John Coltrane ‘European Tour 1961’ 7CD Box Set (Le Chant du Monde) 4/5

The historical legacy of John Coltrane has been the subject of various bona fide studio recording re-evaluations in recent years, and more especially this year, which commemorates fifty years since he passed away. What though of his immense pantheon of live performances? Beyond the Village Vanguard sessions on Impulse!, official live albums are somewhat thin on the ground, and thus numerous bootlegs have surfaced of varying sound quality and dubious provenance, to fill the gap. Thankfully, an ethically conscientious label such as Le Chant du Monde has taken a less mercantile approach and has rightly sought to place these historically significant live concerts in some kind of logical order, properly annotated, with the best graphical illustrations as are currently available. A forthcoming 10CD box set will be devoted to Coltrane’s live output from 1962 alone, and this present collection is far from comprehensive for even 1961 since it does not include the UK dates that included Brighton, Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Newcastle. However, instead we are treated to two sets of concerts at the prestigious Olympia venue in Paris, and a series of concerts throughout northern Europe, including Germany and Scandinavia.

A key question is the actual disparate nature of the sound of the recordings and it has to be stated they are not uniform in quality, or even. Rather, Le Chant du Monde has digitally transferred the live performances and, in fairness, as the recordings progress in the box set, so does the quality. This was dependent in any case on the original master which tend to be radio broadcasts. Thus the Paris concerts are not of as clear a sound as those in either Germany or Scandinavia, whose radio stations tended to record them live on premier facilities available at the time.

That said, there is much to admire from what came to be known as the classic quartet (McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones) with the major addition of Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute. His presence alone makes this compelling listening, and CD 7 contains bonus tracks from 1960 concerts in Germany that is a de facto Miles Davis rhythm section of the time, minus the leader. In practice, the mainly standard repertoire features Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, with Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz guesting on individual tracks and almost thirty-five minutes of classic jazz, with an interesting reading of Monk’s ‘Hackensack’ and a medley of ballads.

Needless to say, several pieces are performed repeatedly, but the genius of Coltrane and his constituent band members was that they never played in quite the same manner and were sufficiently adept to find something new to say. This is certainly true of evergreen numbers such as ‘My Favourite Things’, which varies in tempo and length. Four contrasting takes on ‘Blue Train’, a crowd favourite for sure, while ‘Naima’ doubles in length in its two interpretations. It would be wrong to assume, however, that this was merely some endless blowing session. Coltrane was always an extremely sensitive musician and this is reflected here in his choice of standards for the quieter, more reflective moments. A delightful reading of Billy Eckstine’s ‘I Want To Talk About You’, is matched by a near twelve-minute take on ‘Delilah’.

One small caveat. The wonderful sleeve notes that have been carefully compiled with such loving detail are in french only. Wonderful for Francophiles such as this writer, but ideally these should be available in English too, particularly given that a wider jazz audience will be interested in finding out more about the recordings. A smaller 4CD ballad set of studio Coltrane recordings is available on the same label and for those just entering into the world of Coltrane, a useful starting point other than the key individual albums of which there are of course several.

Tim Stenhouse

Arthur Blythe ‘Lennox Avenue Breakdown’ / ‘In The Tradition’ / ‘Illusions’ / ‘Blythe Spirit’ 2CD (BGO) 5/5

The first of the two double CD packages from BGO devoted to the Columbia recordings of the late Arthur Blythe between 1978 and 1981, these are by far the very best and, in the current absence of an over-arching anthology of his work, the first place of call to explore the alto saxophonist’s most accomplished work. Blythe arrived to much fanfare at Columbia after a brief stint with indie label India Navigation (who also recorded Pharoah Sanders at his most spiritual) and this was a major league line-up of musicians, reflecting the importance that Columbia placed on Blythe’s status within the world of jazz. A rhythm section to die for comprised bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Jack DeJohnette, with Guillermo Franco on percussion. What marked Blythe’s sound out was the absence of piano and instead guitarist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer adds a distinctive blues touch while the brass accompaniment was anything but conventional with Bob Stewart on tuba and James Newton on flute. Be that as it may, this collective worked and cooked up a storm with a sumptuous samba on ‘Down San Diego Way’, opening the album to a tumultuous start, and fine work between Blythe and Newton. The inclusion of Bob Thiele as co-producer with the leader undoubtedly contributed to the freshness of the sound and that is no better illustrated than on the title track. Sleeve notes by the one and only jazz writer and critic, Stanley Crouch, illustrate just what an important figure Blythe was considered at a pivotal time when jazz had endured a prolonged period in the doldrums, but was about to be on the up with the arrival of Wynton Marsalis, the resurrection of Miles Davis, and the reactivating of some of the key labels of the 1950s and 1960s with an extensive re-issue programme that would introduce seminal jazz recordings to a younger audience.

