Category Archives: Album Reviews

Terje Rypdal ‘Conspiracy’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

Electric guitarist Terje Rypdal first came to ECM as a member of Jan Garbarek’s quartet on “Afric Pepperbird” in 1970. That album still sounds as fresh and innovative today as it did fifty years ago. I remember when I first heard it, thinking ‘who is that guitarist… I really like that.” Having spent the last few decades delving into the many albums recorded by Rypdal, from the remarkable classic “Bleak House” in the guitarist’s pre-ECM days, and through his career-defining, multi-faceted ECM years on inspirational albums such as “Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away”, “Odyssey” and “Waves”, one thing remains constant; his unwavering originality and pursuance to fulfil the potential of his instrument with both a rock improviser’s love of raw energy and a composer’s feeling for space and the endless textural colours of sound that are imaginable to him.

“Conspiracy” was recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio, and let’s be honest, it is somewhat unimaginable that it would have been recorded anywhere else given the fact that it is actually the guitarist’s first new ECM studio album in two decades. His other recent recordings have drawn upon live sources. The clarity and depth of this new production is mouthwatering. The panoramic sweep of the music combined with the performances throughout the entire session make me feel a little nostalgic, and extremely satisfied with the brilliance of the music I’m listening to.

Rypdal’s current ensemble is undoubtedly one of his best. They are key to the overall sound, and put alongside an inspired Rypdal, create some of the best music I’ve ever heard from the guitarist. Keyboardist Stale Storlokken, who contributed to “Vossabrygg” and “Crime Scene” and was also a member of Rypdal’s Skywards group, is an ideal co-conspirator, perpetually thickening the plot with his own inventive feeling for complimentary shades and washes. The sound of the Hammond organ blending into and surrounding Rypdal’s Fender Strat works incredibly well. This album also marks a welcome return for Pal Thowsen, who’s detailed drumming was first heard on ECM with Arild Andersen’s groups of the 70s. As soon as this album begins, there’s an immediacy and excitement created by Thowsen’s drumming which captures the spirit of everything that is to follow. The Conspiracy band is completed by the incredibly gifted young bass guitarist Endre Hereide Hallre. What’s refreshing about this session is how well the bassist seems to fit in so comfortably, with Rypdal allowing plenty of time and space for the bassist to shine, especially on the piece “By His Lonesome”.

The compositions on “Conspiracy” are all brand new. Some were played for the first time in the studio, including the final soundscape “Dawn” which shares its title with an unrelated “Odyssey” piece; aptly making this a new dawn for the guitarist. “As If The Ghost…Was Me” introduces this new recording in style, gradually building until gravity breaks and Rypdal takes us into a new ‘Stratosphere’… “What Was I Thinking” is a ballad that combines emotive feeling with experimental flare. The title track is perhaps the strongest ‘rock’ piece on the album, with the quartet letting loose. The glorious “Baby Beautiful” highlights the band as a whole, with Rypdal’s squalling guitar the obvious highlight.

Be assured, there is no conspiracy here, it’s just great to hear an inspired Terje Rypdal back to his best, doing what he does so well and giving us an album that more than does justice to his incredible career and long-standing partnership with the ECM label. Keep on rockin’ Terje… keep on rockin’.

Mike Gates

Michel Benita ‘Looking At Sounds’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Double bassist Michel Benita has been at the heart of the French jazz scene since the early 80s. He made his ECM debut on Andy Sheppard’s 2011 release “Trio Libero”, continuing to work with the saxophonist on 2014’s “Surrounded by Sea”, and 2017’s “Romaria”. During that period I had the good fortune of seeing him perform live with Sheppard’s band on a couple of occasions, and remember being extremely impressed with his instinctive and subtle, yet imaginative style. Benita’s first release as leader for ECM was the excellent “River Silver”, recorded in 2015 with his group Ethics.

