Norma Winstone ‘Descansado: Songs For Films’ (ECM) 4/5

Manfred Eicher has long championed the combining of visual and audio images, with albums devoted to Greek film soundtrack composers and even a Jean-Luc Godard tribute to the French nouvelle vague era. On this occasion, singer Norma Winstone has devoted the entire album to exploring her favourite film soundtracks from different eras, with an emphasis on Italian composers, and the result is a wonderful evocation of cinema history in musical form. Helping her to create the right just the right ambiance are pianist Glauco Venier, soprano saxophonist and bass clarinettist Klaus Gesing, with additional layers provided on both cello and percussion. Winstone’s own gifted songwriting talents are deployed, with the occasional instrumental providing variety. An outstanding contribution is made on William Walton’s, ‘Touch her soft lips and part’, where the lyrics set the scene on a distant parting of beings, and cello and piano operate in tandem here. Indeed, this piece has a personal poignancy for Winstone in that it was also a favourite of her late husband, pianist John Taylor, who performed a trio rendition on ECM alongside Pete Erskine. Enrico Morricone composed many memorable pieces for film and one of his later offerings was for the soundtrack to, ‘Malena’, and the combination of piano and vocals beautifully captures the retro melancholy of the film itself, while another Italian film classic, ‘Today, Tomorrow’, is retitled to become the album title track. The ode to Italian cinema, ‘Il postino’, is treated on this occasion to a gentle interpretation with a discreet cello and a lovely, leisurely bass clarinet solo. Martin Scorsese’s cult, ‘Theme for Taxi driver’, was composed by Bernard Hermann, who of course, was the musical brains behind so many of the Hitchcock 1950’s classics, and the Scorsese soundtrack now has lyrics added and is transformed into the newly titled, ‘So close to me blues’. Godard’s early 1960’s film, ‘Vivre sa vie’, is performed as an instrumental with piano intro and a haunting soprano solo from Gesing. Rounding off the homage are some gorgeous digital black and white prints of actress Anna Karina in ‘Vivre sa vie’. The projects as a whole is devoted to John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, both of whom regularly performed with the singer. An album of wider interest to fans of cinema and quality music.

Tim Stenhouse

Collieman ‘Jungle Code’ (Dubshelter Recordings) 4/5

An album of two distinct halves in 45 minutes. The second album from Belgium’s Collieman since his ultra cool 2011 debut long player with fellow artist Asham which was entitled ‘The Same Blood’ and in some ways this new long player ‘Jungle Code’ is a natural continuation from that first, yet I hasten to add with a newly found maturity both lyrically and in its mixdown, indeed a much more radio friendly delivery both for underground and FM commercial to that of the first album with the first half of ‘Jungle Code’ leaning into reality lyrics, a calling to stand firm, our personal struggles and the fight back against dreaded babylon and opression by simply ignoring that oppression and just getting on with it all as indicated in ‘The Show Must Go On’ yet with the band not giving what could have been a stereotypical down tempo heavy roots sound throughout the set but instead giving an uplifting and enjoyable club reggae sound with a heavyish yet accessible modern roots backdrop.

Listen to ‘I’m Still Standing’ from ‘side One’ which display’s this progression of this new album’s overall sound mix along side
Collieman’s lyrical maturity and its vocal mix since that first album.

Somewhere around the half way mark the album gives way to a more downtempo’d affair with the tunes taking on a more candle lit atmosphere by leaning into the lovers sound. Check out ‘Keep The Vibes Alive’ which should be an official single from the album with its crucial early 80s dancehall push blended into commercial radio style presentation, i.e. a danceable hookable and a splendid an all vibe, a feeling of listening to a sunday evening reggae chart rundown with pause button ready on the tape cassette recorder circa 1983. Another single could be the wonderful piece ‘Honey Bunny’ which is a Lovers special, as could be the most uplifting piece on the album ‘Vanilla Ice’. Backed by a tight band comprising of Martijn Van Der Broek on the drums, Dennis Cobas on bass guitar, keyboard work provided by Wim ‘Appleton’, brass section by Mathijs Duyck on the sax and Kris Van Hees on the trumpet, a certain ‘Kim’ on guitar from the DubTown Band and with backing vocals by Kimberly Dhondt and Astrid d’Hoore it is evident when listening to this new album that Stefaan Colman aka Collieman has chosen the right band for the job.