A follow up album, ‘In The Tradition’, was somewhat misleading and could just as easily have been re-titled in the plural since Blythe astutely realised that there were several traditions and that he could carve out his own niche by weaving in and out of these, which is precisely what he did do on the recording. A delightful duo between pianist Stanley Cowell and Blythe on Waller’s ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ reinvigorated the standard, while the self-composed ‘Hip Dripper’ was both catchy and soaked in the blues. Furthermore, the staccato rhythm of ‘Break Tune’ was anything but traditional in tone. A fast-paced interpretation of ‘Caravan’ features some lovely piano rolls from Cowell. More impressive of all, a complete reworking of Coltrane’s ‘Naima’, which receives a frenetic treatment with tension between the rhythm section throughout.

The second CD begins with ‘Illusions’ which is, in many respects, a summation of the first two Columbia recordings and includes separate line-ups with and without piano. If ‘Slidin’ Through’ represents the more reflective side to Blythe, then ‘My Son Ra’ is the most personal of compositions, not alluding to the great Sun Ra as one might have expected, but rather a tribute to Blythe’s own son, Rashied. Blythe cut two versions of this piece and this is the second. A final album here, ‘Blythe Spirit’, features some interesting choices of standard material such as a classy reading of Errol Garner’s ‘Misty’ that starts off slow, then develops into a mid-tempo number with Blythe soloing. As ever, Arthur Blythe was an extremely versatile performer and, as a whole, that is how one should view these wonderful recordings. Traditional gospel is illustrated on ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ while even contemporary funk gets a brief look in on ‘Faceless Woman’. Highly recommended, terrific value and impeccable and extensive sleeve notes courtesy of Mojo writer Charles Waring, rightly situate Blythe in a wider historical context and his major contribution to the evolution of the alto saxophone post-Parker.

Tim Stenhouse

Wrongtom Meets The Ragga Twins ‘In Dub’ (Tru Thoughts) 3/5

Since the late 1960s…The answer was to simply use the instrumental cut of the tune as the B Side and call it the ‘version’, and by and large to this day remains the way with Jamaican 45s, saving the worry of the added expense in paying the band for a new recording and engineering costs for the flip side. As time went by, these simple ‘versions’, slowly but surely, became almost separate works in their own right, becoming dub versions. A whole new Jamaican originated art-form made by manipulating the original tracks used on the A Side mix, adding massive panned echos on a phrase or two from the original vocal track, dropping the bass line, echoing the drum track, heavy reverbs, filtering and all sorts of clever inventiveness with sometimes the version side simply being the drum & bass track riding solo; basically inventing the ‘riddim’, a word still used today with regards vocalists searching out their next backing track, also by adding new elements to the original recording, such as a saxophone part or organ shuffle over the existing version, dub certainly opened up possibilities with the mixing desk becoming an instrument in itself. The B Side became as revered as the A Side, especially for the ‘toasters’ or as they were originally called the ‘dee jays’.

Dub is all around today, not just in reggae or its inspired sub genres, its influence can be heard within the multi genre music world, and for those of us musicians who grew up musically in an era where dub albums from Jamaica and the UK (the mid 70s until the digital revolution in reggae music late 80s) were available in all record shops and were lovingly bought and studied, it remains a passion that one simply cannot shake off and its influence keeps on shining through almost 50 years after its emergence.