The quartet on “Looking at Sounds” retains Swiss flugelhornist Matthieu Michel and French drummer Philippe Garcia from the Ethics line-up and adds Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin. Benita’s recent albums, especially this one, tend to focus on textures and atmospheres with the whole group working together as one unified unit to create specific moods that gently sway and dance, luxuriating in their own time and place. With the exception of Matthieu Michel, who’s flugelhorn playing shares a flare and similarity with the wonderful Kenny Wheeler, all members of the group make discreet use of electronics. Enveloping colours swirl around the harmonic framework of the pieces creating a sublime palette of sound for the listener to enjoy.

Benita writes most of the ensemble’s material, his compositions often built around a strong melodic line, a tendency that may reflect the bassist’s deep affection for folk music. And to my mind, this is perhaps why his music works so well. Whilst other artists sometimes get a little lost in the plethora of atmospheric sounds available to them, Benita’s music always sounds grounded to me, with the heart of a tune at the core of a piece, allowing for the embellishments to follow.

It is the bassist’s love of melody that shines through on several of the tunes recorded for this session. The inclusion of “Berceuse”, by the Breton harpist and singer Kristen Nogues mirrors this interest, flowing naturally into Benita’s “Gwell Talenn”. Love of melody also accounts for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Inutil Paisagem” which, in another transition, emerges from the Benita composed “Elisian”. There’s a lovely lyricism to most of the pieces, including the engrossing “Cloud to Cloud”, a group improvisation created in the studio. The quartet sound very at home with one another throughout this recording, with an intuitive warmth and engaging subtlety at the heart of all the tunes performed.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Michel Benita / Ethics ‘River Silver’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Matthieu Bordenave / Florian Weber / Patrice Moret ‘La traversée’ CD (ECM) 3/5

French tenor saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave’s first leader date for ECM is a trio outing with German pianist Florian Weber and Swiss bassist Patrice Moret. On “La traversée” – The Crossing, Bordenave explores an area between contemporary chamber music and jazz, subtly influenced by the innovations of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow who “opened new territory that remains relevant for improvisers today. This recording was guided by this approach to trio playing, in which melodic lines interweave and blossom in the nuances of tones, as each musician follows his intuition.”

Perhaps the best way of describing the music on this album would be be to use the term ‘tone-poems’. In the album’s liner notes, the saxophonist writes “as in a volume of poetry where a certain atmosphere emanates from the text, the pieces resonate with each other like a mosaic…” This certainly sums up the feel of the recording, with the three independent voices – quiet yet strong, delicate yet resolute – interacting and crossing paths as they roam freely, connecting and disconnecting seemingly at will, as if discovering new horizons together for the first time.

Bordenave’s writing for the trio emphasises that this is a music in which space will have an important role to play, a feeling borne out by the austere quality of the improvising. The saxophonist has a wonderful tone, and as one would expect with an ECM recording of this nature, the sound quality is superb, allowing the sax, piano and bass to explore and create intimate atmospheres of sound. There is an open quality to the trio that I really like, and although at times the music may feel a little too sparse, the hidden depths of repeated listening allow much to discover.

The three musicians appear well suited to one another, with a quiet yet compelling imagination flowing through the entire session. Nine original pieces by Bordenave offer much to enjoy. There is a sense of complexity to the music that on initial listening could leave the listener curious, yet not entirely bowled over. It takes time to appreciate some of the subtleties and nuances within the tunes, and a little more effort than usual perhaps. But it’s well worth giving it that time, as the more one listens, the more compelling and beguiling it undoubtedly becomes.

Mike Gates

Dominik Wania ‘Lonely Shadows’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Polish pianist Dominik Wania was born in 1981 in Sanok in Southern Poland’s Podkarpacie region, and started playing piano when he was just three years old. He subsequently studied in Krakow and graduated from its Academy of Music in 2005. Jazz was also a presence in his life from an early age and in 2006 he won a scholarship to study it at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. On this recording, it is clear to hear how well the pianist has integrated both Classical and Jazz styles, creating a wonderful flow of beautifully improvised solo piano music.