Stand out tracks: ‘Still Standing’, ‘Love Light’, ‘Gimme Likkle Love’ and ‘Keep Vibes Alive’ Collieman has a progressive attitude that I dig, keeping his trademark style yet pushing himself forward as an artist instead of resting within an old comfort zone, I also dig the fact that its ‘side Two’ that has all the contenders for ‘singles’ reminiscent from those chart rundowns we once heard on the radio.

The sound on the album offers a distinctive lovers and 80s ‘chart friendly’ dancehall vibe with some very nicely mixed in modern roots flavourings by the players and a very charming and heartfelt vocal delivery by Collieman, let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another five years for his third long player to arrive.

So “watch where you step, cos it’s a jungle out there”. A healthy 4/5 from my entertained ears.

Gibsy Rhodes

Various ‘We Out Here’ LP/CD/DIG (Brownswood Recordings) 5/5 + 4/5

Gilles Peterson’s universally respected independent record label Brownswood returns in the early part of 2018 to release ‘We Out There’, a nine track set of original recordings by some of the current crop of young UK jazz composers and musicians. The recording sessions took place in a north London studio over three days in Autumn 2017, and thus, the compilation features all specially recorded and previously unreleased material rather than consisting of cherry picked compositions of older works.

The collection begins with ‘Inside The Acorn’ by Maisha, who are led by drummer Jake Long, but this is not a drum-heavy affair but a relaxed modal spiritual jazz experience with splashes of piano runs, bass clarinet and delicate flute soundscapes. The five piece Ezra Collective offer ‘Pure Shade’, which initially seems to be Hustlers of Culture ‘Flip Jack’ part two with its uptempo rim shot, kick drum and bass introduction, before the Afro beat influence permeates and a later downtempo J Dilla-esque coda section resolves the number. The band includes drummer Femi Koleoso, bass player TJ Koleoso, Joe Armon-Jones (more later) on piano, saxophonist James Mollison and Dylan Jones on trumpet. Drummer Moses Boyd moves into a slightly more electronica framework here with ‘The Balance’, a piece that could have been produced by Jazzanova but with some heavy alto saxophone additions from Nubya Garcia (also, more later) within the final two minutes. Tuba player and Sons of Kemit band member Theon Cross offers a bustling and lively composition with ‘Brockley’, which has both tuba and sax lines providing catchy melodies over the almost broken beat (acoustic) drum pattern.

Nubya Garcia’s own piece ‘Once’ possesses a perfect balance between song writing duties and improvisational performance, with pianist Joe Armon-Jones (still, more later) being particularly effective in supporting Nubya and the other players, which also includes Daniel Casimir on double bass and Femi Koleoso on drums. Shabaka Hutchings’ ‘Black Skin, Black Masks’ incorporates numerous influences, from Afro beat, contemporary jazz, be bop and more, with Shabaka’s bass clarinet guiding the composition over its 7-minute duration, which also has George Crowley on clarinet, Ruth Goller on bass, pianist Alexander Hawkins and Tom Skinner on drums. Triforce (who are a quartet) and ‘Walls’ is a performance of two halves, with the first 3 minutes featuring an escalating electric guitar solo from Mansur Brown, before the piece changes in direction into an almost hip hop form containing slow 808 drum machine beats and synth-like pitch bends. Initially, the composition seems upside down but with additional plays the arrangement very much makes sense.

The omnipresent Joe Armon-Jones leads a large cast for ‘Go See’ – the longest piece on the album which leaves room for numerous solos from the ensemble cast including the hard-working Nubya Garcia, Dylan Jones (trumpet), Kwake Bass (drums), Mutale Chashi (bass) and guitarist Oscar Jerome, which all gel together via the exquisite electric piano of Joe Armon-Jones. And finally, the Afro beat sonics of Kokoroko and ‘Abusey Junction’, may be rhythmically lighter than some of the material of the West African diaspora as this is a more contemplative number, but it still possesses the ideals of Afro beat with its hypnotic rhythm track and musical space and openness for performance opportunities. The collective is led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and their live shows are certainly worth experiencing.