Over use of style?.. The plethora of DIY underground dub releases this past ten years or so has seen a few dozen absolute gems in innovation and content, idea’s and idiosyncrasies that firmly put such releases in the classic dub underground box, but there has also been over the past years a lot more releases, that in all honesty, are boring – ‘dub by numbers’, robotic loop dub releases with no originality of their own, copying by the book and not doing a very interesting job by doing so, seriously there are a lot of those out there.


‘Just A Dub’ introduces the album ‘In Dub’ by London resident reggae and dub producer Wrongtom, an album of dub versions to The Ragga twins album ‘In Time’, a long-standing association between the two outfits with a healthy back catalogue of releases behind them. I freely admit to having never listened to the Ragga Twins album ‘In Time’, so I am purely listening to this as a stand alone dub experience. Entry track ‘Just A Dub’ has a traditional sounding vibe, very much like that of Manchester’s Breadwinners, indeed for a moment I thought I had clicked on the wrong album to listen to, after this first piece however the similarity between the two big producers end and the Wrongtom dub sound enters the ear canal with the next piece, ‘The Same Dub Twice’, a high-grade JA foundation riddim re working with tape echo passion, that early 80s dub sparseness in sound, straight forward riddim track with playful voice echo mixing, he certainly knows his era’s.

It’s the third track that suddenly jolts me into serious headphone listening mode with ‘And Dub The Body’, a robotic sounding digital groove dubbed like old and it works. On first listen perhaps by an untrained ear one will just hear a robotic riddim track resembling a classic foundation beat, the “My Conversation” riddim to be exact, one of the two dozen or so JA Riddims that have been be reused, and perhaps argumentatively overused, for decades. The trick is of course to add something new to this formula, a touch of innovation, technique or era illusion, because albeit digital in delivery this piece firmly sits very happily inside 1984 pre digital sound, it is a masterful ‘two era’s sound blend’ with clever use of reverb deep down in the mix and a surreal off key sounding piano hook-line illusion to that of the original JA foundation hook. This piece also using that (now) old chestnut of the double tracked ghost bass effect in the mix.

Next up will please fans of the UK early 80s dancehall scene with the vocalised dub ‘Dubble Trouble’ begging to be “pulled up and come back again my selector” Saxon Sound System circa ’83 style, and very pleasing to the ears, good fun. We are pretty much trodding over well and truly tested ground, I guess this album needs to be heard in tandem with its vocal original to be appreciated fully, it is very entertaining and has a real nostalgic ambience to it for a certain genre in time most especially the piece entitled ‘Dub Capacitor’, which has a pure Scientist mixing vibe, a master of emulation.

Is it an underground classic? Well it’s certainly not boring, and of course the album will be supported by a handful of dub luminaries and commentators of today’s reggae music from both the underground and uptown scenes, overall an album rooted in the 1980s minimalist reverb heavy UK dancehall dub into Ragga scene. Possibly relying a tad too much on foundation riddims?.. Does it matter? It depends on what you want from your dub music today.

Gibsy Rhodes

Various ‘No More Heartaches’/’What Am I To Do?’ (Doctor Bird) 4/5

‘Skinhead’ or ‘Boss’ reggae may be a surprising and unusual sub-genre for some and one that may strike trepidation into the hearts of others. That need not be the case because in the late 1960s and early 1970s a whole sub-culture of British youths aping Kingston ‘rude boy’ attitude and sartorial style grew, and these two compilations are testimony to the sounds that these youths worshipped at the time.

Listened to in retrospect, they are superb examples of early reggae under producer Harry Johnson, and logically follow on from the rocksteady era with the smoother harmonies and slower sound of the rhythm section. If ‘No More Heartaches’ is the stronger of the two, that is because some key 45s were included and, for this author’s money, contains one of the most compelling singles ever cut in ‘Cuss Cuss’ by Lloyd Robinson. What makes the song so enticing is that in its use of percussion, it is a prototype of roots reggae. Elsewhere, harmony group The Beltones offer up the stunning title track, while another favourite comes from Glen Adams with the gorgeous production of ‘Rich In Love (version one)’, and Adams crops up again on ‘Lucky Boy’ as part of Glen and Dave.

