Sly and Robbie meet Dubmatix ‘Overdubbed’ (Echo Beach) 4/5

OK here is an album that basically sounds just like it says on the tin.. Overdubbed. The latest installment from Canadian underground dub musician, remixer and producer, Dubmatix, collaborating this time with vintage Jamaican riddim section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespear, aka Sly and Robbie, whom we are told gave a bunch of master riddims previously unreleased / new to Dubmatix to remix and overdub in carte blanche style and passion to which he has.

Dubmatix has a big following within the arena with nearly 300,000 followers on FB and over 2 million on Soundcloud, his catalogue runs into the hundreds with dub releases, remixes, collaborations, EPs and stand alone albums. It was 2004 when he debuted his first release, ‘Champion Soundclash’, since then he has collaborated with dozens of prolific players in the industry providing remixes and providing his own compositions showcasing numerous singers and MCs. He’s a hands-on touring producer and over the years has gained much respect from many big names within the world of reggae and dub. There are not many underground reggae and dub radio shows that don’t feature a Dubmatix workout in their playlistings and can be considered without a doubt a bonefide veteran of the second wave underground digital dub arena, one of the pioneers to brake away from the ‘dub by numbers’ sentiment that peppered the first wave of underground digital dub.

Sly and Robbie were most prominent during the whole of the 1980s and into the 90s, the riddim section supreme, the bass and drum inna dub ‘n spesh for one’s musical vest. Undisputed Jamaican champions. Diffiult to count exactly how many bodies of work Sly and Robbie have appeared on during the past four decades but it safe to say it probably runs into the thousands, and not only within the Jamaican reggae world of vintage dub and collaboration, but also the mainstream pop and rock world with their work with Grace Jones, The Stones, Herbie and dozens more. Most probably by now, weighing it all up, the most respected riddim section from Jamaica ever.

But that’s not all.. We have a full brass section appearing throughout the album and additional percussion plus appearances by some top drawer MCs that you may have heard of… Dubmatix pulling out all the stops by guesting on Trombone; Chris Butcher, on Trumpet; John Pittman, on Sax; Paul Metcalfe with conga duties provided by the one Pato Irie. Guest MC duties come courtesy of the mighty Prince Allah, Screechy Dan, Jay Spaker, Megative and Treson.

The album’s opener, ‘Dictionary’, comes in at full distorted throttle, with a punk attitude that is heavily embraced by the underground dub scene, and then mid way the lazer lights in a field moment arrives, just as I was expecting, but what I wasn’t expecting was the wall of sound brass section that comes in the mix to finish off the last few bars, a spaghetti western themed ‘Atom Heart Mother’ moment, this is what makes today’s underground eclectic dub movement so interesting.

Prince Allah and Screechy Dan make their appearance on the second piece entitled ‘Smoothie’ which it is, a nice rolling 90’s mid tempo traveling style roots and pleasure track, I predict this tune will be a big drop at any sound system special.

Now a piece called ‘Riding East’, and it is with this third track that the pure underground digi dub is in evidence, on the download album this piece gets the pleasure of having two bonus mixes, one called ‘Riding East’ alt. version and the other bonus ‘Riding East’ Orig Western Version and it’s this version that again harks back to the original second wave ‘comming at ya’ attitude with its movie samples and on the edge of distortion mixdown, big speaker special, no candyfloss situation as does the piece entitled ‘Shabby Attack’ which has a Jahno (French Dub Artist) mix vibe with the difference being the lazer lights in a field moments that arrive with extra attitude and I’m diggin it.

A piece called ‘Communication Breakdown’, featuring Jay Spaker on vocals, is very uncannily like the Congos from the Black Ark Studio days, both in Jay’s vocal delivery and harmonies and in the mixdown. Then there’s a piece called ‘Ruff House’, which takes one way back to early 80s minimalist dancehall dub, the days just before the Jamaican digital era arrived. The backing riddim track on this piece does sound deliberately dated with its tape hiss and lo fi splendor and it’s just perfect and somehow recognisable. There are plenty more tracks to discover on this album… Tune in and discover them.

This album is not untra hi-fi pristine sound Abbey Road affair, it is Jamaican dub riddim fully embraced by Dubmatix outa Canada.

