singers (not dissimilar in some respects to The Emotions) hailing from that most soulful of cities, Chicago, and were far more adept and diverse at soul music than at first appears. If anything, the success of ‘Casanova’ conceals their true musical roots and confined them at the very end of the disco era. What should have been a modern soul classic in ‘Mom and Dad (1980)’ with classy spoken intro became resigned to a medium hit in their home city, reworking the 1969 original by The Lovelites. The same re-interpretation would result in their defining moment for ‘Casonova (Your Playing Days Are Over)’ was first of all a 1967 hit for Ruby Andrews who made a top ten R&B hit out of it, before a second and, for some definitive version, was cut by then deep southern soul diva Loleatta Holloway (soon to be crowned a disco diva) in 1975 on the superb album, ‘Cry to me’. Coffee modernised the sound again with a driving, relentless percussive beat and the rest is history.
In truth nothing on the album’s uptempo numbers eclipsed ‘Casanova’, but a close second choice can be found in, ‘Can’t you get to this’, which has a proto-boogie bass line. It was, however, the title track that became the actual follow up and once again was a heavyweight slice of disco on the soulful side, but not quite on par with its predecessor. A second album followed for De-Lite records that failed to deliver a hit and the group were subsequently dropped from the label. Had Coffee been nurtured by an independent soul label, then we might have heard a great deal more of their music and they briefly recorded for the Chicago Midwest label directly prior to signing for De-Lite in 1979. As it is, their modern soul credentials were lost in the hedonistic disco era and their true soulful vibes somewhat overlooked and undervalued.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘DJ Spinna presents Wonder of Stevie Vol. 3’ 2LP/2CD/DIG (BBE Music) 4/5

DJspinnaRe-workings of Stevie Wonder classics is very much de rigueur this summer with the man himself performing for some four hours live in London, performing, ‘Songs in the key of life’, in its entirety. This latest volume by musician, producer and vinyl crate digger, DJ Spinna further delves into the archives and proves, if nothing else, that there is a seemingly bottomless pit of alternatives to the original compositions. However, DJ Spinna goes one step further by including a Billy Preston original in the Stevie Wonder tradition that features the latter on harmonica and background vocals.
One of the enduring elements of the Wonder magic from the 1970s was Stevie’s ability to soak up new musical trends and incorporate them into his own distinctive sound. Latin music in New York was enjoying a new golden era with Salsa and ‘Pastime Paradise’ reflected that infectious percussive beat. While Ray Barretto’s take on this is still the definitive re-take (arguably even stronger than the original), Sunlightsquare offer up a wonderful updated Reggaeton meets Salsa interpretation, with a stunning bass line coupled with beefy Latin percussion. Bossa hues are evident on ‘Golden lady’ from Reel People featuring Tony Monrelle on vocals, with fender and synths an affectionate harking back to the 1970s even though this version dates from 2011.

Carl Anderson scored an early 1980s underground soul hit with the breezy version of ‘Buttercup’, but interestingly the Jackson Five with Michael on lead had beaten him to it with an excellent 1970s interpretation that sounds as though the brothers were now past the Motown pop-oriented sound and entering more sophisticated musical terrain with Philly soul a next destination. For a left-field contender, look no further than the John Minnis Big Band and, You’re in need of love today’. The Donny Hathaway influenced lead vocals are a joy to behold and the jazzy keyboards add a new dimension to the song. Elsewhere the Latin shuffle in the drum intro to, ‘If you don’t love me’ by G.C. Cameron impresses, while Stax flavours emerge loud and clear from David Porter’s emphatic and gritty reading of ‘I don’t know why I love you’.

Finally, if this writer had to whittle down some memorable Stevie Wonder covers, then they would probably include Michael MacDonald’s ‘Living for the city’, The Players Association’s instrumental take on ‘ I wish’ in addition to the aforementioned Ray Barretto English language slice of Latin-soul. Part of the fun of this kind of compilation is that it immediately invites comparisons elsewhere and on this score alone, is more than worth the admission price.

Tim Stenhouse

Clarice & Sérgio Assad ‘Relíquia’ CD/DIG (Adventure Music) 5/5

clarice-segio-assadThis album got me thinking about the significance of family relationships in music. Am I the only one who thinks there must be something in the fact that there are quite so many familial connections in popular Brazilian music? The offspring of hugely successful artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Luiz Gonzaga have followed in their illustrious parent’s footsteps. There are also sibling links, take for example Caetano Veloso/Maria Bethânia, Quarteto Em Cy, Chico Buarque/Miúcha (who was also married to João Gilberto with whom she had Bebel Gilberto). Whatever the reasons for this, and I’m sure there are different stories to tell, I’m sure that nurture is an important factor. This sense seems to be validated by “Relíquia”, a magical album written and performed by Clarice and her father Sérgio as a “homage” to the musical legacy of their family. This idea is established before a single note has been played, by the evocative portrait on the front cover of a young Clarice staring off into the distance, either unaware of the attention of the camera or doing her defiant best to feign disinterest whilst her father tries to capture the perfect moment with his daughter.
Sérgio is one of the most eminent classical guitarists around today, regularly performing with his younger brother Odair, with whom he has won two Latin Grammys. His repertoire spans music from Brazil and elsewhere in South America as well as Jazz and Classical genres. Clarice’s musical path has taken a similar direction, with a string of jazz/brazilian albums behind her, as well as writing, performing and arranging classical music, working most recently as the resident arranger for the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

The music crafted for this album is at times spellbinding, an exquisite blend of Jazz, Choro, Bossa Nova and Classical. It’s uncomplicated, by which I mean it’s elemental rather than lacking twists and turns. Essentially it’s father and daughter and a couple of instruments. Making good music can be that simple at times. Okay, maybe I make this sound a little too simple; there are supporting musicians on some of the tracks but the sound and inspirations come from Clarice and her father.

Clarice sings and/or scats on five of the compositions. Her style is intimate, emotional, her phrasing and emphasis perfect. If you are looking for a point of reference then Joyce would be a good start, although Clarice’s timbres have stronger inflections of Jazz. Her use of scat and other vocalisation techniques, influenced by her aunt, singer/songwriter Badi Assad, adds different and interesting textures. Sérgio’s guitar playing is enchanting, creating wonderfully colourful and detailed melodies, conveyed with nuance, virtuosic subtlety and grace. Together there is an easy, unforced chemistry, not so much father – daughter, but a meeting of equals.

There are a couple of up-tempo numbers, the opener “Cidade”, and the lively “Capoeira”, which builds with the same speed, power and intensity as a jogo de Capoeira. Mainly though this is an album of sensitivity, sentimental without being cloying, of gentle songs that are most rewarding when you can give them your full attention, not on a packed train on the way to work or whilst mowing the lawn. The highlight for me is “Ventos”. It’s a stirring, wonderfully evocative piece featuring Clarice on piano and wordless, inventive vocals. It’s at once uplifting and flighty, before switching, as wind does, into something more ominous, and then just as quickly switching back again. I’ve listened to this album a lot over the past couple of weeks and this tune still has the power to stop me in my tracks.

The concepts of family and legacy are specifically addressed in two solo compositions written in the choro style, the self-explanatory “Song For My Father” featuring Clarice on the piano, and “Jorginho do Bandolim”, written by Sergio for his father, but in truth the whole album reverberates with sentiments of familial affection.

Too late I found out that Clarice was playing at The Pheasantry in Chelsea. Until she comes to the UK again I’ll have to content myself with as well-rounded and consistently strong album as I’ve heard this year.

Andy Hazell