This live recording from a major concert hall in Tokyo predates tenorist Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return to the United States after an extended stay in Europe (Scandinavia in particular) from the 1960s onwards That latter return was celebrated by an excellent Columbia double album, ‘Live at Keystone Corner’. On the earlier Japanese live date, however, what comes across is the tight rhythm section who were by now regulars in the Gordon band and these featured long-time collaborator Kenny Drew on piano (a near ever present on the Blue Note studio dates that Gordon recorded), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHOP) on acoustic bass and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath on drums. Of course, Dexter Gordon was adept at interpreting standards and making them his own, and on this occasion, a mid-tempo rendition of Henry Mancini’s ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ is accompanied by sensitive piano and rim-drums. In sharp contrast, the Gordon opus, ‘Fried Bananas’, receives a fiery uptempo version, with the outstanding driving bass of NHOP in close attendance .
One interesting inclusion is that of the Errol Garner number, ‘Misty’, and Gordon proves himself to be a master of the balladry form, while the blues is not forsaken on the Billy Eckstine and Earl Hines composition, ‘Jelly, Jelly, Jelly’. This gorgeous atmospheric piece features a charismatic Dex on lead vocals with crowd participation and supportive piano lines from Drew, before Gordon takes over with a tenor solo that includes a familiar riff from Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’, with the leader’s R & B background emphasised here. Bonus cuts from live sessions in Holland and New Haven, Connecticut respectively, contain a virtually identical line-up with ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’ for the former and the warm ballad, ‘Old Folks’, the joint pick of the bunch. A decade later, Gordon would achieve wider universal acclaim and an Oscar nomination, playing the fictional role of Dale Turner (in reality a thinly disguised cameo of pianist Bud Powell), as a jazz musician struggling to survive in 1950s Paris in Bertrand Tavernier’s critically acclaimed, ‘Autour de Minuit (‘Round Midnight)’. Incisive inner sleeve notes are written by Blue Note authority Michael Cuscuna and Gordon’s widow, Maxine Gordon, who also happens to be the author of a new biography of the tenorist, ‘Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon’ [November 2018]. The sleeve notes also include some fine black and white photos of the band behind the scenes. Excellent sound quality as one has come to expect from Japanese recordings.
Trumpeter Woody Shaw was at his zenith in the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and this was at a time when a young Wynton Marsalis was only beginning to make his way and Miles Davis was barely out of retirement and striving to regain both his stamina and tone. In 1981,then one could argue with some conviction that Woody Shaw ruled the roost among jazz trumpeters, with, perhaps, Freddie Hubbard, his nearest and only serious rival. This fine live recording coincided with Shaw’s tenure at Columbia records, including the 1981 album, ‘United’, and that is reflected in the choice of numbers. Seasoned devotees of the musician will want to compare it with the lovely 1977 Muse album, ‘Concert Ensemble at the Berliner Jazztage’, which features a larger brass ensemble. On this later recording, which lasts just under seventy-five minutes, the pared down formation is that of a quintet comprising Steve Turré on trombone, Stafford James on bass, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Reedus on drums. No saxophonists whatsoever, and all but two pieces are Shaw originals..
The familiar, ‘Rosewood’, rates as one of Woody’s finest compositions and is an opportunity for the young pianist to shine, displaying his credentials as an avowed disciple of both the Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner schools of jazz piano. The melodic motif is embellished by some fine bowed bass soloing from James. An intimate and warm interpretation of the Monk standard, ‘Round Midnight’, features Shaw and Turré in tandem, with crisp soloing from the leader and then a refined piano solo from Miller. As a bonus, the near fifteen minute, ‘Sweet Love Of Mine’, live date from July 1985 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, impresses with an extended brass section that includes Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton and Dizzy Reece. Informative sleeve notes come courtesy of Woody Shaw’s only son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III. It is a genuine double tragedy that Woody Shaw’s passing should be in such a dramatic fashion, severing his left arm in a subway accident and subsequently dying of kidney failure, aged just forty-four while in 2013, pianist Mulgrew Miller should also depart, aged fifty-seven.
1000 Kings. #wecantsaywhoisintheband. According to the PR they’re “a group starring bassist Karl Rasheed-Abel, drummer Kwake Bass and a saxophonist whose identity cannot be revealed for contractual reasons.” His identity CANNOT be revealed. Ooohh…Secrecy and mystery. Not heard it yet and it’s exciting already! Beautiful, powerful cover too – pure. And, look, I have no idea who the sax player is, and I don’t know if Kemet is his Ancestor or not, but this is one serious piece of jazz fusion for the right here, for the right now….even if it was recorded some 4 or 5 years ago…
The 1000 Kings chaps have previously brought their musical power to many lucky musicians – MF Doom, Roots Manuva, Laura Mvula, Omar, Soweto Kinch, Courtney Pine, Kate Tempest etc. etc. We should expect great things, right? Maybe, some of us would even expect a defining moment for UK jazz….even if it was recorded some 4 or 5 years ago…For me these expectations have been met.
I love this album. Start to finish. The variety and fusion of it. The soul of it. The raw strength of it. The sometime minimalism of it. The musicianship of it. The intelligence of it. The freeness of it. The balance of it. The truth of it. The 3-pieceness of it. The UKishness of it. Everything about it. It’s, frankly, my kind of album. 5 stars. Review over.
