Thelma Houston ‘Four Original Classic Albums on Motown’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

Disco diva extraordinaire for Motown, Thelma Houston, scored with the mammoth hit single and reprise of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, and attempted to follow that up with a series of other albums for the label. While none hit the dizzy heights of that refined soulful single, there is still much to take in on this excellent value for money set of re-issues (some albums seeing the light on CD for the first time and as such essential for fans of Houston) that takes the story of her tenure at Motown through to the very end in 1979 from her debut back in 1971. First of, ‘The Devil In Me’ from 1977, which tried to repeat the formula of the disco classic, with a Mike and Brenda Sutton penned uptempo song in ‘I’m Here Again’ which hints at ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. It performed respectably in both the R&B and dance charts, and on the 12″ version that is included here, the instrumental break down would become a firm favourite of seminal DJ Larry Levan. The sound of Philly had permeated soul music by the mid-1970s and that is reflected here by the lush strings on the ballad, ‘Baby, I Love You Too Much’, and on ‘I Can’t Go On Living Without Your Love’. A second album, ‘Ready To Roll’ (1978), was the stronger and funkier of the albums on the first CD, and this was due in large part to the excellence of the arrangements by Hal Davis. In an uptempo vein, ‘Love Is Comin’ On’, was ideally suited to the dance floor, while ‘Midnight Mona’ was an astute number that deserved to be the A-side rather than the B-side when it came out on 45.

For the third album offering, the title track to, ‘Ride To The Rainbow’ (1979), was another disco oriented piece that was a moderate success, but of interest was a cover of The Miracles’ ‘Love Machine’, with an oh so familiar bass line riff and percussion. A personal favourite from the album is the classy soulful disco of ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, while the harder edged ‘I Wanna Be Back In Love Again’, continued the use of lush strings and plucked bass. A left-field winner is the McCrary’s penned ‘Imaginary Paradise’, that fuses gospel background harmonies with more contemporary soul and funk tinges. Pick of the ballads is the co-written Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright song, ‘Just A Little Piece Of You’. The final album, ‘Reachin’ All Around’, did not actually surface until 1982, but was recorded in 1979 and is a varied affair. This is typified by the use of a medley comprising, ‘Stormy Weather’/’I Can’t Stand The Rain’, an interesting combination of blues-inflected jazz, with Stax soul, and as a bonus, ‘Love Masterpiece’ is taken from the film soundtrack to ‘Thank God It’s Friday’.

Incisive sleeve notes from David Nathan who is clearly a big fan of Houston, and full discographical details including the original album covers and those immediately identifiable mid-1970s Motown mustard and brown label, and older royal blue with map motif that came to personify the Motown sound in the mid-late 1960s. Thelma Houston belonged to a different generation of Motown artists, but was nonetheless a key ingredient in the label’s continued success during the mid-late 1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Charles Mingus ‘Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden’ 5LP/5CD (BBE/Strata/Sue Mingus Music) 5/5

Just when you thought there was no other unissued Mingus material out there, comes a wonderful and intimate set of live performances at an independent venue plus in-depth interviews from a local radio station in Detroit from 1973. The Strata Gallery 46 Selden was not just any old venue, but a multi-purpose one (that could also serve as art gallery, coffee shop, or recording space, to name but three practical vocations) that first opened its doors in July 1972, and by the time of Mingus’ arrival, one that was welcoming the top jazz musicians of the era including Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, as well as cult names such as Tribe and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (CJQ). What makes this package all the more authentic and personalised are the accompanying artifacts that range from an impressive pull out facsimile poster to original flyers and black and white photos of Mingus in live performance.