‘We Out Here’ is a vibrant and exciting project containing exceptional performances by its contributors with recent Impulse! Records signee Shabaka Hutchings acting as musical director. Performances of note include Nubya with her five contributions and Joe Armon-Jones with three, and it’s this cross-pollination that will support and drive the development of the jazz scene in the UK, something that possibly many of their predecessors failed to accomplish effectively. A large number of the musicians here are bandleaders in their own right or often collaborate on outside projects, and thus, it can be difficult to keep up with the musical output of these players and others – but that is a positive. But there is a propensity for the more underground music ‘scenes’ to be embraced by the media for a short period and then discarded when the initial excitement has dissipated, and the modern tendency for ‘trending’ has to be a slight worry here. But the most fundamental component is that the music and performances are strong – and that is a given here.

Damian Wilkes Rating 5/5

In the current new release market that is overly saturated and poses a major dilemma for DJs and reviewers alike of which items to select and how to keep abreast of everything new with potential artists consequently overlooked in the process, here is an excellent way to both showcase new talent and provide a wider perspective on an underground music scene in a given city, in this case London and more specifically the south of that city. The music cuts across boundaries with various styles of jazz, with elements of post-bop and free, and even a stunning Afro-jazz cut, but what unites them is a younger generation eager to attract a wider audience and who regularly perform on each other’s recordings as well as in a live context. For those of us who do not reside in London and are unable to regularly view the musicians, this is an ideal way to discover the richness of talent out there. In the 1980s Gary Crosby was at the heart of the Jazz Warriors collective out of which many talented young musicians emerged. This new recording captures the younger generation of 2018 and as such is an important indicator of where that new generation of musicians is presently at.

A growing collective of musicians has emerged on the London scene over the past few years and some are already well-known and regular contributors to jazz on radio, while others are still relatively unknown. Shabaka Hutchings and Moses Boyd are among the best known and are heard here both as leaders and sidemen. Flautist and saxophone player, Nubya Garcia, is a relatively new name, but one who has a very promising future ahead of her, and the same can be said of several musicians, who, as a whole, have reinvigorated the jazz scene and imbued the music with newer elements while still respectful of the jazz tradition, reflecting in turn their own musical influences.

It is the cosmopolitan nature of London-based music that caught this writer’s ear with ‘Pure Shade’ by the Ezra Collective, a fine example of how a more pared down Afrobeat influence can be added to without sounding like a pastiche of the original. Here, the use of collective horns, inventive drum pattern and subtle Fender Rhodes, by Joe Armon-Jones, creates a different type of vibe, with a fine trumpet solo by Dylan Jones. On a Moses Boyd-led number, ‘The Balance’, contemporary drum beats and a guitar riff create a more layered texture, with electronica culture and dub horns all featuring prominently. Simply put, these musicians are reflecting the myriad sounds they hear on a daily basis in the metropolis that is twenty-first century London and these include genres that encompass dance music and world roots as well as jazz. In the case of Nubya Garcia who offers up ‘Once’, this writer especially liked the overall sound which had shades of the Latin tinge in the piano, with Chick Corea’s influence prominent, and the evident empathy that exists within the quartet. A larger ensemble sound is a feature of ‘Go See’ by Joe Armon-Jones, which has a dream-like feel and some wordless vocals that one might expect on a Brazilian record, or maybe a mid-1970s Earth, Wind and Fire recording. Once again electric piano operates with good deal of sensitivity. Standing out with a strong nod to contemporary jazz guitarists such as John Scofield and a change of direction from the rest is electric guitarist Dominic Canning and his group Triforce who contribute ‘Walls’.

In a more experimental vein, Shabaka Hutchings has explored new territory on ‘Black Skin, Black Masks’, the title a probable reference to the pioneering work of Martinique born writer Frantz Fanon who explored issues of racism and colonialism in his work, and it is the unusual combination of reeds, bass clarinet for the leader and clarinet from George Crowley that stands out, both playing off each other, with a tight rhythm section propelling them. If anything, the music as a whole comes across as the kind of music that would be ideally suited to a film soundtrack and here the possible influence of Michel Portal comes into play. Boyd is present also on the experimental trio of Theon Cross and the piece ‘Brockley’, that combines the tuba playing of the leader, the tenor saxophone from Garcia and drumming provided by Boyd.

