Tom Syson Sextet ‘Green’ (Self-released) 5/5

Although Tom Syson’s debut release is entitled ‘Green’, Tom himself has donned a coat of many musical colours to bring the listener a kaleidoscope of sound.

The opening track, ‘Constant’, although short, seems to act as a fanfare, introducing us to Tom’s abilities. Although the cover art on the CD depicts various blossoms, it is clear that Tom is certainly no shrinking violet. We have powerful declarations along with Rex Stewart like half-valve effects. But the trumpeter also has a strong grasp of the contemporary jazz trumpet language. He cites Blue Note recording artist Ambrose Akinmusire as an influence along with a master from an earlier generation – Dizzy Gillespie.

The second piece ‘Bamberg’ is a much more considered almost pastoral piece of work. Here the sextet work particularly well together. There is a sensitive solo from pianist David Ferris. At times, throughout the course of the album, I’m reminded of the work of fellow trumpeter Colin Steele.

Tom graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in 2015 and since then has dedicated himself to building a thriving jazz career and enhancing the jazz scene in his home county of Bedfordshire. However, he has retained and capitalized upon the links that he forged with fellow musicians on the thriving Birmingham jazz scene. The Sextet includes names familiar to Midlands audiences. In addition to David Ferris we hear from guitarist Ben Lee, himself a rising star of the local jazz scene, fellow Birmingham graduate and long-time collaborator, Vittorio Mura on tenor sax, the ubiquitous Jonathan Silk at the drums and the only non-Birmingham graduate in the group, Pete Hutchison on double bass. All of the musicians are well used to working together and clearly familiarity breeds content.

All ten compositions on the album are by Syson and each have a specific story attached. For instance, ‘Bamberg’, a town in Northern Bavaria, is a place with happy associations for Tom dating back to school music exchange visits. The title track ‘Green’ is named after a road leading to his home village, the song summing up the feeling one has when returning home. ‘Bluebells’ was written whilst sitting amongst them.

Perhaps the most adventurous track on the album is ‘Raindrops’ featuring vocalist Lauren Kinsella and which depicts Syson’s struggles with anxiety and how it has affected him.

All of the pieces create very evocative pictures in sound. I particularly enjoyed ‘Far From Boundaries New’ with exceptional playing all round with Syson and Mura in particular building up a fine head of steam.

The leader and Silk flex their musical muscles on ‘Leroy the Tiger’.

In addition to leading his own Sextet, Syson is also a member of the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra which also has a recording out. The sextet will be touring extensively over the next two months and so there will be ample opportunity to hear them in action playing the wonderful music from this recording.

Alan Musson

Vibe Out: FRANCE


Éric Legnini – The Parkway feat. Michelle Willis
Aqua Bassino – Jay’s Vibes
Philippe Petit / Miroslav Vitous – Swing 89
MeTaL-O-PHoNe – Robosticks
Yaron Herman Trio – Isobel
Lionel Belmondo / Hymne Au Soleil – Priere Pour Le Salut De Mon Ame
Paris Jazz Underground – Pollock
Stéphane Kerecki Trio – Lunatic
Stéphane Belmondo – Turn Around Go Deep
Florian Pellissier Quintet – Valse pour Helene
Permutants – La promenade de Devil (Live)
Edmond Bilal Band – M’Brabouch
Ahmad Jamal – Marseille feat. Abd Al Malik
Laurent Marode – Wives and Lovers
Christophe Wallemme – Opus 5
Note Forget – Et la nuit irisée
Alexis Avakian – Hi Dream
Adrien Chicot – Backpack
Silent Poets – Check L’Intellect
Troublemakers – God Bless Billie
Thomas De Pourquery Supersonic – Sons of Love
Anthony Jambon Group – Day Off
Josiah Woodson – 4_Terre
Rupture – Alice aux Miroirs

Burning Sounds Latest

Mighty Maytones ‘Madness’/’Boat to Zion’ (Burning Sounds) 5/5

Twinkle Brothers ‘Rasta Pon Top’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

Linval Thompson ‘Rocking Vibration’/’Love is the Question’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