As to the music, which is a priceless and no holds barred document of a Mingus smaller ensemble from the early 1970s, it features a pared down quintet which enables the listener to appreciate the soloists more, and the brass in particular are given free rein to shine, with remastered sound quality that is, in general, excellent. Comprising Roy Brooks on drums, Don Pullen on piano and with the twin brass attack of trumpeter Joe Gardner and tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield, the music is at times fiery, as on a blistering interpretation of ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’, yet elsewhere is tender and melodic, as on ‘The man who never sleeps’, which is the ideal vehicle to hear the gorgeous trumpet hues of Gardner, with supportive piano from Pullen. The lengthy versions are accompanied invariably by a brief spoken introduction by local Detroit broadcaster, Bud Spangler, who was himself a jazz drummer with the likes of Tribe and CJQ, but equally featured are some lengthy conversations with musicians, including fellow drummer Roy Brooks.

One wonders what other musical treasures are out there, but this groundbreaking endeavour to bring to the attention of a significantly wider public is to be applauded and is a cross-label enterprise that is surely the way forward for the future. Exemplary inner sleeve notes from ex-SNC editor and founder Paul Bradshaw, that provide the historical backdrop in an informative and entertaining manner, round off an immaculate overall package and most certainly one of the year’s most enjoyable surprises.

Tim Stenhouse

Yelena Eckemoff ‘Better Than Gold And Silver’ 2CD (L&H Production) 4/5

If you truly wish to explore the spiritual roots of jazz, then this independent release on a small label is well worth investigating. Russian emigré composer and pianist Yelena Eckemoff went to considerable trouble and indeed personal anguish in her life, separated for a while from her children before the family were finally reunited in the United States. Her conversion to the Baptist church during the end of the Soviet Union gave her a new purpose in life and, as a professional musician, she wished to reflect that new religious identity in her creative work.

On this recording and not her first, divided into two separate yet closely related parts on each CD, we hear the vocal and instrumental representations of the same compositions recorded at St. Peter’s church in Manhattan. She has surrounded herself with some of the top jazz musicians in New York, several of whom regularly record for the ECM label, and these include Joey Baron on drums, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ben Moder on electric guitar, Drew Gress on double bass and Tomás Cruz on vocals, with the violin of Christian Howes and on the first CD only the mezzo-soprano vocals of Kim Mayo. To these ears, the vocal interpretations are closer to classical music than jazz, but they are still worth listening to in comparison to the jazz instrumentals. As a whole, all the music has been inspired by the psalms of the second King James bible, but you need not have any interest in or knowledge of the contents of that book in order to appreciate the music which can be listened to on its own terms. The music works best when taken at a medium tempo with several instruments in conversation with one another, as illustrated on, ‘Psalm 58’, which starts off with a guitar intro and then acquires a head of steam with trumpet and guitar engaging in a modern-day cutting edge contest. A laid back blues feel permeates, ‘Psalm 119 Lawed’, with the bass lines of Gress betraying a strong influence of J.S. Bach, while further classical hues are manifest on, Psalm 119 Nun’, with a delicate duet between piano and violin. Above all else, it is the reposing tranquillity and calming re-assurance of the music that the listener will warm to as both a deeply soothing and healing experience. Quite possibly, a greater variation of tempo would have enhanced proceedings here. Ideally, one would like to hear this formation in a live context, in a suitably spiritual surrounding such as a church. With so many new releases coming out and often going under the radar, it would be a crying shame if this excellent effort went undetected. It just makes it into the best new recording list of the year and deservedly so.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present State Of The Union – The American Dream In Crisis’ LP/CD (ACE) 5/5

Compilations are not simply designed to showcase individual singers or groups. They can equally be exploited as a narrative device to comment on socio-cultural trends in a given country, and that is precisely what the expert paring of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have come up with on this terrific and extremely well thought out compilation: and one that follows on, in tone at least, from their earlier in the year offering on events in Paris in May 1968 and the musical off-shoots. It is a compilation that now several months later seems all the more prescient given recent demonstrations in that same city. A cinematic representation of the American dream that had gone sour might be found in Arthur Penn’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

For ‘State of the Union’, the compilers have this time round assembled both an impressive and disparate cast of actors on their take of what is wrong with the fundamental ideals of American society. Who else would have brought together Frank Sinatra and Eugene McDaniels, or the Everly Brothers and Earth Kitt, but Messrs Stanley and Wiggs have done precisely that and pulled it off with aplomb. An immediate favourite and decidedly funkier than anything this writer has previously heard of Della Reese, better known for her polite 1950’s orchestrated brand of jazz, is the gritty Stax sounding ‘Brand new day’, from 1970, that effectively communicates the new atmosphere and thinking in black consciousness from a somewhat unlikely candidate. Earth Kitt reinforces that new pride in her own ethnicity with ‘Paint me black angels’, a plea, perhaps, for greater recognition and status in society as a whole.