‘The Drop’ is the perfect statement-making opener. It’s initially sparse, spacey, dubby. All metronomic, bubbling bass and open tenor sax riff before blowing up into a Sanders/Williamson-esque spiritual explosion – a brief but powerful enlightenment. But, just as we’re really connecting with our celestial beings, we’re brought back down to earth again, sparse and calming to a gradual resolution.
‘Kind of Fuji’ has its roots somewhere slightly warmer than London. A tightly rhythmic piece, bass and percussion leading us on a gentle dance. Sax lyrically whispers its call for us to join in the fun. It builds layer upon layer of percussion adding to the comfortable, upbeat, joyous energy.
‘Jimi’ is all about the bluesy riff, as the title might lead you to expect, and the Carmine Appice drumfest. A bit dawn-of-Heavy Metal with a touch of Colosseum about it. The trio really rock on this – convincingly nailing it.
‘Doom’ kicks off with Kwake Bass on a “look-at-me-Mum!” drum solo but that apparent improv morphs easily into a complex pattern that drives the track. Sax works with it sometimes and argues with it other times, while Rasheed-Abel busies away pushing harder and further. Expansive and deeply spiritual.
‘Fulfillment House’ is a slow, end-of-battle lament – evoking ripped, flaccid war flags and beaten men. Or, possibly, inward thought and incomplete journeys. Rasheed-Abel’s pedalling, anchoring lines are moving. Compassionate, empathic and beautiful this. It would’ve/could’ve made a perfect end to an album.
That job here though was left to ‘W.Y.September’. It reeks of 3 musicians really gelling – truly listening to, and bouncing off of each other. Bass’s drumming is pure fire – syncopated and stumbling – somewhere between those technical drumming terms of ‘falling down the stairs’ and ‘chip pan’.
I know I finished my review at the end of the 3rd paragraph but, I’d just like to re:finish it…this album represents everything I’ve loved about the ‘jazz’ coming out of the UK over the last decade. Sonically perfect (to me) with outlandishly great musicianship and a variety of influence you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
For me though this album stands out – it has a raw purity, a stripped down-ness. It is the truth of 3 outstanding musicians empathically communicating their message with a consistency and an authenticity forcing us to 100% believe what they’re saying. Absolutely on message. I really don’t feel that too often. Jazz re:freshed have released a 5 star album. And I think Raw Cause is a perfect title for it.
The thing I love most about listening to a jazz trio is when the musicians connect in such a way that the music they’re making sounds effortless. This can be in any number of ways, from the tried and tested jazz standard right the way through to the experimental and avant-garde. When a band are “on it”, they just are, and the resulting music comes across as sincere, free, delightful and simply downright enjoyable.
“Tailwind” is Brono Råberg’s tenth album as leader. The Swedish born bassist and composer is a longtime resident of Boston, and is joined on this recording by regular collaborator, pianist Bruce Barth, and newer acquaintance drummer Adam Cruz. Together, on this release, they have produced an album rich in vitality and splendour.
Although a fairly straight-ahead jazz recording, there’s an essence to the trio’s music that lifts this way above any standard fare. Made up of mainly original compositions, there’s a distinct skill and poise to the performances, at times quietly adventurous, crisp and energetic, emotive and atmospheric, but always melodic, the music draws deeply from the jazz tradition, with all three musicians contributing individually and as a kinetically connected integral unit.
“For me Tailwind is the feeling of being gently pushed ahead.” says Råberg. “Having my intentions and dreams amplified by a collective effort, in this case making music together as a group. When playing with great musicians such as Bruce and Adam I get the sense of being lifted and carried along; the music flowing effortlessly and deeply.” And it’s the same sense of being lifted that I get when listening to this album. The natural feel of ebb and flow allows the music to ignite my senses and flow through me as all great music should do.
I could pick out any number of the ten tunes for special attention, but I’ll just mention three here for now. The opener “Message” sets the tone perfectly; rhythmic, dynamic and exciting, the soloing and interplay top-notch, with a vibrancy and verve that flows seamlessly. “Le Candide II” blazes a brilliant trail of luminescent fervour with its engagingly uplifting crescendos. And the sublime and stunningly beautiful “Lone Tree Hill” cannot fail to impress, its tenderness resplendent and majestic.
Bruno Råberg has created and delivered one of the modern jazz delights of 2018 in “Tailwind”. Quite simply a joy to listen to and most certainly one of my favourite discoveries this year. Highly recommended. All eyes on Bruno Råberg Trio we say.