The Burning Sounds label was one of the major roots reggae players in the UK in the 1970s and the re-issuing for the very first time on CD (a limited number did come out via Trojan, but this was by no means comprehensive) is a welcome addition to the catalogue, especially at a time when roots reggae releases are somewhat thin on the ground, at least albums. What is more, the new re-issues are terrific value for money since they invariably contain two albums on one CD, though the Twinkle Brothers album is an exception to that rule

Arguably, the pick of the bunch is the Mighty Maytones and the vocal duet of Vernon Buckley and Gladstone Grant enjoyed an early UK pop chart hit in the early 1970s with, ‘Black and white’. However, by the mid-1970s the sound was strictly roots and from this emerged one of the definitive examples of the genre in, ‘Madness’. The apocalyptic cover could just as easily symbolize the current schizophrenia in the world of politics. Recorded with a crack set of studio musicians under ace producer, Alvin ‘G.G’. Ranglin, this album is quite simply required listening for anyone who wishes to understand the socio-political undercurrent to reggae music in the 1970s and the lyrics are as prescient now as they were then.

Previously released on vinyl in the UK via Vista Sounds, ‘Rasta pon top’, is the debut album by the Twinkle Brothers, who are in reality the brother pairing of Norman Grant (drums and vocals) and Ralston grant (rhythm guitar and vocals). Their professional debuts go way back to 1962 and during the 1960s they cut several 45s for various producers including Duke Reid and Leslie Kong. This debut album, however, was released on their own Grounation label and is crammed with roots reggae delights, with key tracks including, ‘Give rasta praise’ and ‘Beat them Jah Jah’. While there are no extra songs on this re-issue, the four pages of historical background is extremely useful and the inner sleeve contains graphics of both the original Vista Sounds album cover and a long-lost gem in a 45 from the album that Rough Trade issued at the time.

Finally, producer and singer Linval Thompson is showcased from his period as a lead singer and we hear the contrasting sides to his career, both as a roots singer and as one of love songs. Thompson is, perhaps, best known in Europe for his anthem to ganja, ‘I love marijuana’, from 1978 and both albums here date from the same year. Recorded at a combination of Channel One studios and King Tubby’s, featuring the highly innovative rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, ‘Rocking vibration’, captures Thompson at his roots zenith, while the second album, ‘Live is the question’, still features a roots reggae instrumental accompaniment, but with secular lyrics. Linval Thompson was one of those musicians who effortlessly straddled the transition from roots reggae to dancehall and, in truth, he could operate equally effectively in either. As a producer, Linval Thompson would go on to enjoy his biggest hit for Freddie McGregor in 1982 with, ‘Big ship’.

Tim Stenhouse

Lars Danielsson ‘Liberetto III’ (ACT) 4/5

Bassist Lars Danielsson has built up a reputation as one of the finest jazz musicians in Scandinavia and this new release merely enhances that point of view. The band have been together since 2012, but there is one departure and new arrival in the piano spot. Tigran has departed to engage on his own career, but in his place is one of the most impressive pianists to emerge in French-Caribbean Grégory Privat. His contribution along with the all round excellence of the main quartet is one of many highlights on this wonderfully cohesive recording that has a Spanish undercurrent, yet with several nods to Scandinavian and American jazz influences. The band members include John Parricelli on guitar, EST drummer/percussionist Magnus Öström and, boosting the original line-up, an unusual horn combination that works extremely well of trumpeter Arne Henriksen (who has recorded with ECM) and oboist d’amore Björn Bohlin, while Dominic Miller operates on largely acoustic guitar. All the original compositions are penned by the leader and impressive they are too.

An absolute treat is the piece, ‘Dawn Dreamer’, which owes a debt of gratitude to EST and is the prettiest of melodies with fine work in tandem between piano and guitar, and the most delicate of solos from Privat. That EST melodicism is equally present on, ‘Lviv’, with lovely phrasing once again from Privat. This writer especially warmed to the combination of Mediterranean as well as Scandinavian influences, and it is indeed the former that are heard on the graceful, ‘Mr Miller’, with the drumming immediately evoking Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’. Meanwhile, echoes of Paco de Lucía surface on the flamenco guitar driven mid-tempo piece, ‘Taksim by Night’, while more obviously, ‘Sonata in Spain’, is a gorgeous flowing number with an empathetic rapport between piano and guitar and flamenco flavours abound here too.