What is truly surprising on this compilation is the number of white singers who share the downside of how American society operates, even when they personally may have prospered within it. That includes Buddy Greco, whose vividly evocative, ‘Cardboard California’, speaks volumes about life on the other side of the tracks, or Paul Anka who is both more general and emphatic when asserting, ‘This crazy world’, a theme which Marvin Gaye would masterfully dissect with ‘What’s goin’ on’. Interestingly, Bing Crosby gets in on the social commentary with a little known B-side, What do we do with the world?’, though in his case its was more ecological destruction that preoccupied him rather than any outspoken desire to combat social injustice. Bobby Darin simply poses ‘Questions’ that remain unanswered. A parallel case for social conscience poet could be made for Eugene McDaniels whose anthemic, ‘Compared to what?’, was a cry of despair that was first covered by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Here, ‘Cherrystones’, from 1970 is an indicator of what was on McDaniels’ deeply creative and fraught mind.

Folk singers such as Bob Dylan were actively reflective about the changing times and in the case of the lesser known Dion, a cover of Gaye’s, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’, conveys that message succinctly. Jazz singer Theresa Brewer was clearly concerned for those more vulnerable with her offering, ‘Save the children’, that is actually an interpretation of an early Gil Scott Heron composition that hit home with her and others. Even Sinatra was exploring new avenues with the more experimental ‘Watertown’ album, and the title track was an ambitious, if ultimately somewhat flawed, concept album and heartfelt attempt to reach a younger audience with a more poppy singer-songwriter sound, and there is a good deal more substance to the album than on first listening. On a wider level of rapidly changing social mores, Mel Tormé sang in praise of a man running off with his secretary on, ‘Take a letter Maria’, from the hit album, ‘Raindrops keep falling from my head’. Impeccable booklet notes include individual and in-depth notes on each song with cover illustrations and/or 45 label wherever possible. ACE demonstrate once again why they are the undisputed champs of the erudite compilation.

Tim Stenhouse

Spirit Fingers ‘Spirit Fingers’ 2LP/CD (Shanachie) 5/5

Here at UK Vibe, we continually consume and absorb a great deal of music essentially on a daily basis, whether purchased, from promotional material or via recommendations, but inadvertently we sometimes miss the odd release and Spirit Fingers was one of the those initially missed gems from 2018.

This quartet is almost the Marvel Avengers for contemporary jazz; renegades coming together for a common cause, and in this instance, delivering high quality writing, playing and performing. Consisting of four colossal players including bandleader and pianist Greg Spero, Italian guitarist Dario Chiazzolino, Parisian bassist Hadrien Feraud and from Dallas, Mike Mitchell on drums. More later regarding the band, but this their debut as Spirit Fingers (they were previously known as Polyrhythmic) was actually released in March 2018 on Shanachie, a large US independent label more known for contemporary R&B and smooth jazz than heavyweight fusion.

The album contains 12 compositions, although, four have a running time of less than two minutes and may be seen as interludes, but it begins with the hypnotic ‘Inside’, a technically brilliant but fluid piece (with a 12/8 time signature) especially its use of serialism with immaculately repeated piano motifs, a common technique employed by Spero, together with super complex unison playing by the band. ‘Maps’ emphasise the dextrous guitar work of Chiazzolino and Feraud’s vibrant bass playing, with ‘For’ further sanctioning this exquisite guitar and bass interaction.