Last, but by no means least, is a wonderful Afro-roots flavoured piece by Kokoroko, ‘Abusey Junction’, that is receiving heavy air play and appealing to a wider audience and from the outset the gentle intro builds into a strong dancefloor number. The fusion of West African rhythms, dub reggae horns and a nod to historical influences that range from Ambrose Campbell to the early 1960s work of Fela Kuti, combine wonderfully, for a fitting finale to the album as a whole. The title, incidentally, refers to a place in the Gambia.

Hopefully, this will be one of several volumes of this praiseworthy attempt to chronicle the young Turks of the London music scene. Detailed liner notes comes courtesy of Teju Adeleye and the creative artwork of Gaurab Thakali is worth a mention.

Tim Stenhouse Rating 4/5

The James Hunter Six ‘Whatever It Takes’ (Daptone) 5/5

This collective can do no wrong in my world and if you caught the previous two albums then this is more of the same, early to mid 60’s sounding soul, I’ve said this many times when discussing this lot, but we are so lucky they landed at Daptone, the depth and intensity of the music presented on this album and the preceding two others is wonderful. I pulled this from the sleeve and 3 hours later I was in a 60’s groove which ended with the spellbinding Lorraine Ellison WB album which houses the classic “Stay with me”, The James Hunter Six felt so right in amongst that hallowed company and there you have it, the sound might be dated, from an era long lost in the mists of time but its real and part of our time now, I nipped over to Cambridge the other day for few hours and walked into an independent music store and it was booming out of the speakers, I got chatting to the guys in the store and they were selling at least 3 per day to students who liked what they heard. Young people listening to music that was popular when there parents/grand parents were young, amazing. Of course those of us  who have been switched on to James Hunter had an indication as to where he might go sound wise  on his 2008 “The Hard Way”  album, the wonderful 60’s inspired floater  “Tell Her” captivated us all, the fore runner to what’s happening now,  of course the glue that holds all this together is Jonathan Lee on drums, Lee Badau on Baritone Sax, Damian Hand on Tenor Sax, Andrew Kingslow on Piano, Organ and Percussion, and that so familiar base played by Jason Wilson and of course we have Mr Hunter himself who provides some of the most scintillating guitar licks and vocals that just sound so right on this platform. I keep on hearing this is RnB but it’s a million miles away from that, this is soul music and to call it anything else is just under selling this whole experience, you know what, I’ve had this on in the car, and my music room relentlessly and I’m already looking to his next production. The album kicks off with the slinky mid pacer “I don’t wanna be without you” which just rolls along effortlessly into the slightly more urgent “Whatever it takes” and then for another 10 glorious tracks, what a ride. As essential as the air you breathe.

Brian Goucher

Claude François ‘For Ever’ 3CD (Universal France) 4/5

Released to coincide with the anniversary of the singer’s death from electrocution in the bath aged just thirty-nine in 1978, this three CD set provides an excellent overview of Claude François’ career and neatly divides up his periods with different record companies by CD. Internationally, his major claim to fame is as the co-author of the original version of a song, ‘Comme d’habitude’ (‘As always’), that would have new English lyrics added by Paul Anka and then became a world wide hit through Frank Sinatra, ‘I did it my way’. However, in his native France, François scored many hits and reworked several 1960’s sings in English into French after first starting on the French Riviera, invariably backed by an orchestra while performing at luxury hotels. An early cover came in 1962 with a French language reading of the Everly Brothers‘, ‘Made to love (girls girls girls)’, which was turned into, ‘Belles! Belles! Belles!’. Other songs from the formative part of his career similarly focused on translating early pop and rock ‘n’ roll and these included, ‘Si javais un marteau (‘If I had a hammer’)’ and, ‘Marche tout droit (‘Walk right in’)’. By 1963, the singer was headlining the Olympia in Paris and had set up his own show featuring his very own female dancers that became known as ‘Claudettes’ and this was part of his lavish stage show. It was in 1967 that,’Comme d’habitude’, first became a hit in France, but the early 1970’s were a traumatic time and the singer collapsed on stage from exhaustion. A new market was emerging in the 1970’s and François had the commercial acumen to change with the times and start to veer into new territory. He took a leaf out of the Bee Gees book and created his own version of the disco sound, influenced by the whirling strings of the Philly sound on, ‘Laisse une chance à notre amour’ (Leave a chance for our love’), a mid-tempo soulful groove in, ‘Quand la pluie finira de tomber’ (When the rain stops falling), but especially and, now regarded by a younger generation as his greatest contribution, the anthemic French disco stomper that is, ”Alexandrie, Alexandra’, devoted to the place in Egypt where he was brought up as a child and ironically it was released in France on the very day of his burial. Two versions are available here, the shorter 45, and the newly remixed, longer 12″ take, which is eight minutes ten of elongated dancefloor pleasure. With a bongo intro that leads into fully orchestrated accompaniment, and François really letting go