More reposing hues are to be found on, ‘Agnus Dei’, with trumpet and English horn deployed in unison and with wordless vocals, or at least a sound resembling the human voice. On the opener, ‘Preludium’, trumpet and oboe d’armore feed off one another in some excellent trading of notes. Quite simply, this is one of the strongest new releases of the year thus far and is bursting at the seams with Mediterranean influences that effortlessly fuse with the native Scandinavian folk music that Lars Danielsson has grown up with.

Tim Stenhouse

Jørgen Emborg Quartet feat. Mathias Heise ‘What’s left?’ (Stunt) 3/5

Danish pianist and all round keyboardist Jørgen Emborg has been composing and performing since the 1970s, but in the 1980s was the principal writer for the jazz-rock group Frontline. However, his more straight ahead jazz credentials were earned as a member of both the Danish Radio Big band and the Swedish Tolvan Big Band. Here, we find him in a smaller chamber group setting with harmonica player Mathias Heise on an all original set of compositions. rather than being an exotic add-on to proceedings, the sound of the harmonica is an integral part of the band sound and offering sympathetic support are Peter Hansen on bass and Karsten Bagge on drums.

In general, the pieces are deeply melodic with the leader standing out. This writer appreciated the freshness of approach on, ‘Sudden exit’, with some lovely blues inflections. The playing on the ballad, ‘Wait for the sign’, is both refined and sensitive with piano and harmonica combining well. In contrast, the opener, ‘Snowballs and sleigh bells’, is bright and breezy in outlook. Toots Thielmans has clearly been an influence on the thinking of both Emborg and more particularly, Heise. It comes as little surprise, then, that homage should be paid to the sadly departed Belgian musician with, ‘Song for Toots’. Nothing too revolutionary here, but an extremely enjoyable listening experience nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Terri Shaltiel ‘Sweet Thing’ (Private Press) 3/5

Back in November 2014 uk vibe gave the public a brief introduction to a young, dynamic, Northern based funky, blues ‘n’ soul singer/songwriter/musician who at the time was courting crowd-funding in order to bring her debut album to market. Well Terri Shaltiel is proof positive that persistence overcomes resistance. 2017 sees the manifestation of that dream in the form of a tangible seven track CD album entitled ‘Sweet Thing’.

The album kicks off with the feisty, punchy and ‘in your face’ ‘This Bitch’ with the horn section and Hammond organ duelling it out whilst Ms Shaltiel exercises her lungs to the fullest. Track 3 ‘Lose My Mind’ has a languid, lazy, bluesy lilt which is well-suited to Shaltiel’s earthy vocal tones. This bluesy, even paced vibe rolls over into ‘Fatherless Child’ an overt nod it seems in the direction of two of Terri Shaltiel’s prime influences i.e Marva Whitney and Etta James. Midway through the track changes gear to a bossa nova number entitled ‘Daddy’ which while pleasant is not the best musical vehicle for Shaltiel’s unique vocal styling.

Normal business is resumed on ‘Daddy Bad’ where both the band and the main protagonist let loose the shackles with a full on attack on the senses with those incessant horns pushing to the front culminating in a powerful saxophone solo from Atholl Ransom. The standout track for this scribe is the sublimely bluesy ballad ‘One of These Days’ which harnesses all of Ms Shaltiel’s expressive and distinctive vocal qualities and range as well as her proficiency as a guitarist. Furthermore Malc Deakin’s emotive Hammond organ playing is a constant undercurrent throughout giving the track that authentic old school blues tinge. The album finishes as it began with another feisty offering as an outro in the form of ‘Now I’m Gone’. As with most vocalists Terri Shaltiel’s talent is best experienced in the live arena where her intensity, sassiness and connectivity with the audience can be fully appreciated. However, as an introduction to an extremely talented songwriter, producer, singer and musician whose star is yet to ascend to its fullest height ‘Sweet Thing’ is a commendable debut release.