The longest track of the set, ‘Find’ (with 13/16 and 17/16 time signatures!), continues the musical assault after its initial tranquil introduction but then it’s business as usual with terrifically mesmerising solos by all four members. The dynamic ‘Release’ highlights drummer Mitchell’s virtuosity, from his subtle and delicate rhythms to frenetically intricate and technically precise timings. The track ‘You’, which is remarkable in that it employs the common 4/4 time signature (I’m being sarcastic) begins with a traditional jazz-funk type groove, before Feraud intercepts with one of his fiery but perfectly controlled bass solos.

With 2018 being an exceptionally fruitful year for jazz, this writer feels this is one of the strongest albums of the year, although, due to its relative obscurity comparatively to other releases may not appear on many best-of-year charts – which would be unfortunate. But nothing is perfect, and personally I would love to hear Greg Spero play Fender Rhodes rather than acoustic piano on a few pieces to break away from the piano-centric formation. And the album cover is reminiscent of a reformed boy band’s comeback album!

But it’s unsurprising that individually the band have deep and rich musical backgrounds which is evident throughout the album. Composer Greg Spero, who is originally from Chicago, has had a broad professional development, from working with major hip hop artists as well as playing with Robert Irving III with Herbie Hancock being one of his mentors. Spero was also briefly in a duo with Makaya McCraven, who also co-produced this album, before starting the ill-named Polyrhythmic. Now based in LA, which is where he met esteemed bass player Hadrien Feraud (Chick Corea, John McLaughlin), virtuoso guitarist Dario Chiazzolino (Billy Cobham, David Liebman) and drumming prodigy Mike Mitchell (Stanley Clarke, Erykah Badu).

As complicated and technical as the musicianship is here, there is a soulfulness that permeates throughout the project. Historically, jazz-fusion practitioners have utilised overlapping polyrhythms and obscure time signatures more as a technical showcase which almost became somewhat of a jazz fusion cliché, but here one feels that Spirit Fingers use complexity more as another tool in their musical arsenal rather than for bragging rights. The CD booklet includes technical information for each track, listing time signatures and soloists, which is welcomed, especially as I’m a sucker for rhythmic displacement and unusual time signatures. But I would argue that this is an album not only for musicians or those with an understanding of the music, but anyone with an interest in the progressive side of jazz. They could have a similar impact to what Snarky Puppy have had in recent years if they continue with this direction.

While writing this review, it appears that the album is now available on limited vinyl from the band’s own US-based website. With vinyl now becoming a crucial component to new jazz releases, hopefully European distribution will not be far away, as records like this need to be made available from larger retailers such as Juno and HMV which would definitely broaden their reach and fan base outside of the USA.

Damian Wilkes

Bird Curtis Quintet ‘Needs B’ LP (Jazzaggression) 4/5

Originally recorded 19/01/1969
Ian Bird – Tenor and Alto Sax
John Curtis – Trumpet
Ray Shea – Piano
Daryl Runswick – Bass
Tim Wolley- Drums

The release of the Bird Curtis Quintet LP on Jazzagression last year certainly lived up to the hyperbole, “The best British jazz record you’ve never heard”, and “The one European Jazz record everyone should own”, were among the superlatives emblazoned on the cover sticker. And for once they were right. The little known, and extremely rare, LP was a joy to listen to. Recorded in London in 1968, it was like a snapshot of an almost forgotten age, hard blowing bop, head-nodding bossas, a very jazzy highland-fling and the modal, impressionistic ‘Sails’ made it one of the best represses of 2017.

To top it all there was no such person as Bird Curtis, those were the names of the front-line pairing of Ian Bird on tenor and John Curtis on Trumpet. Not quite in the league of the Rendell and Carr combination but they still managed to produce a remarkable record that most people had never heard of, never mind heard.

Daryl Runswick, who played bass on both records recalls in his highly interesting and amusing sleeve notes that the follow-up LP, ‘Needs B’, was shelved because the record company went bust and that was the end of that. Until pianist Ray Shea recently unearthed a test-pressing in his attic and Jazzagression took over with a great job on the repress – a lovely heavy vinyl pressing, with a flip-back sleeve, which includes a CD and download code for easy in-car listening.