The Sound of Los Angeles Records, or Solar to use its diminutive and better known name, was one of the late disco era labels of choice and the likes of Dynasty, Shalamar and the Whispers, to name but three, typified the sound. A top backing band ensured a clearly distinctive of prominent bass lines, clipped rhythm guitar, thumping drum beats and collective handclaps all in tandem. One singer who had a significantly lower profile, yet became known as, ‘The first lady of Solar’, was Carrie Lucas, who just happened to also be the wife of label owner and co-founder, Dick Griffey. That is not to detract from her undoubted and underrated vocal talent, and she scored a major disco hit in the UK with, ‘Dance with you’, that departed somewhat from the later Solar sound and was far more in the disco mainstream, with whirling strings. That single hit a nerve with dance and pop fans alike in the UK and entered into the top forty before even the Whispers had scored with, ‘The beat goes on’, and followed on from the success of Shalamar, who British disco, pop and soul fans immediately identified with. The three CDs cover the period 1977-1984, are neatly divided chronologically up into two albums per CD and, rather than feature facsimile covers of the original albums, the CD inner covers are awash with photos of Carrie from the late 1970s. Full marks to Soul Music for the excellent packaging and the previous one CD, ‘Best of’, does not even begin to compare with this infinitely more exhaustive box set.
Born in California, Carrie Lucas was a versatile singer whose musical influences included the soulful Chaka Khan, then plying her trade with Rufus, and Sarah Vaughan. Lucas’ voice was a sweet one and not in the same league as some of the disco divas of the calibre of Loleatta Holloway, or Rochelle Fleming, the superb lead singer from First Choice. However, it was nonetheless a soulful one and it would be both unfair and indeed inaccurate to stereotype Lucas as solely a dance oriented artist. She was in fact very open to different genres and deserved to be heard in more than a dance oriented groove. Her first bona fide disco hit came in 1977 with, ‘I gotta keep dancing’ and the full length version is included here, and indeed it scored highly on the disco charts when the genre was reaching its apogee. The song was not typical of the later Solar sound and was far more akin to the disco mainstream, which meant minor chord keyboards, relentless percussion and whirling strings. A follow-up single, ‘Gotta get away from your love’, repeated the disco formula and was a hit in the US disco charts. In truth, the first CD with the debut albums, ‘Simply Carrie’ (1977) and ‘Street Corner Symphony’ (1978), was really a first attempt at establishing Lucas’ recording credentials and such as indistinguishable from a good deal of the disco-oriented product of the era.
Far more convincing is the second CD which combines, ‘In danceland’ (1979), with, ‘Portrait of Carrie’ (1980). It is the former that features the uptempo, ‘Dance with you’, in its full 12″ version and one of the unusual features of the song is the Hammond organ which you hardly ever hear from disco acts, with the notable exception of Brazilian jazz-funk outfit Azymuth and their opus, ‘Jazz Carnival’. In fact, the first album was viewed by husband Griffey as a concept album with disco now in the mainstream and that is reflected in the music. By the time the album had been released, the Solar explosion was now in full swing with Dynasty, Lakeside, (at slightly later date) Midnight Star, Shalamar and the Whispers all hitting the soul charts with frequent regularity. Lucas, however, was developing as a gifted songwriter and one shining example is the song, ‘A song for Donny’, dedicated to the then recently deceased Donny Hathaway, and it is a song that was covered by the Whispers, and has become over time something of a soul standard.
It was with, ‘Portrait of Carrie (1980), arguably her strongest album all round, that the singer first worked with Leon Sylvers III who produced three of the songs, including the full-length virtually eight minutes take on, ‘Keep smilin’, from 1980 with the Whispers on background vocals. It now sounds like a prototype boys town disco anthem. Another song of interest is, ‘Fashion’ (not to be confused with the David Bowie song), that was co-written by members of the group Dynasty, while, ‘It’s not what you got’, is another dancefloor number. However, for sheer variety, Lucas truly excels on the soulful ballad, ‘Just a memory’, and had she only been pushed further in this direction, Carrie Lucas could have given even Deniece Williams a serious run for her money in the soulful ballads department. Carrie Lucas was definitely not a one-dimensional singer, even if the songs crafted for her tended to straitjacket her in that direction. Her fifth album, ‘Still in love’ (1982), belongs to the post-disco era and she worked closely with the Whispers songwriting team. That collaboration resulted in, ‘Show me where you’re coming from’, written by Leon Sylvers. A final album from 1984, ‘Horsin’ around’, included a top 20 R & B single that saw Lucas successfully cover what became a revival hit in the lovely gentle flowing early R & B hit number, ‘Hello stranger’ (with the Whispers on background vocals), originally penned by Barbara Lewis. Thereafter, Carrie Lucas decided to retire from the professional music business and devote her life to bringing up her children who share her love of music in its myriad forms. Carrie Lucas would tour with the Whispers and other Solar artists during the late 1970s and into the early 1980s when the label was at its peak.
The Westbound label is a little known label that nonetheless became required listening for those in the know about underground disco during the mid-late 1970s. Tom Moulton is a remixer extraordinaire and indeed a major innovator in taking the vocal and instrumental side of 45s and deliberately and creatively elongating them into extended dancefloor delights. That directly led to the creation of the 12″ single and Moulton was the arguably the originator, or at the very least in the vanguard of that trend. Whatever the case, his remix of, ‘Feel the need’, by the Detroit Emeralds, deserves pride of place on any self-respecting disco devotees vinyl shelve. It remains a deeply soulful interpretation of the 1972 original.