The second album features another great harmony group in The Jamaicans with ‘Early In The Morning’, a terrific interpretation, while the lesser known Keble Drummond offers up a killer groove in ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. Instrumentals by the likes of King Cannon on both compilations adds some variety to the tropical mix.

As usual with Cherry Red, attention to detail is the name of the game on this wonderful double compilation, with full cover album sleeves, a plethora of various 45 labels of the singles and promotional posters for the then fledgling Trojan label. This is as much a social history of working class youths as it is a chronicle of early Jamaican reggae, with incisive and perceptive notes by author Marc Griffiths and Andy Lambourn, and that makes both the listening and reading experience all the more pleasurable.

Tim Stenhouse

Marcia Griffiths ‘Naturally’/’Steppin’ (Doctor Bird) 5/5

As if re-issuing some of the classic soul, funk and Brazilian grooves were not enough, Cherry Red have now started re-exploring the reggae archives and the great news for reggae fans is that they have unearthed two pairings of absolute classic from the early and roots eras.

If one could look to a parallel with Aretha Franklin in the world of soul music, then singer Marcia Griffiths would almost certainly be the ’empress of reggae’, and this wonderful duo of albums from the mid-1970s is an ample illustration of her vocal talents. For those not aware, Griffiths began her career at Studio One with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd at the helm, and cut some memorable sides on 45. Her career well and truly took off when she paired up with Bob Andy and their professional and personal relationship intertwined with a major pop hit in, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, with strings added on, and this was one of the earliest and finest examples of reggae crossing over to a mass audience in the UK. A next stage comprised forming an integral part of the I-Threes who became the backing vocalists to the Bob Marley band of the mid-late 1970s once both Pete Tosh and Bunny Wailer had left to pursue solo projects.

It is during this period that Marcia Griffiths returned to solo duties and cut as Sonia Pottinger’s studios the albums contained within. While some of the songs were updated versions of Studio One material, others were newly composed and, as a whole, they are definitive examples of roots reggae and, crucially, from a woman’s perspective. From the first album, ‘Naturally’, the message laden, ‘Survival’ is a stunning number, as is, ‘Mark My Word’. Throughout, the accompaniment is top of the draw with crisp drums and the lilting sound of the horns. If one song were to sum up Marcia Griffiths in this idiom, then it would have to be the Bunny Wailer penned, ‘Dreamland’. Anyone who has witnessed Marcia Griffiths live, and this author attended a marvellous concert as part of the Africa Oyé festival in Liverpool a few summers ago, then they will realise that the two albums here amount to a de facto greatest hits package, so loved are the individual songs. It is truly gratifying to finally see them together on one CD and some of the Black Echoes and Black Music reviews of the albums are included. An essential purchase.

Tim Stenhouse

Fred Hersch ‘Open Book’ CD/DIG (Palmetto) 5/5

In the sometimes seemingly overcrowded world of the contemporary jazz pianist, it must be difficult to make a lasting impression. I often think of Hersch as something of an unsung piano hero. He’s been ploughing a jazz furrow for many years. It’s only comparatively recently, however, that he seems to have carved his name in the jazz cannon with a number of accomplished releases. His favoured musical context is that of the conventional jazz trio or as a solo pianist, an area which seems to me particularly difficult to excel in. We can all think of any number of solo piano albums which fail to hold our attention throughout.

I think of Hersch as a cerebral player. But more often now we hear a more vulnerable Hersch, perhaps more concerned with the emotional side of music rather than being quite so introspective.

‘Open Book’ is the pianists eleventh solo album. Solo piano is an intimate task. The performer is exposed in a way that would not be the case in a trio context.

The opening piece ‘The Orb’ has an almost bitter-sweet element to it, especially when one learns that it comes from Hersch’s autobiographical music/theatre piece ‘My Coma Dreams’. This is tender and heart-felt music. The music here is reminiscent of fellow pianist John Taylor.

The pace picks up with Benny Golson’s tune ‘Whisper Not’ where the pianist has great fun deconstructing and reassembling the familiar theme. Indeed, he manages to avoid playing the tune until we reach the final minute of the piece. Great fun. The Jobim tune ‘Zingaro’ is next, starting with an introspective and considered introduction before the tune’s familiar theme hovers into view, but once again subtly re-caste by the pianist. Very delicate.