Although ‘Needs B’ never reach the heights of the first album, it is the sound of a band really enjoying themselves. At this stage they’d been together for seven years mainly gigging in pubs on the wrong-side of the Thames, especially at The Green Man in Blackheath, the club that Ian Bird had set up and where he hosted some of the greatest British bands of the day. The band were still gigging in 1969 though according to Darryl Runswick they were ploughing a lone-furrow. The hipsters and beatniks were listening to Dylan and The Stones, Miles was starting to push the boundaries and there wasn’t much of an audience for the straight-ahead sound that the band produced.

It’s very clear from listening to ‘Needs B’ who the band were listening to. There’s plenty of Tubby and a bit of Trane in Ian Bird’s playing, Ray Shea really loved Horace Silver and the whole group were definitely feeling The Jazz Messengers.

There’s nine originals here, a few hard-boppers, Bossa Nova plus a reworking of ‘Greensleeves’, with a great bass line and beautiful refrain from Ray Shea which turns the old warhorse into a gently lopping modal waltz.

There’s a much shorter version of ‘The Buttertree’, the beautiful Bossa from the first record, and there’s also a touch of Brazil on the unfinished sounding ‘Birthday Girl’, which still has a beautiful refrain and some vey warm and pretty solos from Ian, John and Ray.

‘Bossa for Bev’ is another swinger that is slightly let down by the bowed-bass interlude which Darryl Runswick happily acknowledges in his notes “I remember Jon Hiseman teaching me the correct bass pattern for a Bossa Nova. It must have been after this recording because I’m all over the place”.

The titles track, ‘Needs B’, a rollicking blues taking all the best bits from Cannonball’s ‘Sticks’, ‘Here Comes The Whistleman’, ‘Un-square Dance’ and ‘Tubbys Theme’, which would have pleased the few Mods that were still knocking around in ’69 and will certainly put a bit of cheer into my day.

There’s some fantastic ensemble playing right through the record not least on ‘Upsurge’, where the quintet sound like an Art Blakey big band riffing on ‘So What’, and on all the tracks the group always sound relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company.

The standout tune is ‘Gone’; Runswick’s requiem for Martin Luther King. At eight minutes it’s the longest track and musically gives a huge nod to mid-period Trane (The liner notes site Crescent as an influence). From a very simple theme it builds into something really special with strong and passionate solos from the two leaders and Ray Shea with the bass and Tim Wooley’s restrained but still powerful drums adding to the intensity and drama of the composition.

‘Needs B’ is not an essential record but it’s one that grows on you and in many ways marks the end of an era for British Jazz. If you missed out on the Rendell/Carr box set, fingers crossed for the repress or the collapse of the Discogs resell market. In the meantime, put this on your turntable, it’s a very acceptable consolation prize and you will not be disappointed.

Nick Schlittner

Adrien Chicot ‘City Walk’ CD (Gaya Music Production) 5/5

“City Walk” is French pianist Adrien Chicot’s follow-up to the excellent Playing In The Dark. It’s the same line-up this time round, with pianist/composer Chicot on acoustic piano, Sylvain Romano on bass, and Jean-Pierre Arnaud on drums, and is just as refreshing and enjoyable as the previous release.

The trio work their way through nine original tunes, with barely time to take a breath before the final piece ends. This is head-on acoustic piano-led trioism at its best. Chicot has quite a unique style and his fellow band members seem to fully embrace this, driving the music forward with effervescence and unnerving skill.

The opening track “”Bogota” sets the tone. Startling melodies twist and turn with mouthwatering aplomb, a kind of post bebop, contemporary jazz hybrid. It’s like listening to an early Keith Jarrett trio gig, where the pianist has so many ideas in his head that he just has to find a way to let them out. And yet… it is compositionally so astute in regard to what to do when and how to do it. It just works, brilliantly.