Moulton and arranger and producer Mike Theodore in tandem offer up a classy instrumental cut in, ‘Song of the wind’, by Caesar Frazier and the build up of tension and layers of strings is not without recalling the epic sound of Philadelphia International. That parallel resurfaces on the soulful, ‘Manhattan love song’, by Bahamian master percussionist, King Errison, with collective vocal harmonies and dynamite percussion as one might expect. In fact, an over-arching retrospective of Errison would be an ideal project for any enterprising re-issue label. Another instrumentalist of note is key member of the Motown sound aka The Funk Brothers, guitarist Dennis Coffey. His outstanding ad-libs on guitar, on the lovely, ‘Wings of fire’, where wah-wah effects and the brass orchestrations are in the ascendancy, collectively combine to create a sound which bears a passing resemblance to Lonnie Liston Smith and, ‘Expansions’.
More traditional disco grooves are in evidence with the symphonic sounding, ‘Devil’s gun’, by C.J. and Co. which receives an extended Moulton mix, while the funkier side of town comes courtesy of, ‘Freaky people’, by the aptly titled, Crowd Pleasers. A real grower is Erasmus Hall and, ‘Beat your feet’, with a rapid intro that takes on board percussion and synthesizer effects. Only the tinny and slightly dated Hippie Torales mix of the Clarke Sisters otherwise wonderful funky gospel rendition of, ‘You brought the sunshine (into my life)’ fails to impress, and frankly the music is already fine and without any need to be further tampered with. An excellent overview of the Westbound label, then, and mighty handy to have the various 12″ singles in one place. As is the case with previous ACE compilations, impeccable attention to detail on the inner sleeve notes and beautifully illustrated graphics with individual notes on the respective tracks.
Back in 1976, Brazilian singer Gal Costa recorded one of the finest tribute albums ever of her native land. It was devoted to the great Bahian composer and musician, Dorival Caymmi, and that album has been an ever-present on this writer’s required Brazilian listening pleasures ever since. French singer Lio, who is of Portuguese descent, has decided to offer her own tribute to the great songwriter, but has wisely avoided a direct comparison by choosing a largely different repertoire of his compositions. The result is a pared down series of twelve songs with a basic rhythm section comprising acoustic guitar, keyboards, accordion and percussion.
For non-francophone speakers, Lio needs a few words of introduction. When barely sixteen years of age in the late 1970s, the young singer came to prominence with the pop hit, ‘Banana Split’, which was a massive hit in France. Blessed with a sweet sounding voice and photogenic Latin diva looks, further pop success was always likely and that came in the 1980s with the humorously titled, ‘Les brunes ne comptent pour des prunes’, which roughly translates as, ‘Brunettes do not count for nothing’, something of a rallying cry of sorts. The album is arranged and produced by long-term collaborator Jacques Duvall and is, in general, reflective of the more melancholic side of Caymmi’s songwriting craftmanship. A jazzy take on, ‘Nesta rua tão deserta’, impresses with some deft brush work and vibes. In marked contrast, the more orchestrated, ‘Morrer no mar’, inventively recreates the acoustic sounds of the cello and viola. The influence of samba-rock pioneer, Jorge Ben, surfaces on the minimalist mid-tempo ‘Nunca mais’, with guitar, bass and percussion, which demonstrates that less can mean more, while the gently uplifting ‘Doralice’ features a whistled intro and acoustic guitar, and the arrangements bear a strong resemblance to those of Joao Gilberto. The one genuinely uptempo number and probably most recognised of all the songs here is ‘Samba de minha terra’.
The genesis of the project actually began in seemingly unlikely territory in the north-east of France and the town of Valenciennes where Jacques Duvall played fellow musician, guitarist and friend Christophe Vandeputte, some of the Brazilian album interpretations of Caymmi’s work. As the bilingual French and English inner sleeve notes affirm with no little irony, ‘Not exactly the same latitude as Bahia’. Nevertheless, this ‘Made in France’ production works a treat and is respectful of the songwriting tradition of the Caymmi family who, collectively, are probably Brazil’s first family of song alongside that of Jobim. If one criticism could be voiced of the album as a whole, it is perhaps that a greater number of uptempo song could and should have been attempted. A pull out graphical illustrated image of Lio confirms the Latin diva status, complete with characteristic tropical pose, holding a cavaquinho (small Portuguese string instrument).
Record collecting purists out there would shudder at the idea of purchasing a reissued album, let alone a compilation of tracks. For them it’s all about the original pressing, that trophy of sourcing and finding the original piece of wax in (ideally) mint condition with crisp artwork and the knowledge that they have another rare gem in their collection (and a considerably lighter wallet). If it’s a reissue, where’s the hard work in finding that record, where’s the value and pride in owning something that’s fresh from the pressing room? If it’s a compilation they’d walk even further away. And this I understand, and to a varying degree have adopted this attitude… but only after many years of getting myself acquainted with the trials and errors of looking for music to play at home or in clubs. Twenty years on from starting to build my own collection, my excitement has evolved into finding that original album or 45 to add to my hoard, trying to filter out and sell my reissues and comps and re-investing my money into original stone cold cuts.
But hey, back in the day when my knowledge was minimal, compilations were a safe way for me to discover new avenues of music and players without having to risk buying an artist’s whole album and not (excuse the pun) ‘digging it’. Very often the funk, soul and jazz compilations I would find in the little back street record shops of London, Brighton, Liverpool and Leeds would be very much geared to the dance floor and more often than not, contain rare tracks and obscurities that it would take years to discover if I was searching through an artists discography from album to album for tracks I liked.