The albums’ tour-de-force is a nineteen minute-plus Hersch composition ‘Through the Forest’. This is at once intensely melodic and at times dramatic music. I questioned if such a piece would hold my attention but it certainly did. ‘Plainsong’ is next and is another pure delight.

Thelonious Monk’s ‘Eronel’ follows and after the near classical-sound of the previous piece, is much more light-hearted in its approach. The pianist soon dispenses with the tune and is off again on a wonderous flight of fancy. The album concludes somewhat unexpectedly with a simple yet majestic reading of Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’. This, almost hymn-like in its approach. A performance which cleansed the pallet following the multifarious delights exhibited throughout the rest of the recording.

If you are a fan of contemporary jazz piano of the highest order you will need this in your collection.

Alan Musson

Lord Echo ‘Harmonies’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Soundway) 4/5

We had ‘Melodies’ followed by ‘Curiosities’ and now, arriving at that well discussed situation that can be called ‘A trilogy’ a new album release by New Zealand resident, DJ and all-rounder musician Lord Echo with his latest offering ‘Harmonies’, a ten track straight from the soul experience.

As I have read somewhere before, “Lord Echo’s music imagines a world where Reggae, African soul and Latin rub their shoulders together” all true, it does exactly what it say’s on the tin.. however his music generates much more than this, it is an ‘ambiance formidable’ as the French would say, We have extremely well presented relishes available on this album such as very authentic sounding Lovers Rock – that wonderful old ‘named in London’ genre of reggae – we have also that original Jamaican genre known as Rock Steady circa ’67/’68 it has been 50 years since that genre of reggae hit the dancehalls and lawn party’s in JA and Lord Echo along with his entourage do a pretty good job at it with the piece “Note From Home” featuring fellow New Zealander Toby Laing from the ‘Fat Freddy’s Drop’ outfit. We have Soulful flutes and floating vocals, idiosyncratic jazz funk workout’s, indeed Lord Echo provides quite a decent musical backdrop to a cool dinner party, preferably in the garden just after dusk or that late Saturday afternoon vibe at home, the album on in the background nice and bassey whilst grooming one’s feathers ready for the Saturday evening meet up in clubland city.

Oh what the hell, you’re already in the pre club pub zone and quite a few people are commenting on the cool music coming through the speakers as track one delights ears, the album presents itself with “Whoa, There’s No Limit’, a harmonious downtown soul dipped instrumental piece featuring harmonies by golden voice Mara TK which is followed by a latin inspired lift up piece “Life On Earth” again featuring Mara – and as is the first few tracks – in semi instrumental mode, the scene is set, the ambience is on groove lockdown. This is not only a nice background album it is also an upfront album, a difficult feat to pull off, to cater for all, but the scene is set and we continue with third piece “The Sweetest Meditation” and with this we are in 1970s disco vibe ultra funk mode sounding a touch of Doobie Brothers style perfectly blended into the mix, I swear I can hear their distinctive vocal style and vintage ’74 phaser setting disco/funk keyboards in this piece, the riddim track kicks in rather much like DeeLite’s ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ with Mara TK riding the harmonies in full passion after which the melodies give way for a very Ozric Tentacles sounding club groove, a very interesting blend it has to be said. The fourth helping offered is called “Makossa No.3” a flute and saxophone (Lucien Johnson) led tight groover, a pure instrumental.

The same cool sound ambience yet a change of genre next for track 5 “Low To The Street” featuring Lisa Tomlins on vocals, here we have a nice piece of Lovers Rock circa ’78 in essence, featuring a very cool and laid back double length organ solo which plays out the last minute or so of the piece.

The album is running in now at around twenty three minutes of pleasure, the next ten minutes however feel a bit disjointed by contrast to the previous 5 tracks with both “In Your Life” and “Just Do You” – they being fine pieces as stand alone tunes – sound a tad out-of-place with what’s gone before, non the less we arrive back on track with 8th offering “C90 Eternal” a horn led idiosyncratic discoTech workout and again for some reason I am receiving an Ozric vibe.