In spite of sixty songs on offer, there are still some omissions such as the singer’s take on ‘Massachussetts’, by the Bee Gees re-titled, ‘La plus belle chose du monde’, and other songs that became renowned including, ‘Où s’en aller?’, ‘A part, la vie est belle’, ‘Le spectacle est terminé’, et ‘Les anges, les roses et la pluie’. On the other hand, for collectors, there are some previously hard to find songs that were either B-sides, or quite simply relegated to album titles. The former would include, ‘Quand la pluie finira de tomber’, while, ‘Six jours sur la route (Six days on the road)’, does not normally feature on other anthologies. Completists may well favour the more subsantial 20 CD box set that covers everything, but for most three CD’s of sixty songs will more than suffice. As much of a cultural institution as a mere popular singer, the life of Claude François has spawned controversial biographies and a universally praised biopic film starring Jérémie Renier, that gives a real flavour of the inner torments that plagued the singer. Even now, Claude François has the capacity to surprise and earlier this year his relationship with a young Belgian woman came to light with a now thirty something daughter, Juliette Bocquet, that the world was unaware of.

It is interesting to contemplate how the 1970’s French music scene could make space for François and Johnny Hallyday, as well as what remained of the classic French chanson tradition, and an entirely new generation of singer-songwriters from Lavilliers to Souchon.

Tim Stenhouse

Oscar Brown Jr. ‘Between Heaven & Hell + Sin & Soul’ (Soul Jam) 5/5

Chicago born singer Oscar Brown Jr came to prominence at the beginning of the 1960’s and personified the ‘hipster’ persona, hence his nickname of the ‘high priest of hip’. His cultural contribution to the civil rights era is a significant one for in his early career he was a radio broadcaster for the first ever African-American news programme in the United States, called, ‘Negro news front’, that Brown Jr. hosted  for some five years. However, it was his vocal skills that he will be most fondly remembered for and both albums contained within have, at regular intervals, been re-issued in vinyl and CD format, though this is probably the first occasion that they have been paired together, and with the major additional bonus of non-album song from the same era that found their way onto lesser known 45’s. Jazz dance fans will marvel at, ‘Mr. Kicks’ and, ‘When Malindy sings’, both of which are regarded as jazz vocal classics and been re-issued separately on various artist compilations. Both songs feature on the first album, but the latter is probably the stronger all round, containing a wonderful take on Nat Adderley‘s, ‘Work song’, that Oscar added lyrics to, as he did also on another soul-jazz anthem, ‘Date dere’, originally a Bobby Timmons composition. Hipsterdom is very much on the agenda on, ‘But I was cool’, and the very last song on the album, ‘Afro-Blue’, is a version to rival that of the late great Abbey Lincoln. Of the bonus tracks, Brown courageously make an excellent attempt at a song Nat Cole co-wrote, ‘Straighten up and fly right’, and became immortal for the earlier vocal version, while, ‘Sixteen tons’, is a terrific uptempo jazz vehicle. Soul Jam have really cut no corner in terms of the abundant and excellent quality of the graphical illustrations of the singer. These range from album/single covers to magazine covers (Brown Jr. was on the front cover of Down Beat magazine in 1962 for example), black and white/colour photos of the singer at various stages of his career and original album notes are brought up to date with new notes. It is something of a surprise that he did not become a bigger name given his extraordinary creative talents and these included writing a musical adaptation of a play about a black militant named Buck White that played on Broadway in 1969. In fact, the singer played the role a year later in San Francisco. Given the few examples we have of Oscar Brown Jr. (no live recordings for example), and another Columbia album, ‘Tell it is like it is!’, that is now is a hard to find album on vinyl (but some tracks are available on a BGP compilation by Dean Rudland worth checking out) and, only briefly re-issued on CD via the Collectables series, this latest re-packaging is most welcome and a first port of call.