Over the past twenty years, it’s compilations that have really helped bring resurgence in funk, soul and jazz music to a younger generation. Those getting to grips with turntables and setting up their own club nights and promotions have had the blessing of collectors and compilers on the scene, making it easy for these new enthusiasts to ignite a dance floor with a record box full of other selector’s wisdom. From the Jazz Juice compilations of the 80s and 90s and the Legendary Deep Funk comps of Keb Darge to the Soul Jazz Records selections and brilliant releases on BGP Records. I could go on and on naming the contributors and labels in the game that have lent their knowledge and tastes to the compilation market and inspired my journey, but you want to know about this record, so I’ll move on.
Two years ago, Eddie Piller, founder of Acid Jazz Records and guru to the acid jazz scene, asked friend and fellow mod and music addict, Martin Freeman to join him on his Electric Soul radio show for the brilliant Soho Radio. The listening response to this special broadcasting duet was overwhelming, causing a barrage of positive feedback via emails and social media and made them realise they had a special formula that needed to be replicated for this musically hungry and discerning public.
The idea was set, and time given for both selectors to dig deep into their collections to come up with 11 favourite tracks each to add to a compilation. Two years on, in March this year, they released ‘Jazz On The Corner’ on deluxe gatefold vinyl and CD to mark Acid Jazz’s 30th Anniversary celebrations and give back their listeners a large slice of what was heard on Soho Radio on that fateful day. This is a very generous collection of music, not only in the way that both Eddie and Martin have shared their intricate tastes and musical passions from their vaults, but also that you get 22 tracks, many hitting the six of seven minute mark. A true journey into 60s and 70s jazz, soul and crossover, but also with a nod to 90s acid jazz.
Martin’s selection begins with American jazz and blues pianist, Mose Allison’s ‘If You’re Going To The City’, with Mose’s individualistic and quirky vocals sat on top of his equally bluesy and jazzy piano riffs. With sax and trumpet jamming in situ and lyrics that are sprinkled with subtle humour, this track has a real nice mood to get the collection rolling. Joe Gordon’s ‘Terra Firma Irma’ drops in next from his second and final album ‘Lookin’ Good’, recorded in 1961 not long before his death. A track with a sense of urgency and style, one for the jazz dancers and a talent that hints at what might have been had Joe Gordon lived. It’s the solos that shine on this number and Joe’s trumpet cuts the way for the rest of the band to show their skills, directed by Art Blakey on the drums.
Talking of Art Blakey, the next track is his, with his Messengers, from the stunning 1960 album, ‘A Night In Tunisia’, on Blue Note Records. ‘Kozo’s Waltz’ was written by Lou Donaldson, playing trumpet alongside fellow band members Wayne Shorter on tenor, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merrit on bass. This is a great example of these guys in their prime youth with Jymie’s extraordinary bass line, Lou and Wayne’s horns wrapped around each other like spaghetti and Art shuffling along on the cymbals and snare like a train leaving a station. This track has integrity and is a personal favourite of mine. Following suit you have the Eddie Harris’ ‘Listen Here’, and of the many versions Eddie recorded of this track, Martin has chosen his iconic sax solo take stretching out to over seven minutes in length. Slick double bassist Sam Jones steps in next with his punchy number, ‘Some Kinda Mean’, from his 1960 debut album ‘The Soul Society’, really showing off his finger work. David Axelrod, one of America’s most influential composers, producers and arrangers gets selected for the next slice of music in ‘Get Up Off Your Knees’, a 1974 jazz, rock and soul workout from his Capitol Records period, with a larger than life horn section.
There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into the shortlist for Martin Freeman’s contribution to this collection. There’s a great flow to the selections and although styles and time periods flit between the 60s and 70s, everything fits really nicely into place as you listen along. Moving through his choices you’ll hear the succulent soul jazz of Lee Morgan’s ‘Psychedelic’, the big band blow out of Jimmy Smith’s ‘A Walk On The Wild Side’, (from his first release for Verve Records) with all its mighty Hammond B-3 trimmings, alongside the softly intricate and peaceful vocals of Blossom Dearie’s ‘Now At Last’, and the Afro Latin shuffle and groove of ‘Trees and Grass and Things’ by Charles Williams.
To round off Martin’s list, he takes us all the way to 2015, with a visit to the spiritual sounds of Kamasi Washington, presumably to not only showcase a stunning song but also to give evidence to the listener that these deep sounds are alive and well today. Kamasi’s track, ‘The Rhythm Changes’, with Patrice Quinn on vocals is a beautiful piece, uplifting and groovy, with a bittersweet depth. It gives good pace to the main man’s sax workings and allows Patrice’s vintage tones to soar in an almost cinematic soundscape. The track Martin has finished up with here is taken from Kasami’s second studio album, ‘The Epic’, on Brainfeeder records, an offering that received worldwide critical acclaim.
Are you still with me? I hope so as I’m yet to uncover what Eddie Piller has thrown into the pot. And with a man who has been so prominent in the scene for thirty years, signed and introduced so many ground breaking artists to his label, and influenced so many people’s musical directions… it should be our absolute pleasure and privilege to hear music that makes him tick. I can’t even imagine how big a list of tunes would have to be short listed for this record but I trust that he has made the right choices and it’s refreshing that this isn’t a platform for his label releases and much more a delve in his personal tastes.