“Lonely Shadows” is the first ECM solo album from Wania, and the album sparkles with originality. His sensitivity to touch, tone and texture is undoubtedly informed by his classical background, but he clearly also has the instincts of a jazz improviser. “A solo album is a major step for a pianist’s artistic development” says Wania. “It was special for me that Manfred Eicher and ECM proposed it. I felt from the beginning that it would include fully improvised music. I didn’t want to prepare anything in advance. I was fully dependent on the creative process of playing here and now.”

There are eleven original pieces on the recording, each offering something different. There are hints of the great romantic composers, with a free-flowing gorgeous lyricism, through to moments of mesmerising experimentation. Highlights include the wonderful opener and title track, with its sensitivity pure enough to wash away all the problems of the world, even if just for a short moment in time. The closing piece “All What Remains” is just as beautifully performed, reflective in nature, with moments of clarity reaching out from its contemplative narration. “New Life Experience” and “Liquid Fluid” flow effortlessly in a similar vein, whilst tunes like “Relativity” and “Subjective Objectivity” offer a nice contrast with a more experimental edge to them.

“Lonely Shadows” reflects the aesthetic influence of composers Wania admires and has studied closely, including Satie, Prokofiev, Ravel and Messiaen, whilst also benefiting from the pianist’s experiences performing with Polish and international jazz musicians such as Tomasz Stanko, Lee Konitz, Nguyen Le and Dave Liebman. A confident album form the Polish pianist, and one with many merits.

Mike Gates

Josephine Davies ‘Satori: How Can We Wake?’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

‘How Can We Wake?’ is the new album from Josephine Davies and her Satori trio released through the excellent Whirlwind Recordings.

Marking the trio’s third project for Whirlwind, saxophonist Davies continues Satori’s celebration of improvisational jazz inspired by Buddhist teachings and philosophy. The Satori name itself having been derived from the Japanese Buddhist term for “awakening, comprehension, understanding” and through Davies’s musical interpretation of the Satori ideology, she seeks to continually explore her connection to the term through the full range of techniques afforded to her by her trio set-up.

Through past releases, ‘Satori’ (2017) and ‘In the Corners of Clouds’ (2018), Davies seeks to position the Satori trio’s aesthetic within a different framework for each outing. With an album recorded live in London over the course of two days, The Oxford Tavern (20th January 2020) and Total Refreshment Centre (21st January 2020), each composition explores a different Buddhist theory centred around a state of being thus encapsulating an incredible range of inspirations across the project’s ten tracks from “bliss” to “compassion” to “joy” amongst others. But there are also inspirations drawn from considerably closer to home, with the album’s title – ‘How Can We Wake?’ – having been taken from the first line of a poem written by Gwendoline Coates, Davies’s mother. Affectionately, the poem is included in full within the CD’s inlay card which makes the project all the more poignant.

Although perhaps not serving as a direct influence for Satori works, so much of Davies’s musical intentions are reminiscent of the revered multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef. Himself a keen improviser, his desire to continually learn and inspire helped him to introduce eastern styles into his own blend of – don’t call it jazz! – music. He, like Davies now, fully understood not just the discipline in being able to listen to the musicians around you and to respond in kind, supporting one another, but the freedom in it as well.

With Davies on tenor and soprano saxophones as well as production, the trio is comprised of the indelible talents of drummer James Maddren whose own burgeoning career has seen him grace stages with names including Kit Downes, Jacob Collier and Seamus Blake. Double-bassist Dave Whitford rounds out the trio himself with an incredible résumé including work with The Christine Tobin Band, Hans Koller Jazz Ensemble and Liam Noble Trio.

