Fela Kuti ‘Vinyl Box Set #4, Compiled by Erykah Badu’ (Knitting Factory) 5/5

Erykah Badu curates her favourite Fela records, joining Questlove, Ginger Baker, and Brian Eno, as the fourth artist to expose a new generation to the Black President’s world-quaking AfroBeat. Limited to a run of 3000, the Knitting Factory Records released box set contains seven vinyl, a 16×24 poster by Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu, creative force behind 26 of Fela’s album covers, and track-by-track essays.

The musicians involved in the Fela Vinyl Box Set series have been carefully chosen because of their unique relationships with Fela. Cream drummer Ginger Baker played on the 1971 album Live!, Brian Eno has a continuing, and very healthy, obsession with Fela’s music, whereas Questlove was shunned by Prince whilst playing Zombie during a DJ set, only to discover The Purple One playing the track at a party of his own.

Grammy award-winning singer, actress, activist, reiki master, doula, and wear-what-you-darn-well-feel-like fashion advocate Badu is the perfect person to curate* this never released record collection. Describing her relationship with listening to Fela, during an interview on Viceland, she recalls how, upon first moving in to a white-populated neighbourhood in 1997, one of her only possessions was a set of speakers, turntable, and Coffin For Head Of State, which she played on repeat. The highly charged track turned a lot of heads, and features as the fifth vinyl in the series.

No Agreement and Dog Eat Dog, appearing on the second record, have their own tale. Invited to record as part of Rocket Juice and The Moon, with Damon Albarn, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, and long-term Fela drummer Tony Allen, she recalls how the project had a ‘a No Agreement kinda funk with a Dog Eat Dog kinda thang.’ The memory doesn’t necessarily evoke happiness however; in a move straight from the playground, Flea, playing trumpet on the record, text Erykah to tell her she wasn’t ‘actually’ in the group, but appearing alongside many other featuring artists. Not that this will give Erykah much solace, perhaps Flea was only in it because his name is an anagram of Fela. Perhaps not.
What is certain is the box set demonstrates how one musician can have a lasting impact on history. Almost twenty years after his passing, his message still echoes through time.
As a white, Middle Class person from the heart of The Midlands, I seem poorly qualified to review such a compilation. But, as must be the case with many people, Fela Kuti was the first African musician to capture myself, and the world by the ears; he’s never really let them go.

Sam Turnell

*The curator wishes you to enjoy this sonically-ordered, sequentially-pleasing box set with a nice blunt. Whilst this is not condoned, it is a chilled-out affair, and either way you can enjoy a smooth inhalation of the High Life, jazz, and AfroBeat of Fela Kuti, during which you can suck up all the historical knowledge of Chris May and humour of Erykah Badu.

Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf Ensemble ‘Aphorisms’ (Between Buttons) 5/5

A little way from the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner off Tiergarten Park, sits the majestic golden structure of the Berliner Philharmonie, but one of the many concert halls in Berlin. This is a city where freedom of expression is lauded; there’s a richness and acceptance of culture unlike any other. Classical music is entrenched in its psyche.

There’s little wonder Syrian duo Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf have decided to call Berlin home, releasing their debut EP on 7K! imprint, Between Buttons. Henrick Schwartz, best known for high octane dance sets at techno events, helms the production and does not let his electro background over-shadow the traditional Syrian-sound. The result is a 25-minute poetic reverence to home.

“The record was composed over the last two years and blurs the line between written music and improvised playing,” says Raman. Khaled adds that, “the pieces articulate our reflections on different topics such as solitude, absurdism and despair, all set to a fictional musical narrative, hence the title Aphorisms.”

Despite this explanation of the fictional, it’s difficult not to see this as a soundtrack to the conflict. The opening track, ‘Toska’, begins with machinery-mimicking violins, their screech giving way to a footstep-like djemba beat by Moussa Coulibaly. Throughout the record light moments of hope, represented by Khalaf’s oud and Kurbeh’s jazz-flecked piano, give way to Tom Berkmann’s ominous basslines of doom. Penultimate number, ‘Shamal’, is a respite-offering, groove-laden jam of hand-claps and rousing vocals. Aphorisms closes with the retrospective Einsamkeit Impromptu; piano centre stage, a composition straight from the concert halls of Berlin.

A recent photo of Bashar al-Assad embracing Vladimir Putin encroached the National newspapers, accompanied with the caption of ‘thank you for saving our country.’ As with most conflicts, the press focus on the toil of the people and the supposed successes of the armed forces, rather than the good that’s happening from the people affected. The success of Syria’s future does not depend on the marksmanship of a soldier, but the skill of musicians like Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalef, Omar Souleyman’s dance beats, or the absurdist paintings of Houmam al-Sayed. It lies with the people that continue to create and give Syrians a sense of identity instead of being collectively labelled as ‘refugee’.

Sam Turnell

Johnny Lytle ‘Four Original Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Something of a cult musician in the UK who sprang up to notoriety when a re-issue of ‘The Village Corner’ became an unexpected 1980’s dancefloor hit with Acid Jazz devotees and then an even rarer track, ‘The Loop’ became a BGP re-issued to much fanfare, not forgetting Lytle 45’s have even found favour among the more progressive elements of the northern soul fraternity. This foursome however, focuses attention on his early 1960’s Riverside albums, three trio combos (one featuring the extended percussion of Ray Barretto), while the jewel in the crown here is an extremely hard to find quartet recording with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (see his own contribution as a leader on another Avid Jazz re-issue).

