Joy Ellis ‘Dwell’ (Oti-O) 4/5

This is Joy Ellis’s second album as a leader coming a couple of years after the well-regarded Life on Land. Sadly I have missed her and the band when they have played Birmingham and judging from this album it’s my loss.

What is immediately apparent is the open and well recorded and mixed sound. There is a clarity which allows the individual instruments and Joy’s voice to shine while preserving a strong group aesthetic. And from the moment I heard Joy’s voice on the opening track ‘Daffodils’ it straight away put me in mind of a distinctly English style – clear with an emphasis on telling the story in the lyrics.

It reminded me of, for example, Jacqui Dankworth’s rendering of Housman poems on her album with New Perspectives from 20 or so years ago or her settings of William Blake. And that’s a real compliment – I have to say that British singers who affect a Stateside intonation do present me with a barrier to get past. But Joy is not a copyist and has her own unique and refreshing feel.

Joy was apparently classically trained which might go some way to explaining her approach. But she is a pianist first and on initial listening it is the tunes and the arrangements and the lovely playing that grabs your ears. The album mainly features her regular quartet with her piano, keys and voice supported by Rob Luft on guitar, Henrik Jensen on double bass and Adam Osmianski on drums. In addition, Ferg Ireland contributes electric bass on ‘Pollyanna’, ‘Family Tree’ and ‘Dwell’. On ‘One Minute in Manchester’, both bassists play.

Daffodils starts quietly with a lovely piano intro leading into Joy singing the verses and then Rob Luft with a well-constructed solo with Joy taking over on piano before she returns to vocals with a subtly different and more urgent delivery. This structure with the vocals being important but not over-shadowing the other instruments follows throughout the album.

Pollyanna has a choppy piano vamp while Joy sings. With Ferg Ireland on electric bass there is a different feel. He contributes a solid solo before well-considered ones from Luft, Joy and Osmianski. It’s the drummer who sets the tone for Family Tree with a quick and effective snare riff. With Joy on electric piano (I’m guessing Rhodes), Luft on lead style electric guitar and Ireland under-pinning on electric bass this has a funky feel.

There is plenty to enjoy on this recording with effective changes to the tonality and instruments used and the lyrics are well worth a careful listen for their own sake. ‘One Minute in Manchester’, for example, is a moving tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing when Ellis took part in a minutes silence while in the city for a residency.

Joy Ellis is the leader but this really successful album is as good as it is because of the top levelling playing and teamwork from everybody involved.

Album launch:
14 December – Vortex Jazz Club

Brian Homer

Various ‘Move On Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield’ CD (Playback) 4/5

A lot of elements of Curtis Mayfield’s music seem very pertinent in today’s climate, particularly when considering events in the US over the last few years. A very public and visceral backlash to social and political injustices have gone on to inspire swathes of music from artists and musicians all keen to lend their voice to the protest. International Anthem recording artist, Jaimie Branch, addresses the racism attached to the current Republican presidency on her album ‘Fly or Die II’; saxophonist Brent Birckhead used his self-titled debut album to address soaring levels of police brutality; Ethiopian-inspired funk collective, Anbessa Orchestra, released ‘Tch’elema’ intending to inspire hope and change to those impacted by the continued threat of international conflict, divisive and dishonest politicians and the real danger that climate change has on our lives…

And when reviewing music from this wide and diverse pool of talent, the music of Curtis Mayfield is very much something that continues to maintain its relevance even in 2019. Inspired by the events and tragedies he witnessed growing up in Chicago, Mayfield’s music openly addressed issues surrounding civil rights and he would become revered as introducing topics of this delicate nature into a wider social consciousness through his timeless recordings.

The quality of Mayfield’s music is such that it seems to find ways of reintroducing itself to audiences of younger generations as the years pass – the arrival of “Hip-Hop Soul” in the 1990s saw Mayfield’s music heavily sampled by artists including Mary J Blige and Total, as well as covers by neo-soul champion, D’Angelo. Even in recent years, Kanye West’s seminal ‘Touch The Sky’ (2005) boasts the beloved and inimitable horns of ‘Move On Up’; Angie Stone tackled ‘The Makings of You’ for her sophomore album release ‘Mahogany Soul’ (2001); funk band Lettuce partnered with neo-soul vocalist, Dwele, for an interpretation of ‘Move On Up’ (2008). The reach of Curtis Mayfield’s music is boundless.