The CD release has 13 tracks, the digital release has 16 and includes alternate mixes. So what happens when you put these singers and players together? One gets the best of both worlds. Dubmatix is having great fun with this album, passionate fun with a serious mixdown delivery, why only 4 out of 5 then..? Well I’ve kinda gushed enough with the descriptive above haven’t I so it loses a point for my gushing. Good work, I love it. I wish it was on tape cassette also. Dubmatix is everywhere on the dub internet but do check out his Bandcamp page for an easy to follow and concise musical adventure.

Gibsy Rhodes

Jorge Drexler ‘Salvavidas de Hielo’ (Warner) 4/5

Uruguayan singer-songwriter, now resident in Spain, returns for another distinctive and, at times, idiosyncratic, travel through Latin Americana, with a stronger nod to Brazilian rhythms, notably the samba (though other world roots are discernible), and sounding at times as though a disciple of Caetano Veloso. This is illustrated on the lyrical samba-influenced ‘Abracadabra’, with guest vocals from Julieta Venegas and a melodic electric guitar solo from the leader as well on the mid-tempo groove of, ‘Pongamos que hablo de Martínez’. A Cuban-style instrumental, ‘Estalactitas’, then goes into something altogether rockier, and the different phases and tempi make this song a most interesting one. In contrast, the reposing ‘Asilo’, is pared down to just guitar and the guest vocals of Mexican singer Mon Laferte. The duets create beautiful harmonies and are deserving of a whole album at some stage. Spanish flamenco influences are hinted at, with the possible use of the cajón on ‘Telefonía’. In general, the simple rhythms created linger long in the memory, and the melodic and sparing use of instrumentation, as on, ‘Mandato’, with collective harmonies and hand clapping, work a treat. This recording builds up on a well received 2014 release, ‘Bailar En La Cueva’, and produced by Carles Campi Campón. Handwritten notes on the inner and outer sleeve notes and the creative art design gives the package as a whole a highly individual and even a 1970’s inspired rustic folk feel.

Tim Stenhouse

Till Brönner / Dieter Ilg ‘Nightfall’ (OKeh) 4/5

An intriguing pairing of bass and trumpet/flugelhorn might not at first seem appealing, but this is a duet that works and is at once a moody and intimate evocation recording. A melancholic feel permeates the album, speaking of interminably long winter evenings.

Both musicians have gained useful experience collectively and separately on the enterprising ACT label, but have now moved on to major label OKeh where they now nestle comfortably alongside the likes of Bill Frisell. Divided up between contemporary and classic covers on the one hand, and originals on the other, there is much to admire here and a genuine warmth to the rapport between the two instrumentalists. On the opener, ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’, the vulnerability of the trumpet sound is showcased, with fine bass line work that brings the two together. For Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’, the modal bass intro and muted Harmon operate wonderfully in tandem and this is a most inventive take on a well-worn classic. Western classical music forms part of the interpretations with J.S. Bach’s ‘Air’, a perennial favourite of jazz musicians. Here, the flugelhorn takes the lead, with bass following, and this is a very different interpretation from other jazz readings. An adventurous version of Ornette Coleman’s, ‘The fifth of Beethoven’, opens up the space, as piano and bass might, and indicates what an unusual combination the trumpet and bass are operating together. More reflective tones are adopted on the ballad, ‘Body and Soul’, with a Chet Baker-esque solo from Brönner and sensitive bass accompaniment. While this is their debut album for OKeh, it is far from their first recording together and this is an accomplished set that bodes well for future collaborations.

Tim Stenhouse

Calibro 35 ‘Decade’ (Record Kicks) 5/5

Celebrating their tenth year with this their 6th long player, Italian 5 piece band, Calibro 35, present ‘Decade’ a no expense spared across all formats 11 tracker running at a classic 48 minutes in what can only be described as an all out assault melange of cosmic freakout jazz, progressive and alternative hip hop grooves and outer space prog synth funk jamming, a pure instrumental album with a wall of sound production.

The first four tracks are a ‘set in stone’ romp through 70s style action TV series background music, the kind of TV that was American produced yet became staple watching for millions during afternoons and early evenings throughout the western world, for example all those wonderful background mini scores playing throughout episodes of Streets Of San Fransico, The Persuaders, Hart To Hart (er, OK), those kind of gritty, funky, organ and wah-wah guitar led pieces of musical art and these first four tracks, although very enjoyable to listen to, a nostalgic trip back in time -and it has to be said superbly played and executed ultra professionally without a doubt- are in danger perhaps of tempting one into believing that the remaining 8 tracks will be of same stock, well, sort of but it’s track 4 and onwards that to this listener’s ear the album finds its own identity and conceptual originality and thus begins a more experimental journey, a fuller cinematic approach with on occasion parts of the remaining tracks nodding back a glimpse to the three track opener.