By far the best and most varied is ‘Nice And Easy’, from 1962 and it is pity Lytle stuck to the organ trio formula because he was far better when backed by a pianist. In this case, it is Bobby Timmons and a rhythm section which is equally gifted, with Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The bustling opener, ‘But Not For Me’, leads into a more intricate motif on ‘Soul Tune’, and there is excellent use of space by the leader. The quartet are in full flow on ‘322 Wow!’, which was another tune that 1980’s jazz DJ’s picked up on. The sensitive side of the vibraphonist is showcased on ‘That’s All’, and there is a wonderful left-field complete with unusual time signature on the strangely titled ‘Coroner’s Blues’.

In contrast, ‘Moon Child’, from the same year, is somewhat pedestrian, though the subtle uptempo title track is typical of Lytle’s approach. Ray Barretto is in fine form at a stage in his career when he regularly accompanied jazz musicians, making the music of a superior standard to the previous two trio outings. Cannonball Adderley probably never envisaged such a slow tempo would accompany ‘Work Song’, but here the intro is significantly slowed down before it then moves up a couple of gears into a swinging number. It has to be said that the minor blues reading of ‘A Taste Of Honey’, is a qualified success, but the albums nevertheless closes on a high with the uptempo ‘Minor Man’, that maintains a relentless pace throughout.

Of the two trio organ combo albums, from 1960s and 1961 respectively, ‘Blues Vibes’ impresses more, with a hint to Milt Jackson and not simply because Albert Heath is on the drums. The mainly standard repertoire works well, with ‘Autumn Leaves’ a highlight and ‘Over The Rainbow’ a surprise inclusion. Lytle covers a Jackson original, ‘Movin’ Nicely’, but it is his own title track that shines most brightly. A similar set up inhabits the 1961 album, ‘Happy Ground’, and there are two Lytle originals this time, with the title track a bouncy number, but it is in fact the ballads that stand out, with ‘When I Fall In Love’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’, the pick of the bunch. Johnny Lytle somewhat faded away during the mid-1960’s, but returned to attention in the 1970’s on Muse Records.

Tim Stenhouse

Mad Professor Meets Jah9 ‘In The Midst Of The Storm’ LP/CD (VP) 5/5

In 1983 I truly discovered dub, one of the first, if not the first, dub albums I bought on vinyl 33rpm at the age of 16 was Dub Me Crazy Pt.4 (Escape To The Asylum Of Dub) it was after hearing that seminal epic ‘Rasta Chase’ on a mixtape given to me by an old punk in our suburb near London and after some research by foot and word of mouth I managed to track down ‘Rasta Chase’ on vinyl, on Dub Me Crazy Pt.4 by UK dub pioneer Mad Professor.

Fast forward presque 35 years and a new Mad Professor album has landed on my laptop and after listening to the first three dubs in order I have come to the humble conclusion that this new release by the prof is pure art in dub, its velvet quality, its intelligence of mixdown and as one would expect and hope for with the prof.. some over the top wackyness in the mix. Cliff edge moments that he takes your senses to and then masterfully steers those senses away just before oblivion and not forgetting of course the old and still loved by dub fans; vocal snippets that cut abruptly with echo or big delayed reverb tried and tested many times also by the one Mr. Perry many moons ago.

‘In The Midst Of The Storm’ is a nine track dub masterpiece with Jah9 providing her trademark spiritual, yet strong, poet tones and her contribution does not warrant understatement, a voice from the soul she absolutely shines in these sessions giving the prof ultimate vocal armament to delight one’s ears with his ever so trademark tape echo speed control journeys that we have become accustomed to on the UK dub scene stretching back 4 decades now.

The crucially laid back extended jamming intro of ‘Moth To A Dub’, gives way to the main piece of the track by slipping into the lush velvet tones of Jah9 and her onctueuse pure reggae backing track then comes the dystopian futuremare that is ‘Fountain Dub’, conjuring up all sorts of bleak urban images with otherworldly synth flurries and effects over a minimal riddim track perhaps feeling paradoxically so to the listener seeing that large chunks of the composition have a tropical lounge flavour complete with a muted trumpet, yet they simply don’t clash, a dystopian dub cocktail.

If you happen to dig the sounds of underground artists such as Earlyworm, The Dub Project and a touch of Bill Laswell, then the piece entitled ‘Dub Prevail’ will entice you to keep the album playing, this piece even has its own mini ‘live in Pompeii’ guitar moment. This is no ‘skip track’ business, every piece has its own unique vibe and style journey and with every piece being ever so moorish I continue to listen… African percussion rhythms, flutes, acoustic guitars and ghost bass filter effects herald the ‘laying on a meadow amongst the dub daisies’ pleasure that is ‘Strumming Dub’. I continue to listen… That wackyness I mentioned earlier on? That cliff edge micro second? Examples in at 2’16 to 2’50 within the piece entitled ‘Lioness Order Dub’. I continue to listen…

This is no candyfloss creator – this is the Grandmaster of his trade. Une merveilleuse expérience d’Ècoute l’artwork pour l’album est cool aussi. An album for all environments. .In The Midst Of A Storm. is released on VP Records as vinyl 33rpm. Award for the most artistically structured dub album of 2017? Well, it has a 5/5 for me.

Gibsy Rhodes