Which brings us to ‘Move On Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield’ presented by Australia’s Playback Records. Rather than a straightforward ‘best of’, this compilation draws from a number of artists covering classic Mayfield recordings within a predominately 1970s period. The compilation boasts several highs – Barbara Mason covering ‘Give Me Your Love’ is excellent and Willie Wright’s ‘Right On For The Darkness’ is another clear standout, but as an added bonus, there are tracks presented here which featured Mayfield’s golden touch as a writer and producer, showcasing his compositions for Aretha Franklin ‘Look Into Your Heart’, The Staple Singers ‘Let’s Do It Again’ and Baby Huey’s cult classic ‘Hard Times’ from Huey’s Mayfield-produced album, ‘The Living Legend’. The inclusion of ‘Here But I’m Gone, Part 2’ (featuring the additional vocals of Lauryn Hill) makes for a nice addition – a song originally housed in ‘The Mod Squad’ soundtrack and released in 1999.

Thinking about it, the dream version of this project would perhaps host a two-disc compilation with the second disc really delving into more contemporary takes on Mayfield’s recordings as performed by the likes of the aforementioned Lettuce and Angie Stone. Within this 20-track selection, it’s only the final few covers by Geoffrey Williams, En Vogue and Joanna Teters & Mad Satta that strive to achieve that. Taking ‘Hard Times’ as an example, Baby Huey’s original is clearly undeniable but it’s a song that has seen some excellent renditions from John Legend & The Roots as well as Alecia Chakour & The Osrah.

Aside from the latter very minor note, ‘Move On Up’ serves as an excellent compilation of Curtis Mayfield’s forward-thinking and indelible style of soul music – as definitive in today’s times as they were fifty years ago.

Imran Mirza

Åkerblom & Zenger ‘Live At Romu Jazz’ LP (Jazzaggression) 3/5

‘Live At Romu” is a recording of an improvised bop performance from July, 2015 by a young Finnish duo, Max Zenger switching between alto saxophone and flute and double bassist Teemu Åkerblom switching between fingers and bow!

“Peaceful Mornings”, the first of five original compositions on this release, is a steady start. The ponderously slow semi-walking bass lines underpinning the rhythm with short, melodic and sometimes repetitive bursts of saxophone.

“So One Has To Go” is much more interesting and enjoyable. The longest and most successful track on this release, Åkerblom’s chordal harmonics introduce the idiosyncratic bass lines which occupy the space available from the softer flute tone. Max Zenger’s flute is more tuneful and fluid than the playing on the first track. After a few minutes, the track is propelled by the walking bass and dense chords when Zenger later switches to saxophone. There seems to be greater synergy between the two musicians on here.

“Aurajoen Rannoilla” begins with flute and bowed bass. The track is slow which emphasises the heavy timbre. The effect is surprising considering there are just two instruments.

On “Abstract Blues & The Truth”, another outstanding track, the saxophone and repetitive bass orbit and slowly gravitate toward the track’s simple and bluesy motif. The bass explores chordal variations and concludes with a sound weirdly reminiscent (to me!) of Bo Diddley’s old chugging records. Also, there’s a warmth here that is sometimes not apparent with improvised music.

Åkerblom continues in a similar vein to where he left off in the previous track on “Frozen Land”, with intermittent and repetitive bursts of activity providing a solid foundation for Zenger’s sax to build upon. The tune lightens and slows to wind down the record.

An improvisational set with just two musicians is a challenge but also an opportunity to explore the space usually occupied by other band members. They approach this with intelligence, using different techniques and even different instruments. Zenger’s flute playing is good but is also enhanced by juxtaposition to his, probably inferior, sax noodlings. Sometimes, though, the music is a little too sparse and becomes static and rhythmically inert. The album is more successful when Åkerblom’s bass lines give the music propulsion and momentum. “So One Has To Go” and “Abstract Blues & The Truth” have that rhythmic drive and are particularly absorbing. Coupled with the accomplished musicianship, this album is interesting and exciting. It demands your full attention.