“See you Monday” has that Chicot signature sound where drums and bass form a heady bedrock to the pianist’s lyrical and quirky melodies. There’s a very engaging bass solo mid-tune, and everything just sounds so ‘connected’. Great virtuosity from all three musicians.

The title track “City Walk” begins with a bar-room Spaghetti Western sound, with the tune developing into a luminous burst of energy as the trio combine in unified magnificence. The tune itself could be made for a modern-era silent movie, almost comedic and yet blissfully poignant and sincere.

There’s some traffic on “Traffic”, leading into the gorgeous solo piano. It’s like a tale of our times, a man walking slowly then hurriedly as he watches the traffic go by. Or a woman sitting at the wheel of her car, resigned to the fact that she’ll be stuck in a traffic jam for hours. Or it could be me, sitting on the car park we call the M6. Either way, the tune makes me smile, and I like that.

“Cross the street” is a little more conventional as a jazz piece. Once again the composer’s piano playing sparkles with delight, with a glorious bass solo and fulfilling drums making for great listening. Chicot gives the impression that he believes music should be an adventure, playful and evocative. And that’s exactly how it comes across here.

The Blue Note era Herbie Hancock-esque “Caipiroska” is more definable than most of Chicot’s tunes, but none less effective. The groove is supplied by the bass line, with the innovative pianist once more delightfully creating his own dance as the melody bounces with a freedom and sweet exuberance.

“Green Light” is a more angsty passage of sound that is short and focussed with superb drums leading the way as a fiery melody burns its way through to the heart of the tune.

The band’s perfect mix of lyrical inspiration and free-flowing improvisation continues on “Mosquito Hunt”. Again, it’s like these guys have ideas to burn, and they come at the listener free and fast. It’s exciting to hear a trio like this on such good form, bringing together all of the elements that make for a great sounding trio.

The closing track “Ko I Sashi” has a slightly more reflective feel to it. It’s a storytelling piece, a beautiful tale of deft musicality, a pied piper of piano players leading the dull and formulaic out into the light, showing them a new and intriguing path to musical pleasure.

What a wonderful album.

Mike Gates

Dominic Egli’s PLURISM ‘Azania in Mind’ CD (Unit) 3/5

“The name ‘Azania’ has a dense history in Africa. The contemporary understanding of the word stems from the liberation movement of South Africa. Freedom fighters in the pan-Africanist tradition have repeatedly called for the country to be renamed Azania – the land of the blacks”. Them’s the words of Zimasa Mpemnyama, offering some context around Swiss drummer/composer Dominic Egli’s new project, with renowned South African trumpeter Feya Faku, ‘Azania in Mind’.

Following the good works of ‘Fufu Tryout’ and ‘More Fufu!’ Egli has again assembled the PLURISM collective. Here we have Ganesh Geymeier (sax), Raffaele Bossard (bass), Feya Faku (trumpet/flugelhorn), South African singer Siya Makuzeni, and Houry Dora Apartian-Friedli, Lisette Spinnler on vocals. Egli composes all.

‘Azania in Mind’ is a full hour of homage to African music and culture, and the opener, ‘Ewé Lulama’, dedicated to Mdantsane-forged guitarist Bra Lulama Gaulana, pretty much sets the tone for the rest of that hour. What works so wonderfully during this 3 minutes is then developed further throughout – the cohesive expression, the inner voices and personal contemplations being outwardly vocalised, the array of colour, the sensual flow. Egli’s busy dancing rhythms support Faku and Geymeier’s harmonising before they diverge into soloing that frolics around each other, then return to the motif.

‘Assiko’ is a showcase for the remarkable vocal expressions of Makuzeni. A visceral, guttural, didgeridoo-like grumble groans from deep, way beneath her feet, then rises joyfully into a nice bit of cat and mouse with the horns. She throws exciting shapes – alternately scatting, Leon Thomas spirit-yodelling and growling as she playfully bounces off the loosely paired horns and Egil /Bossard push it on at a right royal pace.