The album finishes with two reggae inspired pieces; track 9 being the aforementioned nicely done Rock Steady number ‘Note From Home’ and finally another Lovers Rock inspired piece entitled “I Love Music” with Lisa Tomlins. We have ourselves here a multi genre laid back groove of an album, an album to appreciate ensemble, ‘Harmonies’ by Lord Echo has a smooth production and very vintage sounding instrumentation, the vocal and harmony work is outstanding, c’est une bonne ambiance.

Gibsy Rhodes

Taj Mahal and Keb Mo ‘Tajmo’ (Concord) 4/5

Pairings of musicians sometimes can be contrived and label-led, but not in this case and this is some of the most soulful contemporary blues you are ever likely to hear. Taj Mahal appears to be entering a whole new creative phase in his career and one in which he is solely interested in creating the music he truly loves. Recorded in Nashville and co-produced by the duo, Taj Mahal and Keb Mo team up for a thrilling excursion through various blues sub-genres and showcase their versatility in the process. Delta blues given a thoroughly modern reworking opens up the album on the Stax-influenced, ‘Don’t leave me here’, and this proves to be one of Taj’s finest vocal performances on the entire album, with some stabbing horns to accompany. Likewise, Keb Mo impresses on the mid-tempo soul-blues of, ‘Ain’t nobody talkin’, and here the Hammond B3 licks of Phil Madeira work a treat. In fact, there is an all-star cast of guest musicians on board including singer Bonnie Raitt, percussionist Sheila E and singer Lizz Wright.

A personal favourite is the pan-Caribbean and extremely percussive, ‘Soul’, with elements of blues, funk and reggae, and the horn section straight out of 1970s Earth, Wind and Fire. Gloriously uplifting music. Lizz Wright plays a largely supportive role on the laid back, ‘Om sweet om’, while there is some genuine acoustic folk-blues on the rousing hues of, ‘She knows how to rock me’, with call and response vocals between the main two vocalists. Catchy hooks, tight instrumental performances and a fine pairing of contrasting vocals predominate. The lovely combination of six originals is augmented by some interesting covers, no more so than a zydeco meets the blues interpretation of Pete Townshend’s, ‘Squeeze box’, with a strong, propelling beat.

This may just be a contender for contemporary blues album of the year and, with a little help, it could reach a wider audience and certainly deserves to do so.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Mad Mats Presents Digging Beyond The Crates’ 2LP/CD/DIG (BBE Music) 3/5

For over 20 years, London’s BBE has used the services of many DJs, producers and taste makers in compiling their large catalogue of specialist compilation albums. And for this set Swedish DJ Mad Mats hand-picks a variety of music styles and flavours from jazz, soul, house and electronica for quite a full-bodied release. For the uninitiated, Mats setup Raw Fusion Recordings in 2002, which was home to releases by Freddie Cruger, Simbad and Povo, in addition to the still productive G.A.M.M. label – home to a series of re-edits and remix releases including eternal DJ favourite Red Astaire’s ‘Follow Me’. More recently, Mat’s Local Talk label has been one of the few decent house labels around, even offering vinyl 12” pressings of their releases.

This 16-track compilation avoids the trendy approach of having very expensive and rare vintage records that many similar products deliver, but rather it focuses on lesser-known titles both old and new that may have slipped through the net, so to speak. These include Bobby Hebb (the original composer of ‘Sunny’) and ‘Evil Woman’, a brilliantly addictive jazz vocal 45 piece, Intimate Disco and ‘Animations’ with its ‎library disco production style from the not often talked about Ebonite label. Psalms ‘Take A Stand’ is a boogie-ish gospel release from 1984, although it sounds much older, but its use of Moog synth bass rather than electric bass and recorded live drums is a nice touch for the era.