Tim Stenhouse

Nostalgia 77 ‘Fifteen’ 2LP/2CD/Dig (Tru-Thoughts) 4/5

One of the underrated gems of the modern British jazz scene and veering well beyond during the last fifteen years, this wide ranging compilation celebrates the brainchild of the group, Ben Lamdin, and is a first and foremost a retrospective of the group creator. As such, it features the leader as performer and producer and in disparate genres ranging from jazz and soul to dub, hip hop, psychedelia and taking in a little blues and funk along the way. However, this is very much an anthology that allows the lengthier jazz pieces to sit side by side with the shorter pieces and is to be congratulated for doing so. One illustration of the latter, which was released as a double AA single to showcase the album is the gentle soul of, ‘Quiet dawn’, with Beth Rowley featured on vocals, and here the band playing is sensitive with a slight folk-soul edge and a warm saxophone solo. Afro-Beat tinged percussive workouts are exemplified on tracks such as, ‘Freedom’, with a drum roll out of the Tony Allen school, and equally, ‘Positive force’, with a strong big band feel. In fact, Nostalgia 77 work best, to these ears at least, when they are in their nonet formation and happily this anthology provides some fine examples of that extended brass ensemble work. A real favourite is the lyrical horn work to be found on, ‘Desert fairy princess’, and the expansive sound created on, ‘Measures’. Among influences, the Oliver Nelson and Charles Mingus big bands spring to mind and even Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, though on the modal post-bop, ‘Louts tree’. it is mid-1960’s John Coltrane and a tribute of sorts to the seminal, ‘A Love Supreme’, with a fine trombone solo. Female vocalists accompanying are a specialty of the band and one discovery for this writer was a project between Nostalgia 77 and British 1970 jazz icons, Julie and Keith Tippett from a 2009 album. The vocals of the former on the excellent, ‘You just don’t dream when you sleep’, disprove any belief that musicians of different eras cannot combine to useful effect. Singer Alice Russell is an artist in her own right with Tru-Sounds and well worth checking her back catalogue. Here, she offers, ‘Seven nations army’. Reggae dub is a different genre altogether, but on, ‘Medicine crest dub’, the band makes a decent stab. More sedate and substantial playing can be heard on the lovely, ‘Solstice’, worthy of an ECM release, with beautifullt pared down piano and trumpet in tandem, and, the tender, ‘Wildflower’.

Overall, a well balanced anthology, that is fully reflective of the different moods and styles that Nostaglia 77 are capable of capturing, and shedding a well deserved beacon of light on the South East England music scene, and especially that in and around Brighton, which is the label home of Tru-Thoughts. Fans of this compilation will want to explore further and the good news is that the band offer both quality and quantity in equal measure. For jazzier hues, try, ‘Borderlands’ and, ‘Everything under the sun’, while the live, ‘Seven’s and Eight’s’, takes the octet sound a step further. Those who prefer the more dance oriented flavours will find their nirvana in the double CD, ‘One off’s, remixes and B-sides’.

Tim Stenhouse

TY ‘A Work Of Heart’ (Jazz re:freshed) 4/5

London based rapper, producer and spoken word artist Ty returns with his fifth full-length release, although his first since 2010, and it’s here that we see Ty join the jazz re:freshed family for their latest addition to their small but growing and well curated record label. Ty predominantly handles most of the production, with additional beat making duties by Detroiter Tall Black Guy and further vocal augmentations from a variety of vocalists and rappers, with 10 of the 14 tracks featuring guests.

‘Eyes Open’ features the woefully underused Deborah Jordan adding vocalisations and chorus parts with Ty utilising double time rhyming couplets to tackle issues of race, identity and social positioning. The DJ friendly ‘Somehow Somewhere Someway’ with its Roy Ayers-esque chord progression, Afro-beat influenced drum pattern and guest vocals by Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets, is a perfect combination of ingredients. Maybe a contemporary album from Umar Bin Hassan is needed in these socially confusing times. ‘Brixton Baby’ is a personal story of Ty’s upbringing in the South London borough with both negative and positive experiences highlighted. Mpho adds the final rap verse but maybe the current growing gentrification of the area could have also been challenged. ‘Work Of Heart’ and ‘Raindrops’ are both solo pieces and ‘Marathon’ includes Ladonna Harley-Peters in the refrain sections with the piece tackling the everyday struggles of modernity.