Kevin Ward

Charles Tolliver ‘Charles Tolliver and his All Stars’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Few debut sessions as leader can have had such a chequered history as this latest Charles Tolliver re-issue from Pure Pleasure Records. The recording itself occurred in July 1968 at a New Jersey studio but the first issue wasn’t until 1971 on the Black Lion label based in the United Kingdom. It took even longer for this music to get a US release as Paper Man on the Freedom imprint in 1975. In between times, Tolliver’s second session as leader had overtaken it and been released in 1969 under the title The Ringer and the trumpeter had co-founded the much-vaunted Strata-East Records with pianist Stanley Cowell.

Perhaps the hiatus between the recording and release of this first session was in the back of Tolliver’s mind when he and Cowell launched Strata-East in frustration at not being able to interest any New York record companies in their Music Inc material? At over 50 years’ distance, it seems almost incredible that a date boasting Tolliver backed by the firepower of a rhythm section comprised of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers plus Gary Bartz guesting on alto should sit unreleased for so long.

This re-issue preserves the running order of the six tracks of the original record and manages to find space for a, previously unreleased on vinyl, additional tune on Side B (though it has previously appeared on CD). The programming scores on two counts: the first obvious one being the extra music in the form of a quintet version of Repetition; the second that the logical split of the music features the Tolliver-led quartet for all of Side A while Side B is devoted to the quintet created by the addition of Bartz. Throughout, the blend of continuity and variety that typifies Tolliver’s live and on-record identity is already present.

The continuity comes from the selection of material that the trumpeter has continued to revisit and remould over the course of his career. ‘Right Now’ was first recorded when Tolliver was a sideman on Jackie McLean’s 1966 Blue Note date of the same name; ‘Household of Saud’ reappears on Music Inc’s debut Strata-East album; and the bonus cut, Repetition (Take 2), remains a live favourite (Tolliver opened his recent Camden Jazz Cafe date with it) and is captured on the Music Inc double LP Live At The Loosdrecht Jazz Festival. These three tracks alone offer variety from ‘Repetition’ and it’s strong bebop roots via its association with Charlie Parker to the “New Thing” feel of ‘Right Now’.

Jazz trumpeters rarely record whole LPs as the lone horn supported by just a rhythm section: Lee Morgan’s Candy, Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny and Blue Mitchell’s Blues’ Moods spring to mind. All these proved to be one-offs such is the pressure of the responsibility of being a one-man front line for prolonged periods. Tolliver is almost unique in that he frequently recorded in a quartet format. So it should come as no surprise that he was able to anchor all of Side A with a strength of purpose, a stream of ideas and technical excellence. The centrepiece of this side, indeed of the whole record, is the nine-minute deep dive of ‘Peace With Myself’. This majestic number sweeps back and forth with Tolliver demonstrating control across the full range of his instrument from low growling notes through to rapid high-pitched trills.

Bartz joins the group on Side B and if like me, your familiarity with his work is based on the Harlem Bush Music records, then there’s something different to enjoy here. Bartz’ alto sounds rich, smooth and unflustered – almost the inverse of the sharp tone of Tollver’s early mentor Jackie McLean. That, allied with the presence of Carter and Hancock, leads to moments when you can be lulled into thinking you’re listening to the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet. Then the spell evaporates to be superseded by an entirely different kind of magic. For instance, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that a mid-Sixties Lee Morgan outing like Cornbread or The Sixth Sense was on the turntable during ‘Paper Man’.

Perhaps such versatility is both Tolliver’s greatest strength and his most obvious weakness: in him you can hear Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw influences to name but a few. Tolliver assimilates elements of all their styles with ease but sometimes that seems to obscure his own identity. He deserves to be credited as one of the finest jazz trumpeters to emerge towards the end of the 1960s and had few serious challengers in the 1970s yet he is not as well known as others on his instrument.

The mastering at Air Studios was done from high-resolution digital files rather than directly from the original analogue master tapes (apparently they’re too precious to cross the Atlantic) but I’d challenge you to spot the difference on many HiFi systems. Even if its sound seems a little “off” to begin with, Hancock’s piano is a constant presence throughout the record whether he’s propelling things forcefully or teasing out subtle prompts. Carter and Chambers are less obvious in the mix and that is perhaps the one area where the digital source falls a little short.

Overall, though, this re-issue is the best option for anybody interested in hearing the genesis of Tolliver’s career as a leader. I hope it attracts new interest in Tolliver and it’s a pleasing thought that this, his first leadership date, has come “home” in some sense by virtue of finally being bestowed with a Strata-East catalogue number and matching labels!