The scope of Satori’s driving force always seems to expand and become more encompassing of different techniques, ideas and inspirations throughout each album. But it isn’t through a never-ending quest for perfection – and if it is then ‘perfection’ for Satori wouldn’t be defined by traditional definitions of the term. Josephine Davies’s Satori project is becoming a joy to watch unfold through its projects over the years – it’s continued evolution has resulted in a truly immaculate project that positions itself as music of the here and the now, and an album that celebrates the “beauty of incompletion and imperfection”. In turn, Davies created something a little bit perfect in of itself.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Josephine Davies ‘Satori’ CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Cat Toren’s HUMAN KIND ‘Scintillating Beauty’ CD (Panoramic) 5/5

If it hadn’t already been claimed by Albert Ayler, “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe” might have been an ideal title for the second release from Cat Toren’s Human Kind. Over the course of the album’s four exploratory pieces, the Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based pianist and her adventurous, deeply attuned quintet tap into the profound tradition of spiritual jazz exemplified by pioneers like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, while offering a visceral balm for today’s turbulent reality. Toren’s Human Kind offered more than an excellent taster on their self-titled debut release, a superb album in itself, laying the foundation for “Scintillating Beauty”. The ultimate effect is vividly captured by the album’s actual title, in exhilarating style.

Available on CD, with a vinyl pressing due later in the year, this recording possesses a uniquely enthralling and invigorating kind of beauty. Music can be deeply affecting, on many different levels, and when mind, heart and soul come together in the way it does here, there can be no better listening experience. A practitioner of sound healing, Toren creates music that soothes the soul while quickening the pulse. “Scintillating Beauty illustrates how musical improvisation is a form of conscious communication,” Toren writes in her liner notes. “This album is being released during a time where voices who have been in the foreground instead amplify voices that have been kept in the background, so we may achieve a more perfect harmony going forward.”

Three years after its self-titled debut, Human Kind reconvenes with the same stellar line-up: Toren, saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo, oud player Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor. The group initially formed during the 2016 election season, as the mood of the country was turning decidedly bleaker. This album was composed and recorded as Toren was feeling a glimmer of hope arising from that contentious period. Though its release coincides with an uncertain future marked by quarantine and mass protests, the pianist continues to feel a cautious optimism as another election cycle nears. “I was feeling a surge of hope until very recently,” Toren says. “With everything we’re going through now, I honestly feel a little conflicted, but I don’t want to diminish the fact that hope is something that we need and that was what was in my mind writing the music. The music is definitely tinged with some darker tones, but I meant for it to ultimately be uplifting and cathartic.”

Inspiration for the music also came from two quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. that Toren includes in the liner notes. The first, from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail, gave the album its title as well as a pointed social imperative: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” An incredibly poignant quote still very relevant for our times. With everything going on in the world at the moment, it is understandably sometimes difficult to remain optimistic. But we have to. It is as important now as it ever was for us to take inspiration from great human beings such as Dr King, remaining true to our beliefs that with the simple yet often elusive ethos of loving-kindness to all, we can make a better world. We have to try.

Even if we were to disregard the powerful meanings that inspire Toren’s music, this album would still sound magnificent. Understanding where and why the composer is coming from just adds gravitas. I feel involved in her music. I feel drawn to it. If I allow myself to enter completely in to it, its expressive, emotive nature becomes a part of me. I can relate to the highs and lows, to the many shades of light and dark, and to the life-affirming power that the music undoubtedly has to offer. For me personally, the four tracks take me on a journey filled with wonderment. I can hear the inspiration of Alice and John Coltrane, yet I am also reminded of Keith Jarrett’s work in the 70s with his two brilliant quartets. Sometimes I can almost touch the beauty of Jarrett’s European Quartet with Jan Garbarek, as they move from melodious lyricism to experimental flare. And at other times it’s as if I’m on the front row of one of Jarrett’s American Quartet gigs, listening to Dewey Redman explore the outer regions of free improvisation.

Toren hopes that the music of Human Kind acts not only as a response to the world around it, but helps to exert that healing force that music can provide. For me, she achieves this, and more besides. Her music is empowering. Enter into the spirit of her music and like me, you too may well feel spiritually energised and mindfully uplifted.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Cat Toren’s Human Kind ‘Cat Toren’s Human Kind’ CD (Green Ideas) 4/5

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’ 2LP (Night Dreamer) 5/5

Hayvan Gibi is the sixth release in Night Dreamer’s successful direct-to-disc series. The ethos for these records is single-take live performances recorded with vintage equipment at Artone Studio in the Netherlands are cut straight to acetate. The series so far has featured an exciting mix of artists covering an impressive variety of musical styles and the quality has been outstanding. The musical variety of the series continues with legendary Turkish psych-rockers, BaBa ZuLa.