The two-step soul of ‘No Place To Run’ features Nechells, Birmingham native but Atlanta resident Julie Dexter providing two of the three verses for possibly my favourite track of the set with the ever consistent Jason Yarde adding some non-solo saxophone parts. ‘You Gave Me’ is a reflective ode to Ty’s family and the positive childhood he encountered in regards to how it could have been a very destructive environment, with some uncredited (and rather quiet) trumpet parts. ‘Harpers Revenge’ with its added effective flute augmentations will suit the DJ fraternity and ‘World of Flaws’ is pretty self-explanatory. The final piece, ‘As The Smoke Clears’, which is wholly produced by Tall Black Guy is another soulfully abundant track with guests including vocalist Randolph Matthews and MC Malik from Moorish Delta 7, another Birmingham, UK artist.

Ty reminds me of Guru from Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz fame, insomuch that his delivery is not very dynamic but more conversational, and his relationship with music outside of the hip hop genre is fused within his own compositions. Although examining the negatives, Ty can be quite literal rather than lateral and abstract within his writing, which can possibly lead to a sense of predictability for a complete album listening experience. And being the main producer as well as the artist for an entire project is always difficult. I would have loved to see Ty collaborate with the new wave of young jazz musicians in London (Shabaka, Moses, Nubya, Yussef, Ezra Collective et al) of which the jazz re:freshed organisation are so connected to, which would also provide some fantastic live opportunities.

Personally speaking, I didn’t fall for the album immediately; that came later. I would argue that some tracks are somewhat safe for an artist of Ty’s ability and pedigree. The more personal songs are the core and strength to the record, and the additional vocalists and musicians support Ty’s journey here perfectly. But the supplementary rappers tended not to add much extra value to what was already provided by Ty himself – but this has been an on-going issue within hip hop for years.

Having followed Ty’s work since 2002 and having met him on a few occasions at events while DJing, he’s one of the most genuine and likable people you are ever likely to meet. But Ty is quite a unique artist in the UK in that he successfully combines the worlds of hip hop, jazz and soul unlike others in the country, but I feel he needs to exploit this advantage and his position more. As mentioned, greater use of high calibre musicians could be the key but in both the recording and the live arena. But nonetheless, some very strong tracks are presented here, but I feel there is still more to come from Ty.

Damian Wilkes

Jah Schulz ‘A Railroad Session’ (Railroad) 2/5

But first, a personal moan. Of all the many sub genres operating under the umbrella’s of Reggae and Dub music Digital Steppers Dub aka Digi Dub has been one of the longest serving especially in Western Europe in England, Germany, France et al. It is also at times the most (after many years in existence) the most monotonous and repetitive sub genre ever created with only a handful of real classic underground releases from the producers and players of the scene during this time, indeed the genre drowned itself many moons ago yet it still continues to trundle on year after year due to support of various ‘small tribes’ and underground DJs/Soundsystems that embrace this sub genre.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of albums within said genre that have given my ears absolute pleasure on rare occasion, artists like Don Fe, El Bib, and a handful of Conscious Sounds releases amongst others from the first wave digital dub underground innovators arena not forgetting of course some of the originators like Messian Dread, Mixman, Alpha and Omega et al and the second wave movers Doktor Lond, Panda Dub, Switchy Dub, Dog Dub and others who are known to push boundaries within their digi dub mixing and offer a progression with their works, moving forward and innovating with some attitude whilst keeping the faith to the style, yet so many times whilst searching for the new I have discovered artists or shall I say ‘producers’ as they like to call themselves on various platforms and profiling sites where their music I have to say is on the whole tedious, a robotic samey to the point of it being basically ‘dub by numbers’ and that’s the shame, there is so much of the weak stuff out there swamping the rare strong stuff and unless you’re in the know or have hundreds of hours each week to search for the rare strong stuff chances are you’re unlikely to come across much of it. So much of it has been published online and also pressed onto vinyl especially between 2010 and 2014 and for every cool Don Fe and Doktor Lond tune there are a hundred others who offer no experimentation nor push boundaries just offering safe and boring by numbers loop music and it’s all of those type of creators that make it difficult for me to appreciate this sub genre fully simply because it has drowned itself by repetition shall I dare say by wannabe musicians.. Believe me I have heard over the years some absolute awfulness within this sub genre, It’s like panning for gold. Well, less christmas cards for me this coming Noel I suspect. I wont lose sleep over that however.