Martin Kelly

The Meters ‘Gettin’ Funkier All The Time: The Complete Josie / Reprise & Warner Recordings (1968-1977)’ 6CD (SoulMusic) 5/5

This definitive 6CD collection is essentially the best of The Meters, recorded between 1969 and 1976 including all the music from those first five albums on the Reprise and Josie record labels. Their unique funk and blues sound captured the essence of New Orleans and spread it throughout the world with a firm stamp of approval. To many, The Meters are considered to be the founding fathers of funk and through the years their incredible music has touched many generations and continues to inspire many who dip their tippi toes in the water.

The 1969 hits “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” marked part of the beginning of a long line of incredible tracks over a 5-6 year period, sampled by many hip hop groups and producers over the years and through different generations including A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstarr, Main Source, DJ Krush, Flying Lotus to name a few. That debut album sparked a momentous step forward away from the New Orleans enclave spreading the funk at parties, clubs and bloc parties throughout America and further afield. DJ Kool Herc playing a Meters’ track next to say, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone and an obscure proto-disco track with a heavy 2, 4 or 8 bar break was part of that continuation and inspiration. Collectors, DJs, producers, party goers and listeners worldwide acknowledge that definitive Meters hook and sound.

The Meters debut album, ‘Look-Ka, Py Py’, was a big success with the title track included in many DJs 50 best samples of all time. Each subsequent album up until the mid-1970s revealed a captivating mixture of funk and blues. The music continued with an energetic force after the album ‘Struttin’ adding a wider lens to their repertoire. Following their fourth album, ‘Cabbage Alley’, The Meters recorded and released ‘Rejuvenation’ which is considered by many to be their most rounded and essential album to date. It’s a classic that seemed to pay homage to New Orleans but from a distance with a deft touch and a new sense of direction which kept hold of that rooted signature sound, adding some punchy vocals and wider appeal. The album was high in many music polls of the top 500 greatest albums released.

The history of this native New Orleans band dates back to 1965 when keyboardist and vocalist Art Neville recruited bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste and guitarist Leo Nocentelli to form The Meters. During those formative and most significant years between 1969- 1975 most of the albums were recorded in the New Orlean based Sea Saint studio, started and run by Allen Toussaint and Marshall E. Sehorn. The studio brought out a special sound and a sense of community which favoured many great musicians who happen to record at this legendary studio.

There are too many favourites on this collection and personal favourites differ for most people although the core recordings such as ‘Citty Strut’, ‘Look-Ka Py Py’, ‘Just Kissed My Baby’, ‘Handclapping Song’ and a few choice others rank high in many favoured lists. Some like the raw stripped-down funk of the first three albums whilst others opt for the music that arrived via the later ‘Rejuvenated’ album, which resonated throughout the hip hop and rare groove community. Tracks such as ‘Just Kissed My Baby’ were a firm favourite on the rare groove scene. Released in 1969, ‘Same Old Thing’ was a big hit with the early mainstay of hip hop producers including Mantronix, who used the track on the early classic ‘King Of The Beats’. In 2007 Speedometer added their own mark to the original with a heavy version that came out on Freestyle Records on a 7″. So many bands have covered The Meters’ early period of music so it’s worth mentioning a few tracks.

‘Cissy Strut’ is another of many Meters’ tracks that have been sampled and reinterpreted with enough identity to enhance and add something different. Check out the psychedelic funk version by Chilean group Los Masters, recorded in 1969 or the big band leaning version by The Willard Posey Reunion adding a Jack McDuff like touch in 1972.

The San Diego based collective, The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, are definitely worth checking out and their 2016 version of ‘Here Comes The Meters’ is particularly solid and well worth a listen. Lloyd Charmers covered ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ in a Ska style back in 1970 and many other reggae acts have added a special note to tracks by the New Orleans funk masters over the years. In 2007 the Mocambo record label released a great 7″ steel band version of ‘Ease Back’ by The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band; a Hamburg based group worth checking for other Meters’ material. The list could go on.

There’s so much great music to choose from and enjoy from this 6CD essential collection of music dedicated to the memory of the great Art Neville and his contribution to the music world. The reissue is produced by David Nathan with linear notes of great interest on the CD booklet courtesy of Charles Waring. The reissue is mastered and released via the SoulMusic record label via Cherry Red.