Keyboards play a crucial role throughout these scores, you will hear a multitude of big brand synths and organs such as the Roland Juno, The Minibrute, The Prophet5, The Wurlitzer organ, my gosh I am within my own musical sweet shop hearing all these key’s, other instruments are provided by an array of guest musicians such as Vibrophones and Glocks, the Viola, Flutes, Trombones, Saxes, Cello, the Clarinet, all real and played with absolute passion, and of course the backbone; the drums and bass keeping it all together in an all out riddim assault.

My highlight tracks? Well let’s begin then with track 4 with its laid back and funky drumming featuring the very cool sounding ride cymbal of Fabio Rondanini and rolling bass of Luca Cavina on the piece entitled ‘Pragma’, with its lovely surrealist guitar work by Massimo Martellotta and early 70s style Floydian organ workout complete with full brass ensemble, then a piece called ‘Modular’ with its low slung groove, dystopian synths and wubba wubba bass splendor underpinned by a very infectious foreboding flute, deep piano and ghostly guitar effects, a sort of trip hop dystopian dub but not dub with slight echo’s of the guitar style one hears in certain pieces from ‘The Wall’ album, then there is the sub psychedelic piece ‘Polymeri’ although disappointingly short running at just over 2 minutes it’s a real experimental wonder, I wonder where the band could have taken this piece with another 4 minutes added to it..? Possibly past the moon. Then there is the magnificent 7 minute ‘Modo’, a one stop shop of creativity and playing, a funky jazz workout with dark synth chords, piano and again with full brass and wind ensemble. The final track on the album is a nice wind down and laid back Airesque sounding piece entitled ‘Travelers’ as we drift off into a voyage of our own before the next episode of something 1970s. An album excellently delivered, very interesting and passionately played.

Formats: The single from the album ‘Super Studio’ b/w ‘Gomma’ is available as limited edition 7″ black vinyl, the album itself is available as a limited edition Gatefold cover clear vinyl and on black vinyl, plus a limited edition Cassette tape and digipack CD and of course as download. For your own journey into a musical sweet shop of format bundles, player and studio credits check out their Bandcamp page.

Gibsy Rhodes

Søren Nissen ‘Departures’ (Private Press) 4/5

Bassist Søren Nissen has spent some time travelling in India and teaching at the Global Music Institute in New Delhi. His experiences seem to have informed the music on this seven track release even to the extent of including snatches from speeches given by the philosopher, speaker and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti focussing on the importance of spiritual discovery.
The eastern influences are taken further with the inclusion of a table in the instrumentation. Motifs from Indian classical music are also employed throughout the album, sometimes in an ambient vein and sometimes more energetically. Notwithstanding this, the jazz sensibility shines through. Synthesiser is also employed, thus seeming to bring the musical worlds of both the east and the west together in harmony.
This is certainly an assured debut recording. Nissen is clearly an accomplished musician playing not only acoustic bass but synthesiser and Fender Rhodes piano, James Hill plays piano, Fender Rhodes and Juno (a Roland synthesiser), Jeff LaRochelle is on tenor saxophone, Agneya Chikte plays tabla and percussion on some tracks and Ian Wright is behind the drums.
Nissen is still a young man in a short space of time has established himself as a premier bass player on the Toronto jazz scene. He describes his journey through India as a life changing experience. Not only was it a physical departure from home but also a psychological one too. The memories from the trip live on both in Søren’s memory and in these songs.
I particularly enjoyed the more considered pieces, such as ‘Mantra’ which has a relaxed feel. ‘Himalayan Constellation’ also has a wonderful feel. The saxophonist’s full bodied tone is best exhibited here. ‘Universal Exchanges’ is another fine piece, beginning delicately but soon building up a head of steam. ‘Alternatives’ is thoughtful and shows off the ethnic percussion to fine effect. For a true example of east meets west, ‘Eyes of Riya’ can’t be bettered. This is a lengthy, almost ambient piece which builds very slowly and includes a fabulous table and synthesiser section at about the half way mark. The leader’s bass gets ample space throughout the album and is really the beating heart of the album.
This is clearly a well-considered labour of love from Nissen and with such an auspicious debut album one is left wondering what is next to come in his discography. Let’s all hope that we don’t have to wait too long for the next thrilling instalment.