‘Begena Meditation’ is meditative – a call for reflection. It’s a gorgeous, potent lament with Faku and Geymeier mourning singular mourns but in deep communion.

‘An African Elegy’ is a heart-felt delivery of the words of Booker-winning Ben Okri’s 1997 poem of the same name. Firstly as spoken word then as a deep, swelling multi-voiced vocal song that delivers in an earnest but hopeful spiritual jazz mantra.

“And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.”

Faku and Bossard then take it in turns to continue the narrative with such gentle hands before the fullness of those voices return with the truth. Soothing. Uplifting. Plurism at its very best.

Bossard leads ‘For The Ones Left’ with a sensitive, contemplative walk around the neck as Egli shimmers around him before those voices wash over the head-bowed, mournful horns. An African blues gospel with a touch of New Orleans funeral, it pays a moving respect to the Herero and Nama people who, in the early 20th century, were subjected to genocide in German South West Africa.

‘The N’Nonmiton of Dahomey’ (an all-female fighting force serving Dahomey) has Egli Bossard driving ahead as Faku Geymeier dance an angular dance while ‘Lettre à Fatou Diome’ (a Senegalese writer) relatively rambles through its story as Geymeier drops a wonderful, energetic, lyrical 2 minutes of solo that, at times, reminds me of early 70s Joe Henderson.

‘Crossing the Sahara (for the women on the road)’ has a touch of trad. Geymeier and Faku again in communion. ‘Ulale Kakuhle’ ends things, naturally, because as I obviously already knew ‘Ula Kakuhle’ means sweet dreams in Xhosa..and that’s exactly the message it sends out – a harmonious slow lullaby leads to a swinging, heartwarming view of a brighter tomorrow.

‘Azania in Mind’ is fundamentally an album of story-telling. Stories sensually told. When joyous, they aren’t happy clappy, more of an inward-looking pragmatic hopefulness, a deeper trust in human spirit and resoluteness. When mournful, they aren’t hand-wringingly sentimental more of a sad, hurt but respectful appreciation of the characters involved.

This is an album of lifted energy, cause, earnest belief and love. Its motifs and stories will interrupt my day-to-day thoughts for some time to come.

Ian Ward

Noel McKoy ‘7’ EP (Self-released) 4/5

You know when one of the UK’s premier and most seasoned soul vocalist/song-writer par excellence, Noel Mckoy, throws his hat back into the recording arena in the form of a new and long overdue EP entitled ‘7’, that he’s gonna come back bangin’! Finding time in between his commitments to The British Collective, the UK’s original and best Soul super group, Noel takes centre stage with a taster of his ‘People Make Change’ LP, forth-coming in 2019.
Well the musical substance packaged within this attractive 7 track EP definitely matches the sparkle and glamour of the EP cover.
On ‘My Lady’s Gone’, although as the title and lyrics imply, his lady has moved on, the twist of ‘Rob’s Mix’ gives the tune an uplifting, toe-tapping feel good vibe. The punchy, bright horns bring that Incognito/Bluey-like essence to mix. Three quarters of the way in, Noel’s fluent scat alongside the lead guitar is a notable nod to the legendary Guitarist/Scat master George Benson. This combined with the intermittent jazzy keyboard interspersions make ‘My Lady’s Gone’ the perfect choice as leadoff single from the ‘7’ EP and is offered in 4 versions to keep any discerner content.