Mark Jones

Tribe ‘Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014’ 2LP/CD (Strut) 4/5

Tribe, or rather The Tribe, started as a band, formed by Phil Ranelin and Wendell Harrison, together with core members Harold McKinney and Marcus Belgrave. They met in Detroit at a time of social, economic and cultural change, both locally and nationally. Racial tensions had reached a peak in the summer of 1967. Urban renewal had disrupted and displaced settled black neighbourhoods (The Detroit Jazz Composers Ltd addressed this on their “Hastings Street Jazz Experience” LP). In 1972 Motown moved to Los Angeles. Phil Ranelin and Marcus Belgrave who both played sessions there found that an income stream had dried up.

The Black Arts Movement of the mid to late ‘60s grew out of civil rights into black nationalism. There was an increasing sense of Black pride and self-determination; in the Arts, this spawned a DIY culture. Wendell Harrison had seen what was possible during his time with Sun Ra. Marcus Belgrave in Larry Gabriel’s chapter “Rebirth of Tribe” from “Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip Hop”, stated that “The idea of Tribe was just an expression of what we felt about the music business. It was sort of like a rebellion”.

Jazz was also undergoing somewhat of a shift, from hard bop to the more contemporary post-bop of Miles and Coltrane, ideas of Afrocentrism, Spirituality and radicalism mixed with free jazz and fusion.

The Tribe started to make and record their own music. They weren’t alone, similar cooperatives were taking control of their artistic output across the States – The AACM in nearby Chicago; further afield, the Black Artists Group in St Louis, UGMAA in Los Angeles and the Collective Black Artists in New York. In addition to performing and recording Tribe set up a magazine with the same name which they staffed with local writers and funded with advertising from black-run businesses.

Tunes like “Vibes from the Tribe” and “Space Odyssey” blurred lines between the avant-garde, free jazz, funk offering vision, a sense of future. Mark Stryker, in “Jazz from Detroit” points to “a consistent aesthetic borne of a repertory company”. There was also a coming together of ideology, music with a strong sense of place, of community and cooperation, concerned with social justice and cultural identity. The “messages”, in “Farewell to Welfare”, “Mary Had an Abortion” and “The Time is Now for Change” were direct and unequivocal reflecting the anger of the times and the need for immediate action.

In 1977 Ranelin moved to Los Angeles and Tribe disbanded, but the spirit lingered on. Harrison, Belgrave and McKinney remained in Detroit as educators and musicians. Harrison and his second wife, Pamela Wise, also a musician, formed the non-profit Rebirth Inc, which works in Detroit and surrounding areas to provide opportunities for local Jazz artists. Harrison has continued to record via Rebirth Inc and his own Wenha label. Both of Pamela’s most recent albums, “Kindred Spirits” (2015) and “A New Message from the Tribe” (2017) draw on the vibe that Tribe gave birth to, honouring the legacy and offering a new vision.

Interest in the original Tribe records has remained over the years, much of it from outside Detroit. Album reissues and compilations like Soul Jazz’s “Message From The Tribe: An Anthology of Tribe Records: 1972 – 1977” have helped stimulate appeal with subsequent generations. Detroit native and Techno don Carl Craig helped keep the flame alive with 2003’s “The Detroit Experiment” and 2009’s “Rebirth” albums, recording with Tribe artists and performing their tunes.

“Hometown” offers positive proof that the Tribe aesthetic carried on long after the record label ended. The collection features music from Harold McKinney’s McKinfolk (literally a family enterprise with help from Reggie Workman, Jimmy Owens, Francisco Mora Catlett, Belgrave and Harrison) recorded live at the Serengeti Gallery and Cultural Center in 1995, from Pamela Wise’s 2015 album and Phil Ranelin’s studio work at the beginning of the period.

Themes of cultural identity and social justice are still the core messages, albeit the tone is less urgent, more focussed on education, awareness and respect. Poet, pastor and cultural advocate Mbiyu Chui delivers an “Ode to Black Mothers” over a vibrant, percussion-driven rhythm and an oral history of “Marcus Garvey” on top of punctuating piano lines. Harold McKinney displays a subversive light-operatic flare on “The Slave Ship Enterprise” – the title, a play on words, the meaning of the lyrics anything but playful.