Alan Musson

Paier Valcic Quartet ‘Cinema Scenes’ (ACT) 4/5

Combining accordeon/bandoneon and cello is not an obvious contender for a jazz recording, and this evocative and extremely creative project straddles classical and jazz and even world roots, with a strong nod to film music for which this album is ideally suited. Interestingly, nine of the twelve piece are originals, with just three covers required. The duo of accordeon/bandoneon player Klaus Paier and cellist Asja Valcic from the fulcrum of this quartet and between them have composed the majority of the pieces. On the first number, ‘Synchronization’, which begins with a melody that is quite bleak in tone, the intimacy suddenly leads into a Spanish motif that recalls Chick Corea’s early 1970’s ECM opus, ‘La Fiesta’, and the strong melody is retained throughout this atmospheric piece. A flowing cover of the music, ‘Griet’s theme’, accompanying the film, ‘Girl with the golden earring’, serves as the pretext for Paier to solo on accordeon. At the heart of the album is a four piece medley, ‘Cinema scenes’, with gentle soloing by Paier on the Lennie Niehaus/Clint Eastwood film tune, ‘Doe eyes’, forming part one, leading into a jazzy bass-led part two, ‘Moving pictures’, with bass and accordion working well in tandem. Part four pays homage to the work of Astor Piazzolla, with a staccato-like groove in, ‘Exciting moment’, with an actual cover of a Piazzolla composition, ‘Inspired tale’, following directly afterwards and being the final cover interpretation on the album. This is the fourth project that Paier and Valcic have recorded on ACT, and the combination of reflective duo and faster-paced quartet work makes for a varied and well balanced recording. They deserve to be heard by a wider audience, and, as with the contemplative, ‘Le jardin’, the quartet ought to be snapped up for an entire film’s worth of music soundtrack.

Tim Stenhouse

Laila Biali ‘Laila Biali’ (ACT) 3/5

Canadian singer Laila Biali has already received plaudits from the prestigious jazz magazine Downbeat in 2013 in the album of the year category, but this debut recording for ACT is in fact her sixth album in total, after gaining useful experience touring with some major jazz and pop names ranging from Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck to Suzanne Vega. Furthermore, there is an equally impressive cast list of musicians to accompany her and these include guest spots by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on two numbers, singer Lisa Fischer (a regular background singer on Rolling Stones tours) as well as Hammond organist, Sam Yahel, who performs throughout. The music veers between jazz and pop idioms, with singer-songwriter territory the most obvious terrain for Biali to occupy and flourish in. The singer interprets a convincing pared down bass-led version of David Bowie’s, ‘Let’s dance’, with piano and organ operating together, while there is a gentle reading of Randy Newman’s ‘I think it’s gonna rain today’. On a reflective piano plus vocal take on Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, Biali creates intimacy in the vocals with a piano that has surely been influenced by Brad Mehldau. However, in parts, the album hints at a wider and infinitely more explorative interest in world roots music, as illustrated on a reading of Iranian/Persian poet Rumi’s, ‘Wind’. As for Biali’s own songwriting ability, this writer enjoyed the mid-tempo reflection of ‘Satellite’, and there is a pop-jazz sensibility to several of her other compositions. While her voice does not have the range of a Rachelle Ferrell, there is a good deal of promise, and even on the overtly pop-rock offering, ‘Refugee’, there is evidence of an awareness of what is happening in the world and a desire to provide social commentary on occasion.

Tim Stenhouse

Maynard Ferguson ‘M.F. Horns 4&5: Live At Jimmy’s’ CD (BGO) 3/5

Trumpeter and big band leader Maynard Ferguson came to prominence during the 1970’s and 1980’s and this 1973 live recording produced by Teo Macero has not seen the light of day on CD in the UK save for a brief re-issue that was rapidly deleted thereafter and this re-mastered set is a favourite of many a big band fan who purchased the original vinyl edition and as such will be required listening. While not on a par with the innovative work of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis band and the instrumentalists here are lesser known names though perfectly competent, Maynard Ferguson is nonetheless a respected bandleader in the mainstream tradition who has continued to thrive and perform at festivals, including the Wigan International Jazz Festival, in recent years. He adapted popular tunes to the jazz idiom including here a reworking of Jimmy Webb’s, ‘Mac Arthur Park’ (later a disco hit for Donna Summer), while in a slightly Latin vein is, ‘Teonova’, that pays homage to the sound engineer and producer of the album, and of which the title takes a leaf out of the Miles Davis composition, ‘Neo (also in a different version named ‘Teo’) from the early 1960’s, Live at the Nighthawk’ album. A quality ballad is, ‘I’m gettin’ sentimental over you’, while a blues-inflected groove is evident on both, ‘Two for Otis’, and, ‘Blue Birdland’. Previous double pairings of Ferguson’s work in the ‘1, 2, 3’ series, and all available on BGO, are probably the first place to search for his big band outings. This latest re-issue completes the series and is recommended to long-time fans of the Ferguson sound.