Michael J Edwards

Minco Eggersman ‘Kavkasia’ (Volkoren) 5/5

Minco Eggersman, a drummer by original trade, has over the years developed as a musician from singer-songwriter at the crossroads of Americana and Alternative, into a soundtrack composer for film. Whatever the genre or field of musical pursuance however, one cannot fail to hear his heart in the music that he makes.

“Kavkasia” was born from a four-wheel drive trip that Eggersman and his wife took into Georgia. The resulting music on this album is stunningly beautiful and perfectly reflects the search for beauty, fortitude and rest, deep into the Caucasian mountains. The rugged, broken landscape, in which each sound and every impression pervades one’s very pores, landed him a mixture of humility and comfort.

The music throughout this recording is minimalistic in nature, yet really captures the imagination in a spellbinding way. Ambient, atmospheric, spiritual, touching, graceful, enlightening and richly rewarding, Eggersman’s “Kavkasia” breathes with its very own life and passion, evocatively filling the heart with gentle contemplation, whilst refreshing the soul with a joyous, ethereal sense of belonging.

How often does an album come along that is just so different…in such a good way? Very rarely. I can hear such a breadth of musical influences in the composer’s music, but this is perhaps something that every listener will find- each in a different way. For me, there are hints of Brian Eno, Jan Garbarek, Talk Talk, John Martyn, Robert Stillman… a subtle blend of contemporary classical, ambient, jazz, folk, experimental…I could go on. But essentially, every listener will hear something different – this doesn’t matter. What matters is the music itself. Immerse yourself in it and you’ll get lost in its beauty, it’s as simple as that.

The album begins with “Hidden In Clouds” with its soft piano and gorgeous hovering strings that rise and fall, leading into “The Crossing Place” with its solo East-meets-West sounding viola, driven on by a beating heart with lush strings and subtle electronics gracefully touching one another as the tune’s beautiful melody breaks through. The music is largely instrumental, but “Dance” gives us the first vocal track. Acoustic guitar and orchestra offer the backdrop to this stunning piece of music. The vocal delivery sits somewhere between Eno and Talk Talk, with the incredible choice of harmony on the chorus reminding me very much of an early 70’s David Gilmour on Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. It’s melancholic yet uplifting all at the same time. “The Black Sea” is like a harmonic version of the trumpet voluntary. Very simple, but as with all of this album, so exquisitely executed in a wonderfully musical way. If John Martyn (in thoughtful, instrumental mood) had met Jan Garbarek (in sparse Nordic mood), then “Holy Ground” would have been the resulting piece of music. Incredibly moving. “The Other Side Of Dawn” could be an Enio Morriconi composition from a pseudo Spaghetti Western. Its jangly guitar and rousing orchestration pull on the heart strings and create the mood of a surreal final act as the juxtaposed imagery of the beautiful mountains clash with the harsh reality of the gunslinger’s dust-laden hard-set features. The church bells and organ of “Stepantsminda” make for a splendid, life-affirming statement as they journey into a lone, classical Indian voice on “Melisma & Gurian”, a tune that is perhaps reminiscent of the skillful musicality and production of Nitin Sawhney. This blends effortlessly into “Deda Ena” as the voice floats and drifts in and around acoustic guitar and strings. The longest track on the album, “Tbilisi Calls” takes the listener right into the heart of Eggersman’s journey, shining a light on how the natural landscape and a musician’s vision can come together in a mix of graceful creativity. “Mount Arafat” features voice, piano, bass and strings, and has a lovely deep, meaningful feel to it that is like a release of spiritual energy, as the final tune “Home Of The Brave” lifts the spirits once more.

“Kavkasia” is Minco Eggersman’s wonderful musical journey, yet in many ways it is a shared experience as it is one of those albums that lets the listener in as the music surrounds and embraces with its own landscape and tales to tell. Immerse yourself in it now.