So to Eddie, and what an immaculate piece to start with. ‘Bend Your Head Down Low’ by Geoffrey Stoner is taken from his very rare and overlooked 1973 album ‘Watch Out’ on Ovation Records. A stunning laid back brooder, with Stoner’s deep soul vocals punctuated by killer flute, a building drum break and floaty Fender Rhodes. If you’re a fan of Terry Callier, then Geoffrey’s vocals sit very comfortably next to him and if you can get hold of this album it’s a must. Eddie Piller is dealing out vocal tracks where Martin Freeman provided mostly instrumentals and the next track is a scorcher in Leon Thomas’, ‘Just In Time To See The Sun’. Leon recorded this track in 1973, the same year he toured and recorded as a member of the band Santana and you can hear the Latin influence within the arrangement of this song with its tight horns and rhythm. A true vocal great, having previously been picked to front Count Basie in the 60s and most known for his work with Pharoah Sanders.
Most of the artists to appear on this compilation are of American heritage, but the next track comes straight out of 1970s Australia with blues band Chain singing about the country’s historical convict past in ‘Blacks and Blues’. Crying guitars and gritty soulful vocals provided by Phil Manning dominate the track with bluesy piano licks and a gliding bass line to keep momentum. Marlena Shaw keeps things on a vocal tip next with ‘Look At Me, Look At You’ from her 1977 album ‘Sweet Beginnings’, a big hit at the time with UK soul audiences. This track has a nice jazz infused style with Marlena’s heavenly sweet and soulful vocals creating a mystically cool sound.
It’s only fair that Eddie gets a couple of tracks from the Acid Jazz back catalogue into the selection, and I couldn’t think of a better example of those early releases than The Brand New Heavies ‘Sphynx’ from their 1990 self-titled debut album. The Heavies may be known for their very successful vocal hits but when you dig into their early recordings it’s certain that they are totally at home creating music for instrumentalisation. This particular track has a stormy feel to it, like something is brewing in the air. A blissfully anxious jazz funk work out, with a bass line that stabs you in the chest. The storm doesn’t calm yet, Jamaican born Harold McNair jumps in with ‘The Hipster’ from his 1970 album ‘Flute and Nut’ with his intense but breezy flute work soloing throughout the majority of the track.
Moving towards the last few tracks, ‘Sad Little Girl’ by Les McCann brings the mood deep down and dark with this thoughtful upbeat mover, whilst Blue Mitchell takes things on a trumpet, tenor and Rhodes solo trip with ‘Mi Hermano’. One of the best crossover soul jazz artists of the 70s, Norman Connors’ ‘Mother Of The Future’ is pure jazz dance fire, with its infectious rhythm, spirited vocals and percussive groove. Just before we get to the end of the record, Eugene McDaniels slips in a mellower vibe with his soulful jazzy vocals on ‘Cherrystones’, a laid back head-nodder and an artist that has been heavily sampled for his psychedelic soul, funk and jazz rhythms.
On a few of the tracks on this collection I’ve physically found myself wanting to clap the solos, maybe I need to get out to jazz clubs more! Everything on here is immaculately well-chosen and each individual track is a potential opening to another branch of music for both people new to the genre and those more acquainted. Whether you want to sit back and chill or get up and add spins to your dance this compilation has everything and is a totally listening pleasure from start to finish, which leads me into the last track of the collection.
Eddie gives you a Swedish jazz quartet fronted on piano by Ulf Sandberg with ‘Bolivia’, his second inclusion from the vaults of his Acid Jazz label. You just have to love this track… a graciously seductive piano intro sweeps along into uptempo shuffly snare, hats, synchronised piano and sax riff which meander into individual solos with all the players giving each other room to move. The whole tune has a feel of Autumn about it. Interestingly James Taylor of The James Taylor Quartet was Ulf Sandberg’s pupil and James recommended him as an artist to Acid Jazz Records. ‘Bolivia’ certainly feels like a suitable end to this collection, but the mood of the track feels like the dawn of a new chapter… Jazz On The Corner 2? Yes please.
So, Jack Sels then. You know him, right. No? Jack Sels the tenor sax guy. No? Jack the hipster from Antwerp who died in 1970 only aged 48. He was heavily influenced by the Central Ave scene (especially Wardell Grey) and Sonny Rollins and who wore a Pres’s pork pie hat. No? Jack, the only child, who inherited the family fortune which he ‘wasted’ on girls, champagne and jazz records. Who, one sober day, bought all the tickets of a showing at Antwerp’s famous cinema Rex, and handed them all out to passersby. That guy. No?
Jack, the musicians musician, who joined Mickey Bunner’s band in 1945 playing Stan Kenton-style GI-friendly stuff before immersing himself in the blooming Belgian bebop scene before forming the Bebop All Stars Orchestra of “21 souls who love bop”. They wore working man’s clobber, those overalls and big bow ties. Cool, pioneering, ambitious but ultimately doomed to fail. THAT Jack Sels. Still no?