Musically, the electric experimentation of the ‘70s, which was probably as much of its time as anything, and that hard insistent funk, has been replaced with a mellower, bluesier timbre. “Freddie’s Groove” with Ranelin’s full, bright, warbling trombone and Harrison’s soulful sax work the arrangement for all it’s worth. “He the One we All Knew”, plays looser. It’s become something of a Ranelin standard. The title track, featuring Pamela Wise on piano and Harrison on Tenor sax and bass clarinet start out as a fairly smooth, catchy groove before morphing into a more dense, freer exit.

Strut have offered a fascinating insight into Jazz outside the major hubs of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago and the work done by cultural activists to keep Jazz as America’s true art form.

Andy Hazell

Daniel Rorke / Oscar Noriega / Simon Jermyn / Matthew Jacobson ‘Naked Allies’ LP (Orenda) 4/5

With his new album, ‘Naked Allies’, Irish – Australian tenor and alto saxophonist Daniel Rorke builds a bridge between Dublin, his current base and New York. He joins forces with fellow Dublin musician Matthew Jacobson on drums and New York-based musicians Simon Jermyn on bass and Oscar Noriega, alto sax and bass clarinet. Rorke has lived and worked in Iceland, Norway and Australia playing with Hilmar Jensson, Per Oddvar, Rune Nergaard and Alister Spence to name but a few. Five of the seven tracks on Naked Allies are original compositions by Rorke, the remaining two by frequent collaborator Jacobson. The album was recorded last year at Figure 8 Studios, Brooklyn, New York and is one of the first releases on Orenda Records, a small Southern California based label.

The title track, ‘Naked Allies’, weaves its horn theme intro with precision, two saxes soon alternate solos but there’s a competitive edge here as the exchange becomes a more heated abstract expression before returning to the structure of the introductory riffing. All the while the submerged throb of the electric bass gives the piece a satisfying disconnect with what’s going on higher in the register. Jermyn’s bass almost sounds as if it is leaking into the recording from an adjacent studio, giving the tune a uniquely juxtaposed sound.

The second track, ‘I’m Benter’, begins with soothing low key tone and pace. Here the bass sounds more acoustic, sketchy and playful. The drums tap around the sax as it gently ebbs and flows, the whole thing has the atmosphere of the city in the small hours, the sax mimicking the background urban sounds of passing traffic or a distant freight train. Drums and bass increase in volume incrementally picking out a groove.

‘Shitbearder’, an eye catchingly titled song, and probably my favourite, provides an extremely funky variation on the sounds already introduced to us with bass and drums tightly clipped but right on target as they build around the rest of the group. The structure soon breaks down into a freer exploration, there is a sudden and urgent change of pace as the original motif is brought sharply to the fore. The whole thing is concluded rather neatly with a single exhalation from the sax.

‘Bk’, a quiet and sombre track has more of a Nordic feel about it, plenty of percussive rattles and brushes are pleasingly evident but with a hint of Jaco Pastorious style harmonics on the bass. The sax is joined by bass clarinet, deepening the already sombre mood. It’s followed by ‘Dorothy’, which flows almost seamlessly from the previous track. Both saxes build an intensity as the whole atmosphere is transformed with the introduction of the bass which sounds like it’s emanating from the subwoofer of a passing car. I really savoured the way these layers in the music are meshed together.

The record is impressively presented with an enigmatic sleeve illustration which at first glance appears like something from a 60s sci-fi paperback. It is in fact by nineteenth-century French artist and émigré to the US Étienne Léopold Trouvelot and looks quite embryonic but is aptly revealed to be an impression of the planet Mars.

The more I listen to this record the more I like it, especially the way it fuses a 60s jazz feel with Nordic overtones and very contemporary urban undertones. The more abstract inclinations of the players have been finely balanced with enough structure to keep me going back for more.

James Read

Brainstory ‘Buck’ LP (Big Crown) 4/5

Originally hailing from the San Bernardino Valley in Southern California, an area not wholly connected to the wider music industry, but nonetheless, Brainstory release ‘Buck’ their second album on the consistent Brooklyn based Big Crown Records, a mainstay of contemporary soul and funk releases. Brainstory is based around a trio featuring two brothers, Tony Martin on vocals and bass, and Kevin Martin on guitar and vocals, plus Eric Hagstrom on drums with additional keyboard, percussion and flute parts performed by label co-owner, producer and heavyweight musician in his own right Leon Michels.