Other worthy mentions include Skatalite saxophonist Johnny Moore and the rock steady instrumental ‘Big Big Boss’. This has been a favourite on the reggae scene for a while and is a firm DJ staple. Yvonne Gray ‘Keep The Music Alive’ from 1975 is a tight funky soul piece from California, by the writer who crafted Lou Rawls popular ‘Lady Love’ in ’77. And as mentioned, ‘Digging Beyond The Crates’ also unusually adds newer electronic releases, such as bumpy house single Ossie ‘I Hurt Yoo’ with its Singers Unlimited via Slum Village ‘Claire’ sample, the Dilla influenced hip hop instrumental ‘Badly’ by German beat maker Cuthead from 2015 and BSTC ‎’Jazz In Outer Space’ a disco fused house 12” from 2006.

Compilation albums of this type are always a valuable inroad into music that the listener may not be aware of and although a couple of the straighter house inclusions are rather weak and wouldn’t have been missed if omitted, the others are relatively solid additions. I also particularly enjoyed Bill Laurance (the second most famous keyboard player in Snarky Puppy after Cory Henry) and ‘The Pines’ from his 2016 solo LP ‘Aftersun’. I just wish more compilers would move into a more contemporary focus when creating their compilations. New releases will some day be old. So overall this a quite a strong release, with even the cover art which offers a nod to the design of Ernie Hines 1972 album ‘Electrified’ being well thought of.

Damian Wilkes

Various ‘Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power Underground Jazz Street Funk & The Roots Of Rap 1968-79’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Soul Jazz) 5/5

This 13-track compilation showcases how the Civil Rights Movement and the developing black nationalism environment of the 1960s went on to directly influence music culture within jazz, soul and funk aesthetics. Drawing upon various political themes and messages, ‘Soul Of A Nation’ displays how crucial this period was for black musicians, which has since become an influence for many other contemporary artists.

Featured material include jazz footwork classic ‘Mother Of The Future’ by Carlos Garnet from 1974, a universal favourite for decades with this version featuring the vocals of Dee Dee Bridgewater, which I feel just edges the more popular Norman Connors and Jean Carn version. Written by Garnet himself and recorded six months earlier than Connor’s ‘Slew Foot’ album, is also a touch looser than the Connors’ rendition. Jean’s former husband Doug Carn is also included with ‘Suratal Ihklas’, a track not taken from his Black Jazz catalogue, but from his lesser known 1977 album ‘Al Rahman! Cry Of The Floridian Tropic Son’ (released under the name Abdul Rahim Ibrahim). This quite funky number has a somewhat Roy Ayers feel within its production.

Readers of UK Vibe will be very familiar with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, the funkiest poem of all time taken from his 1971 ‘Pieces Of A Man’ album. Interestingly, it features a stellar line-up including Bernard Purdie on drums, Ron Carter on bass and Hubert Laws on flute. Oneness of Juju’s ‘African Rhythms’ from their debut album of the same name in 1975 is also a very well known addition to the compilation, but maybe Soul Jazz could have included the rarer alternative 7” version, as the album mix has appeared previously on numerous other compilations. The other more well known titles include the Roy Ayers classic ‘Red, Black and Green’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ by tenor sax heavyweight Joe Henderson, taken from his very fertile 1970s period with Milestone Records, where he never made a poor record.

Sarah Webster Fabio, the poet, writer and educator is an essential inclusion to the set with probably her most famous track, ‘Sweet Songs’, which has Sarah undulating over a super funky breakbeat rhythm track. Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra’s ‘Desert Fairy Princess’ contains all the hallmarks of a perfect spiritual jazz standard; an infectious 11-minute groove with luscious horns and flute, recorded live in a LA church in 1979. This and other Tapscott releases are taken from the Nimbus West label who have recently repressed some of their excellent back catalogue. Another worthy discussion point is Duke Edwards and the Young Ones ‘Is It Too Late’. Edwards, a percussionist who was at one time a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, but this his only solo project includes this quite remarkable 10 minute emotional account of Edwards discussing the failure of humankind.

Being a Soul Jazz release, this collection features a healthy mix of obscure and more known cuts, but there isn’t a poor track amongst this compilation. This has obviously been very well curated, and yes, there are many omissions that could have been included, but hopefully there will be additional volumes in the future. And it is worth noting that this release coincides with an art exhibition at the Tate Modern, London also called Soul Of A Nation, which runs until 22 October 2017 and features the work of artists during this dramatic but crucial period in American history.

Damian Wilkes