The Jack Sels who led a Miles Davis-ish Birth of Cool-style nonet, ran a Chamber music gig, supported Dizzy Gillespie on a couple of dates and toured Germany – playing for food, accommodation and, a princely, one German Mark per day. The Jack of whom, German magazine Das internationale Podium called his band “the best modern jazz band in the Montan-Union (an early EU ed.)”. He wrote and recorded the soundtrack to the first modern long play film in Belgian cinema, Seagulls Die in the Harbour. He recorded Bongo Jazz with Lucky Thompson and, in 1961, his first and only studio album. It featured Lou Bennett on organ, Oliver Jackson on drums and a cherubic 18 year-old Philip Catherine on guitar. Still nothing? No.
Jack Sels, the leader of Saxorama (I know) – a reeds and rhythm-section only band with 6 saxes and, old mate, Philip Catherine as one-quarter of the rhythm section. They made well over 50 recordings, some of which appear on ‘Minor Works’ for the first time. From those heights, Jack’s life quickly and inexplicably (although he did have an entertaining ability to upset people) started to unravel until his Jazz work thinned so much that, by 1966, he was forced to unload boats at Antwerp harbour to earn his crust. In 1970, while sitting at his harmonium Jack suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. One of Belgium’s most progressive modern jazz musicians, who’d played with Lester Young, Lucky Thompson and Dizzy Gillespie, died in poverty. Fellow musician, Willy Van Wiele, reported “Jack once told me ‘Willy, to go through everything I’ve been through, to live the life I lived, you would have to live for a hundred years’.”, while vibraphonist Fats Sadi praised him by saying “When Jack played, the gates of heaven opened. Jack was more Jazz than Jazz itself.” Wow.
There you go. It’s THAT Jack Sels. You remember now? No? Nothing? Me neither.
Minor works is a 2CD, double vinyl or digital release from SDBAN. It contains 27 tracks in total with 12 previously unreleased studio tracks and 8 live tracks. It highlights Jack, who received no formal musical training, as a versatile and charming arranger/composer. The album swings and endears through bebop standards, Hammerstein pops and, my favourite era, the 4-piece soul jazz jams.
Jack’s story gives an absorbing narrative to his Grey/Rollins blessed playing with Sonny’s influence making an early appearance on the first track, ‘Spanish Lady’. ‘Ginger’ is a relatively sombre affair with the spice coming from vibes and measured spoons of lyrical sax and piano soloing. ‘Dorian 047’ is a high energy, joyful train ride of a track from Jack’s Saxorama period with a twinkly, if unexplosive, Catherine solo. ‘Blue Triptichon’ is their have-a-go at Mingus with handsome, deep emotional sax layers leading into busy, dancing rhythms and Batman (TV series) horn stabs.
I’m proper hip to the smoky soul jazz of ‘African Dance’, ‘Softly As In A Morning Sunrise’ and ‘Blues For A Blonde’. They’re probably the highlight for me and sit loosely in Stanley Turrentine territory with Lou Bennett’s organ bringing the warm truth and Sels and Catherine’s economic but poetic solos merrily chatting away. It’s hard not to like Sels’ playing – it’s characterful and he does have a handsome tone.
‘Tchack-Tchack’ works really well – a rolling percussive workout with tight, afro-lite staccato guitar, twinkly-toed piano and those ganged saxes again. Good energy. We’ve also got a version of ‘Night in Tunisia’ on here which is okay but they all suffer a bit after Tony Allen’s Tribute to Blakey’s version don’t they? Then there’s the unfortunately titled ‘Dong’ which is movingly suspenseful and filmic (making sense out of Sels being picked to score Seagulls Die in the Harbour) and ‘Minor 5’ which, as we might expect, sits in Brubeck space.
I do like this album as a whole. I like the highlights even more. There’s bags of character and variety and even more commitment to a cause. Mostly it hangs together really well and you get a feeling of camaraderie.
Final note to reader – if you’d already heard of Jack Sels and at the top of this review were screaming “Yes! Of course I know who Jack Sels is! Shut the **** up, Ian!”…then I must humbly apologise for peaking your ire and add that I’m really glad that I now know who Jack is too. Nice job SDBAN. 3 stars for the album. 4 stars for the highlights.
This fascinating piece of archival work proves, if nothing else, that Belgium has a largely unknown and vastly underrated roster of jazz musicians that deserve to be explored in greater depth. Over the decades, Belgium has nurtured some fine musicians who have made their mark internationally and these include conductor and arranger Francy Boland, multi-reedist Bobby Jaspar, guitarists Philip Catherine and René Thomas, and all of those instrumentalists from the 1950s onward and others were chronicled in a superb anthology by SDBAN, entitled, ‘Let’s get swinging: modern jazz in Belgium 1950-1970’, which has been reviewed previously in these columns. That compilation included no less than three numbers featuring tenor saxophonist Jack Sels who was highly regarded among those in the know in the Belgian jazz scene and played alongside American Hammond organist Lou Bennett and Philip Catherine, on the compilation opener, ‘African Dance’, and performed a Boland original on, ‘Minor 5’, sharing duties with Saxorama. Heavily influenced by the swing era tenor saxophonists such as Stan Getz and Ben Webster, and by modernists such as Johnny Griffin, Sonny Rollins and Stanley Turrentine, Sels was not so much an innovator as a seasoned practitioner who excelled in the ballad songbook, but stretched out into more uptempo grooves on occasion.