A bucket load of ‘producers’ utilizing paid for drum loops, bass lines and sounds pre made and available in (and I’m told easy to put together) ‘pay for’ packages… Well is that real musicianship? Of course one has to instinctively know and feel the riddim to be able to put these things together which equals a studio technician, a musician of sorts? I’m not wholly convinced. A die-hard defender could however state that this digi dub steppers style is really made just for soundsystems and radio DJs so the musician element doesn’t really need to be discussed, it’s not of the same sentiment, it’s not for the same audience?

I guess I just appreciate people playing instruments by hand if possible either in a band setting or by multi overdubbing by a duo or trio, it’s the real hands on vibe I dig , mistakes, bum notes and all which makes it real music, a feeling, not airbrushed. There is something about digi dub steppers style that doesn’t sit well with me, neither does making music solely by computer and programmes, it never has and then there is that awful childlike instrument that seems to permeate 80% of total output ever published throughout this sub genre; the ear hurting Melodica and to be frank there really isn’t a great deal one can do with a Melodica other than filter the hell out of it, a bit like those horrible little tinny flutes at school, it’s OK for a minute but for years.. OK now I’ve had my chucking the toys out of the pram moment and with this next album to review do we have another yawn or a nice break at dawn..?

Here we have an album by Germany’s Jah Schulz, a 6 tracker plus 2 versions, and the track listing is presented as if from vinyl and in traditional vinyl running time which is always a plus for me with albums.

A Side 1 to A4 and B Side 1 to B4: A pretty standard affair kicks off the album with what sounds like a heavily filtered or synthesised melodica with a very bass heavy riddim on a piece called ‘Dub Sensor’. A piece called ‘Go See The Dub’ has the (once) obligatory Yabby You snare drum fill samples helping to keep the riddim rolling along and has some nice bass tone manipulations and echo effects leading into a synth wash bridge conjuring up an eastern atmosphere, well put together yet I’m positive I’ve heard all this exact same thing countless of times even down to tempo and the chords chosen, well trodden ground. ‘Rise Up’ has cool percussive elements rolling through its mix and synthesized trumpets providing the backdrop over a laid back groove with some nice reverbs, this piece reminds me of French dub producer ‘Jahno’ from the end of the first wave era. The saving grace for my ears on this album is its last piece B Side 4 entitled ‘AfriKan Powa’ featuring Sirius Soulboy which is an eclectic sonic fusion, a percussive led minimalist work and it is with this piece that I am reminded that there is still some hope for original thought when constructing music with pure digi dub.

Overall a well executed mixing using tried and trusted parts, effects and synth noises and settings that have been in use for over 10 years now so where is the attitude?, the progression? the new? it’s like it has its own rules sometimes and one as an artist must not sway and upset the apple cart.

I usually decline in reviewing digi steppers dub albums just because there isn’t much one can really say (on the whole) about them in an in-depth review other than the words Hypnotic, Loops, Computer, Melodica and then bigging up the sound crew and whoever did the mastering with a steady diet of this for the ears day in day out? well… I’ll take a bit of lo fi Messian Dread with mine any day. Check out the Hypnotic album by Jah Schulz entitled ‘A Railroad Session’ you may dig it. It rolls with the bassline and has a warm production. A heavy 2 from me. 2/5 Could it be a nice yawn at the break of dawn?

Gibsy Rhodes

Kit Downes ‘Obsidian’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

ECM has rightly acquired a reputation for not pandering to conventional tastes and promoting left-field projects whenever possible. This is a case in point. Pianist Kit Downes is best known for his work in trios and sideman for larger ensembles, but for his ECM leader debut, he breaks the mold by performing on a variety of church organs in Suffolk and at the Union Chapel in London. It has to be stated that this is not really a jazz recording, though other jazz pianists have occasionally reverted to the sound of the organ, including on less than Fats Waller and on one piece, ‘Modern Gods’, Downes is joined by tenor saxophonist, Tom Challenger. A real treat is a fascinating rendition of the traditional folk number, ‘Black is the colour’, which Nina Simone famously sang. Otherwise, the compositions are the leader’s own. The project as a whole is devoted to the late pianist John Taylor, who was not averse himself to the occasional organ performance.

Tim Stenhouse