The ten-track album begins with the quirky ‘Breathe‘, which is a slightly offbeat modern two stepper which evokes a laid back West Coast blued eyed soul sensibility and would be a strong radio playlist contender – for those that cared about such things. ‘Sorry’ uses a similar electronic drum pattern underneath its main acoustic drum kit as used by Timmy Thomas on ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ (1972), while the vocals consider the virtues of asking God for advice.

‘Thank You’ is a semi instrumental track of sorts with a repeated chorus of, ‘thank you for you and who you are’, followed by an unhurried guitar solo during the second half of the piece. Brainstory’s previous 45 release for Big Crown, the heartfelt ‘Dead End’, discusses the difficulty in letting go after a relationship breakdown, while its B-side ‘Mnemophobia’ with falsetto vocals akin to Eddie Kendricks highlights the fear of past memories. The rest of the album is in similar form, including a slight Beatles influence within ‘Lucid Dream’ and the bluesy ‘Reclaim‘ speaks of reclamation over an infectious downtempo groove, but essentially, there isn’t a bad track on the album.

The warm, analogue richness that is ever-present in all of Big Crown’s releases is also present here and ‘Buck’ stays very much within its influences of rhythm guitar-led early 1970s Southern soul. But this is not just a rehash for the sake of retro-ness. Many of the songs are especially quirky and idiosyncratic but without any pretentiousness. The band have utilised their musical influences, as mentioned, but have also added their own personalities to the album. On their Discogs profile, the album is identified as being ‘Indie Rock’ – which it plainly isn’t. This is a modern soul record of high quality. Previously, the group have released more rock-orientated material, but this shouldn’t put off seasoned soul and funk listeners; this writer is openly averse to rock music’s constitution and all its components. A very strong album from the trio which has been issued on various coloured vinyl pressings, but I still have no idea what the title ‘Buck’ means.

Damian Wilkes

Tamuz Nissim ‘Capturing Clouds’ CD (Street of Stars) 4/5

Once again, Tamuz Nissim hits it on the nail with her fourth album, Capturing Clouds, released on Street of Stars Records.
This is a soulful collection of eleven tracks, including two covers (‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ and ‘Like Someone in Love’), a couple of popular songs such as I ‘Don’t Want to Grow Up’ or ‘Here Comes the Sun’, as well as original compositions, which only attest to Tamuz Nissim’s brilliant songwriting talent. Back with her usual trio, which includes George Nazos on guitar, Harvie S on bass and Tony Jefferson on drums, Tamuz Nissim delivers an album full of warmth and sentimentality.

Once more, Tamuz Nissim delights listeners with her singing, as it manoeuvres through different textures, playful with rhythm and total vocal control, effortlessly sauntering and dancing through sensuous or more upbeat melodies. Compared to the band’s previous release, I feel this album propels George Nazos’ guitar to the forefront much more, and we can only be too happy about that decision.

Easing into the album with the classic ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’, flaunting Nissim’s signature scatting, which is one of the reasons why I first fell in love with her singing. Fortunately for us fans, she’ll keep it up and delight us with her talent throughout the album. Harvie S jumps on the bandwagon with a short attractive interlude which, together with the drums, gives a solid jazz feel to this revived cover.

The album follows with an equally upbeat tune, ‘Make It Last’, where George’s guitar solo and Tony’s drums add a delicious sway to the tune. Already from these two tracks, we realise talent is abound on this album and we are in for a lovely ride.
‘Capturing Clouds’ is a shimmering song of hope where Tamuz’s impeccable singing creates the melody; her vocals wavering like clouds in the sky, as George’s guitar emerges softly and lingers on, accompanied by Harvie’s soft strings and Jefferson’s timely brushes. Together, the musicians create an atmosphere laden with a feeling of magic.

‘Ray of Hope’ is, without a doubt, my favourite track on the album. It is one of those songs that joins the ranks of ‘Broken Promise’s from her first album; one of those sensuous tunes Tamuz is so good at rendering with such melancholy that it hits you right through the heart.