Tim Stenhouse

Boz Scaggs ‘Middle Man’ / ‘Other Roads’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

Best known in the UK for his mid-1970’s opus, ‘Silk degrees’, that remains a stylistic and commercial high point, Boz Scaggs struggled to free himself from the shackles of that successful album, one of a host that Scaggs recorded from the underrated Johnny Bristol produced 1974 recording, ‘Slow dance’, onwards. This pairing of albums showcases both his ‘blue eyed’ soul side and the rockier edges. The latter was always there from the start when he recorded back in 1969 a self-titled debut steeped in the blues and with Duane Allman on guitar. Released in 1980, ‘Middle man’, starts off in a similar vein to ‘Silk degrees’ with a single in, ‘Jojo’, that could easily have featured on the 1976 album and is perfect fodder for the West coast ‘too slow to disco’ idiom of recent years. Another deeply melodic number is, ‘Simone’, which has arguably the strongest hook of any of the songs on offer. More rocked-tinged influences emerge elsewhere with, ‘Angel you’, and Carlos Santana guests on guitar on, ‘You can have me any time’. The second album, ‘Other roads’, dates from 1988 and the who’s who of studio musicians are on board including jazz bassist Marcus Miller (then an integral part of the Miles Davis band), several members of the Toto band, and with background vocalists of the calibre of Bobby Caldwell and James Ingram. Produced this time round by Stewart Levine (who had on his roster at various times Joe Cocker, the late Hugh Masekela and even Simply Red), the hit single, ‘Heart of mine’, typifies a new genre, adult contemporary for later evening listening. While it is the earlier to mid-1970’s period that is Scaggs’ most creative, this pairing will appeal to fans of the singer who wish to find the next place on from ‘Silk degrees’.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Mr M’s Wigan Casino Northern Soul Oldies Room 1974-1981’ 3CD (Soul Time) 4/5

The phenomenon that is northern soul has been fertile terrain for re-issues in the last decade or more, but where this latest compilation scores highly is in the personalised chronicling of the scene by DJ Dave Evison, who was one of the most active and influential of soul DJ’s and it is worth acquiring for his testimony alone. That is to be found firstly in the third CD which amounts to a radio-style interview on how the adjacent Mr M’s room at Wigan Casino started, and the different sounds that originated from the evenings there. Secondly, the lavish and extensive inner sleeve leaves no stone unturned with individual notes on each of the 45’s, with labels, photos of the punters on the dancefloor and even badges all represented in their glory.

From a purely musical perspective, northern soul sometimes sprung surprise tracks that one might not immediately associate with the scene. For example, a later jazz dance favourite in Mel Tormé’s, ‘Comin’ home’, or a Herbie Mann instrumental, ‘Philly Dog’, became hits at Mr M’s, as did the swamp soul of Tony Joe White’s immortal, ‘Polk salad Annie’. On the other hand, some of the all-time great soul vocalists are showcased and these include the Chicago sound of Gene Chandler and a fine, ‘There was a time’, a 1970’s comeback for Don Covay on, ‘It’s better to have (and don’t need)’, or even the seriously under-estimated singer-songwriter talents of Phillip Mitchell on , ‘Free for all (winner takes all)’. More pleasant, if equally unexpected surprises, come from a Little Richard contribution, ‘Poor dog (who can;t wag his own tail)’, while UK mod soul is represented by the unlikely named, Wynder K. Frog and, ‘Green door’. Among other contributors, feature the recently deceased Bunny Sigler, instrumentalist Boots Randolph, and the blue-eyed soul of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons with the anthemic, ‘The night’. Long-time devotees may have the majority of these songs, but still require the conversation on the third CD. For the rest, this is a useful social history of the northern soul era at its zenith.

Tim Stenhouse