‘Real Love’ was originally released on his good friend Prince Sampson’s debut album and entitled ‘Where Would I Be’, however Noel loved the tune so much he gave it a fresh title and makeover. The light rock-a-by-baby sway of ‘Real Love’ lulls the listener into its melodic flow from the first chord. This no doubt is hugely due to the introduction of the much underutilised harmonica, which is subtlety laced throughout the tune. A most infectious tune which you’ll find yourself unwittingly humming as you go about your day.
In stark contrast ‘Lonely Ones’ elicits a more sombre feeling with its funeral procession style piano chords. The underlying message is a sobering one, addressing the plight of the silent minority out there who outwardly may seem to be content with life but inwardly crave companionship and affection. Flip the script once again and Monsieur McKoy changes things up with ‘Transition’. A full on Lover’s Rock lilt which gives Noel the chance to bring out his inner Winston Reedy. In fact, I would not be surprised to see this versatile artist bring out a 100% Reggae/Lover’s album at some point in the future. ‘Transition’ has all the authentic musical ingredients sprinkled throughout, from the essential core Rhythm/Riddim track, to the signature hi-hat and cymbal splashes.
‘Me Na Go Ah Dem Burial’ is Noel’s musical social commentary on the tragic waste of young life, primarily via knife crime which has become increasingly more prevalent across the country, especially the London boroughs. The intense and purposeful Reggae rhythm and lingering strings, married with Noel’s pleading and anguished vocal help to drive home the sense of despair of contemplating attending yet another funeral; in this case of his nearest and dearest.
The Stephan Mix of ‘Old Skool’ feat. MC D is a pure salute/shout out to the original music influencers from back in the day, be they from Soul, Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz or other. Toastmaster MC D dutifully reels off a plethora of household names, both male and female for a good forty seconds before Noel fades in with the catchy “Saluting the old skool, crown jewels” hook line. Respect due.
This teaser EP is rounded out with the Willesden Sound System Refix mix of the current stand alone single ‘My Lady’s Gone’. Check for it at your earliest convenience. Twenty-nine years on from his timeless classic ‘Family’, let it be known that Noel McKoy is still a BIG time disruptor of, and contributor to, the modern-day music eco-system. His ongoing creativity and enviable energy levels proves Mr McKoy is definitely not resting on his laurels and is a solid benchmark for a new and aspiring generation of artists.

Michael J Edwards

Manu Le Prince ‘In A Latin Mood’ CD (Plaza Mayor Company Ltd) 4/5

Manu Le Prince is possibly the foremost exponent of Latin jazz in France. She has a distinctive vocal delivery which instantly entices the listener into her sound world. On the tile track which opens the album, she sings in English with a warm vocal timbre. She is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist and many of the songs on this album are written by Manu.
Known to many listeners for her work with the Brazilian musical wizard Hermeto Pascoal, Manu began her career in music in London at the age of nineteen. Jazz was in her blood from a very early age, and she cites being rocked to sleep by her mother singing Irving Berlin’s 1935 hit song ‘Cheek to Cheek’. In France, she sang in jazz-rock groups or as a solo soprano vocalist. It wasn’t too long before Manu decided to form with her own group and after a lengthy stay in Brazil began to work on developing her own style and repertoire. Her first album under her own name, ‘Agora’, was released in 1991.
Stylistically, Manu works at the intersection between Jazz and Brazilian music. However, in 2007, rekindling her childhood passion for Jazz, she recorded ‘Tribute to Cole Porter’ in recognition of the song-writing genius.

With several albums already under her belt, this one has been in preparation since 2016. As well as singing in English, elsewhere on the album she sings in Portuguese and French and employs some of the best musicians currently active on the French Jazz scene. The repertoire is nothing less than eclectic. In places she puts her own words to melodies supplied by Privat, Kenny Barron and others. Above all this music is easy to listen to and therefore easy to enjoy. Each track is a minor masterpiece and several have the capacity to become instant earworms. Pianist Grégory Privat is possibly the best known of her collaborators on the album, although all of the musicians are top class. On some pieces, accordion is added and works particularly well. At other times saxophone, percussion and flute are added to the sound mix to stunning effect. This is not an out and out jazz record but fits in the easy listening category, but this is not to devalue the accomplished musicianship on display here. There should be something for all tastes to enjoy and inevitably, the music of the Bossa Nova shines through.
It’s almost as if the vocalist is a contemporary Calypso enchanting us with her singing and who wouldn’t want to be detained on her most musical of islands?

You can catch Manu live in Paris on 18th January 2019 at Duc des Lombards, where she will be showcasing music from the album.

Alan Musson