Jean-Jacques ‘Jack’ Sels to give him his full name, was born into a wealthy Belgian family and was in fact trilingual in Dutch, English and French. That comfortable background enabled Sels to purchase thousands of 78’s, but sadly both the discs and family home were destroyed by World War Two. Thereafter. Sels performed with American G.I.’s, gaining useful experience. Hearing the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band while on tour in Europe convinced Sels to form his own big band, Jack’s be-bop All Stars orchestra, and he began, like many Belgian expat jazz musicians, to work in Paris where there was a significantly larger jazz scene. The big band opened in concert in Antwerp in May 1949, but unfortunately disbanded but a few months later. Larger ensembles were simply not financially viable at the time. A second and equally unsuccessful attempt was made a couple of years later, inspired by the Miles Davis nonet recording, ‘Birth of the cool’. Throughout the 1950s Sels travelled to and from Antwerp, sporadically recording when possible. Indeed, Jack Sels wrote and recorded what is now regarded as the first modern LP of film score music in Belgian cinema in 1955, ‘Seagulls die in the harbour’, which is an ultra rare album to acquire and since it is not included here, would make a splendid follow-up.
Of those recordings on this 2 LP/CD set, ‘Blues for a blonde’ stands out for its late night Hammond organ groove and illustrated why Sels was given the nickname of ‘Jack the hipster’. Covering famous soul-jazz numbers of the period was a Sels trademark and here the interpretations of Horace Silver’s, ‘The preacher’, Jimmy Heath’s. ‘Gemini’ and Yusef Lateef’s, ‘Dong’, are among the strongest numbers. However, Sels’ mastery of the ballad repertoire is equally illustrated on, ‘It might as well be spring’, and, ‘Rain on the Grand’Palace’, while, for adapting familiar compositions into something more personal, Sels slows down markedly the Miles opus, ‘Walkin’, and then skillfully imbues the piece with his own voice. A single studio album was recorded for Decca in Brussels in 1961 and featured two Americans in Lou Bennett and drummer Oliver Jackson. Jack Sels did not make the breakthrough that he had anticipated and, arguably, should have moved to the United States where both René Thomas and Toots Thielmans enjoyed success. For a brief period, Sels came under the tutelage of Belgian national radio and head producer Elias Gistelnick who fully supported his musical endeavours. That radio career ended abruptly for reasons still unclear. In March, 1971, Jack Sels suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away, sadly, in poverty and with his place in the history of Belgian jazz largely forgotten. All the more reason, then, to correct that imbalance and celebrate his modest, but heartfelt contribution that has been lovingly assembled here. Full marks to SDBAN for the luxurious vinyl gatefold sleeve and extensive notes by compiler Lander Lenaerts in the inner sleeves, with plenty of graphical illustrations of the musician in evocative black and white.
A close friend of Manfred Eicher and a highly creative musician whose sphere of influence cuts across western classical, improvisational and jazz boundaries, double bassist Barre Phillips seldom records and is little known to a younger generation, but has nonetheless attracted a coterie of admirers along the way. First discovered performing at a parish church in London, but developing a close friendship with Manfred Eicher after the latter heard Phillips at Berlin club in the 1960s, Barre Phillips is a musician who has tended to avoid the limelight, yet is still highly respected among musicians.
He is in fact reputed to be the first musician to record a bass solo album as far back as 1968, ‘Journal Violone’, on his own MS label, but followed that up with his first offering on ECM, a collaborative double bass duet recording with Dave Holland, ‘Music For Two Basses’ (ECM 1971), and at a later date, a second bass solo effort, ‘Call Me When You Get There’, (ECM 1983). This new recording dates from 2017 at La Buissonne and retains an intimate and reposing feel throughout. For those unfamiliar with his work, Phillips’ musical influences are diverse, but were particularly informed by avant-garde jazzmen such as Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp and even Johnny Griffin on the hard-bop side, third stream composers like Gunther Schuller, as well as classical tenures as soloist bassist with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. In concert, Barre Phillips has performed with Paul Bley, Chick Corea, Don Ellis and George Russell, while in London he worked with Chris McGregor and other South African exiles. As part of a trio formed, Phillips has recorded with Stu Martin and John Surman.
The album is divided up into a series of three lengthy pieces, and, from a purely technical perspective, is fascinating to hear in that the high-pitched harmonies contrast markedly with the lower registers, and part of the skill that Phillips possesses is to make that transition appear seamless. Although the material is prepared, Barre Phillips manages to dissect the contents with a distinctive improvised feel and explore them within the setting of a studio, thus offering more of a live mood to proceedings. Some of the parts have an early music feel and there is a strong influence of J.S Bach, while both Corelli and Villa-Lobos are present in his compositions. On part two of, ‘Quest’, for example, the spirit of Bach permeates the music and that is even more pronounced on part five where Bach’s cello suite immediately springs to mind, but not in any derivative sense. With both the extensive and exemplary sleeve notes for this album, ECM is threatening to shed its usual minimalist reputation. However, in the case of Barre Phillips, that is no bad thing at all.