Mike Gates

Watermelon Slim ‘Golden Boy’ (Dixie Frog) 4/5

Vocalist, harmonica and slide guitar player Watermelon Slim (aka William P. Homans) is an artist who defies conventional wisdom and this latest effort that was recorded in Canada features that craggy voice in a variety of blues settings, that ranges from rural folk to electric blues, and taking on board blues-rock guitar hues along the way. In any case, it certainly works as a cohesive whole with a 1930s retro feel to the opening number, ‘Pick up my guidon’. There are shades of Robert Johnson even on, You’re going to need somebody on your bond’, which is really a vehicle for Slim to demonstrate what a fine slide guitarist he truly is. Possibly the blues-rock element could be downplayed a tad, and gets in the way on, ‘Wolf cry’, complete with sound of wolves replicated at the start. Most interesting of all are the lyrics to a political satire on combatting the neo-far Right in the united States. The seemingly innocuous title, ‘WBCN’, turns out to be an event (imagined or fact, we do not know) in Miami in 1972 when negotiated talks with neo-Nazis proved to be futile and violence ensued. Watermelon Slim deserves great credit for capturing this dangerous and deeply unpleasant underbelly of US society in musical format. A lavish booklet accompanies the CD in gatefold sleeve with evocative black and white photos and full lyrics which makes for an excellent read. Another mean brooding song is, ‘Mean streets’, with electrified guitar. While this writer has a marked preference for the rootsier side of Slim’s repertoire, with the folk-blues of, Cabbage town’, an album highlight, it has to be stated in fairness that Watermelon Slim has a wide and expanding gamut of blues influences and is adept in using them. Mark this down as an authentic journey through the blues.

Tim Stenhouse

Robert Cray ‘Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm’ (Jay-Vee) 4/5

Soul-blues man extraordinaire does the logical thing and devotes a whole project to rekindling the classic Hi Sound of the early-mid 1970s that was personified by Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles, and not forgetting the daddy of them all, Al Green. The results are predictably excellent with what is left of the original Hi band members being supplemented by the neo-soul brass of the Royal Horns, and the sound, recorded at Willie Mitchell’s studio, is indeed an authentic and deliciously tasty Memphis soul-blues stew. The gatefold sleeve opens up to reveal a mural on a wall which reads, ‘I love soul’, under which Cray and band members hover. It pretty much sums up what this project is all about. A major guest in guitarist-singer-songwriter Tony Joe White features on two songs and adds just the right dose of swamp blues with a deeply soulful groove. Stand out tracks include the wonderful heavy bass line and percussion of, ‘You must believe in yourself’, while the understated delivery to a Bill Withers opus, ‘The same love that made me laugh’, is classic fodder for Cray to interact on with additional brass and guitar solo. White and Cray combine on the lovely, melancholic ballad written by the former, ‘Aspen, Colorado’, and White is still a wordsmith of some distinction judging by this excellent effort. Three originals by Cray round off a strong album all round and there are some inspirational gospel harmonies at play on the two-part, ‘I’m with you’, the second part of which ends the album on a high note with some gorgeous blues guitar. A recent UK tour has by his long-term fans and this new album is only likely to increase his flock of devotees further.

Tim Stenhouse

Terence Blanchard ‘The Comedian’ (Blue Note) 4/5

The music serves as the backdrop to the film soundtrack directed by Taylor Hackford and is worthy of your undivided attention in its own right since it includes a stellar line-up of musicians comprising Kenny Barron on piano, Ravi Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Carl Allen on drums and David Pulphus on acoustic bass as well as the leader on trumpet.
What makes this such an enjoyable listening experience is the unorthodox approach to essentially bop-influenced music. There is an absence of cliché and, at times, a brief incursion into freer form, though never straying to far away from melody. On the high speed, ‘Electricity’, the rhythm section operates in full flow. Barron is in his element on the trio-based number, ‘Kenny gets out’, with delightful interplay between pianist and bassist. Another winner of a tune is, ‘Jackie’s lament’, which has a gentle waltz-like groove with a lovely warm tenor solo from Coltrane, excellent use of unison horns and in general a slightly blues-inflected ambience. The whole quintet are in relaxed mode on, ‘Deli to soup kitchen’, which is notable for some inventive drum licks.

Blanchard is a film composer of some vintage having composed for George Lucas, Oprah Winfrey and not forgetting his lengthy collaborative work with Spike Lee. His lengthy tenure with the Blue Note labels stretches back well over a decade with, ‘Flow’ from 2005 and especially, ‘A tale of God’s will’, from 2007 stand out recordings.

Tim Stenhouse