Cranking it up a notch, the band’s rendition of ‘Like Someone in Love’ may depart in terms of rhythm from the more classic versions I am more familiar with (Bill Evans and Chet Baker immediately jump to mind here) but it includes everything that makes up a traditional jazz standard so enjoyable – a pulsating bass solo, a thriving drum repartee and Tamuz’s scatting, all bundled up in a feet-tapping melody that remains timeless.
‘What A Pair’ is a playful dialogue between Tamuz and Harvie S. The double bass’ guttural sound offers a nice contrast to Tamuz’s colourful vocals. The nice thing about scatting is that it sounds different every time you listen to it. On this track, they both tease each other like budding lovers and it is so refreshing.
On ‘Rhapsody for Trane’ (based on Coltrane’s solo in ‘I Hear a Rhapsody’), she stretches her talent with a vocalese while on ‘Listen’, an enchanting song about faith, her crisp vocals and the lyrics are enhanced by a soothing and uplifting guitar solo, which can only increase George Nazos’ fan base. The album closes with the renowned ‘Here Comes the Sun’, delivered as a gentle duet with George Nazos that does Tamuz’s vocals much justice and shows why these two have been working so well together for so many years. Tamuz Nissim transforms nostalgia into charm while George Nazos always gives us an engaging aural experience.

The album is full of delicious melodies. Tamuz’s charismatic personality pervades each song as she wooes fans with her vocals but she knows that her magnetism is multiplied ten-fold thanks to her solid musical line-up. So, grab the album and let yourself be seduced by a wondrous experience.

Nathalie Freson

Read also:
Tamuz Nissim ‘Echo Of A Heartbeat’ CD (Street Of Stars) 5/5
Tamuz Nissim ‘The Music Stays in a Dream’ CD (Self-Released) 4/5

Bill Laurance & WDR Big Band ‘Live at the Philharmonie Cologne’ 2LP/CD (Jazzline) 5/5

The Snarky Puppy dynasty has been a thrilling project in of itself to see flourish over the years. Their numerous projects over the course of nearly 15 years since their debut have not only introduced fans to a beloved and dynamic musical collective who found their home within jazz and fusion styles, but also introduced the world to a range of over 40 musicians, who have waved the flag for the band at one time or another, many of which went on to achieve incredible solo successes in their own right. Snarky Puppy founder, Michael League started the GroundUP Music label and produced for a range of artists; Robert “Sput” Searight went on to work for heavy-hitters including Kendrick Lamar and Terrace Martin; Bobby Sparks is currently riding high following the release of his new album ‘Schizophrenia’… which brings us to the new release from pianist, and one of the staple members of Snarky Puppy, London-born Bill Laurance.

‘Live at the Philharmonie, Cologne’ pairs Laurance with Cologne’s WDR Big Band, conducted by Bob Mintzer, placing Laurance within the live setting that he seems to find ultimate comfort in: there are obvious comparisons to be drawn between this project and Snarky Puppy’s revered collaboration with The Netherlands Metropole Orkest for the album ‘Sylva’ (2015), but also their series of ‘Family Dinner’ projects which are famously recorded live with guests, and Laurance’s own album, ‘Live At Union Chapel’ (2016). There’s clearly something about a live setting where Laurance’s talent absolutely thrives and for ‘Live at the Philharmonie, Cologne’, backed by an 18-piece big band, this could very well be the happiest he’s ever been.

With a nine-track selection of songs plucked from Laurance’s own discography including ‘Money In The Desert’ and ‘Swag Times’ from his debut album ‘Flint’ (2014), ‘The Rush’ and ‘Red Sand’ from ‘Swift’ (2015) and ‘Golden Hour’ from ‘Aftersun’ (2016), these were songs perhaps always envisioned within this orchestral and big band context, and under the guidance of saxophonist, composer and big band leader, Bob Mintzer, these songs have been reimagined in exquisite fashion.

Incredibly, all of the eclecticism and unpredictability of Laurance’s studio compositions are all present here. Famed for being a contemporary jazz artist with a unique ability to introduce varying elements and influences into his music ranging from electronica to classical, the WDR Big Band find a way to fully accommodate those trends still making each song a journey unto itself. At times, a piece can seem like a solo piano recital at a concert hall but within moments the music transforms you to one of Snarky Puppy’s fervent Family Dinners. The version here of ‘Red Sand’ – an absolute delight – is a perfect example where after a few seconds shy of the 10-minute mark, you’ve been taken to so many different places and experienced everything along the way.

Imran Mirza