This is a double album recorded over a couple of days in August, 2019. Although the tunes featured have been drawn from the band’s back catalogue which now spans a couple of decades, the band has approached this project as a recorded gig. Percussionist Levant Akman says ‘The people who listened to our albums and came to our concerts sometimes told us that they couldn’t find the energy of the concerts in the albums. Every time we heard this comment it made us a bit sad. But I think that we have succeeded finally with these recordings’.

Each side of the first disc features a single quarter-hour track. It’s an exhilarating ride of heavy psych. Murat Ertel’s saz introduces “Küçük Kurbağa (Froggie)” before the band lurches into a riffy groove with a smattering of dub-reggae upbeats. This is a hard full-on fuzzed-out wah-wah showcase for Ertel’s electric saz trickery. There’s more light and shade with “Sipa Dub (The Foal Dub)”, however, the more uptempo parts really emphasise how heavy BaBa ZuLa can be when they let loose.

On the second record, the tracks are shorter and the music is more subtle but no less entertaining. “Kelebekler Kuşlar (Butterflies and Birds)” has a folky feel with the clean saz supported by oud, dabuka and spoons. Ümit Adakale’s dabuka drumming takes centre stage on “4 Nal (4 Horse Shoes)”. The catchy, charismatic but ultimately deranged “Tavus Havası (Peacock Mood)” starts side B. A tune from the very early beginnings of the band. “Çöl Aslanlarc (Desert Lions)” is a tight, extended work-out with the saz and oud melody lines energetically driven by kick drum, dabuka, spoons and cymbals.

This is another success for Night Dreamer and with releases from artists like Sarathy Korwar and Moğollar to follow, that success should continue. BaBa ZuLa’s excellent last album, Derin Derin, indicated a harder rock direction to their music and this continues here. I have been fortunate enough to go to a BaBa ZuLa gig, last year. I had a great time and agree with Murat Ertel’s assertion that ‘With this record, you can get as close as you can to a live BaBa ZuLa experience’. It may be some time before we next see BaBa ZuLa return to these shores but here’s the next best thing.

Kevin Ward

Read also:
BaBa Zula ‘Derin Derin’ LP/CD (Glitterbeat) 5/5
Baba Zula ‘XX’ 2CD/2LP (Glitterbeat) 3/5

John Coltrane ‘Giant Steps: 60th Anniversary Edition’ 2LP/2CD (Atlantic/Rhino) 5/5

The renowned jazz academic Tony Whyton has said that recordings can “provide us with a window into the time of their creation and, by listening to studio chatter and outtakes and so on, we can understand how recordings were put together and listen in on the creative process as it happened”. Whyton also makes the point that “By seeming to turn the music into an object – jazz recordings crystalize standards and turn fleeting moments into benchmark statements for subsequent generations to absorb, imitate, and measure themselves against”.

This is somewhat ironic when we so often think of jazz as being an improvised music whose essence cannot be captured or documented other than “in the moment”. However, this latest reissue seems to cover both bases with eight additional outtakes on the 2-CD version and a total 28 outtakes on the ‘Super Deluxe Edition’.

I acquired my copy in 1976 when Atlantic Records reissued the album as part of its ‘That’s Jazz’ series and it made an immediate impression upon me. Originally released, of course in 1960, the album is as important to me (and countless others) as Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ released in 1959 and also featuring Coltrane. Over the ensuing years, the album has been reissued countless times, bearing testimony to Whyton’s assertion of a “benchmark” statement.

It marks something in a turning point for Coltrane and arguably for the sound of jazz to come. What is interesting is the difference in approach that these two albums take. The Davis recording is introspective and measured. The Coltrane is an intense tour-de-force. Both albums were, in their different ways, jazz milestones and both are equally accessible albums. Tracks from both have become jazz ‘standards’ and countless saxophonists have taken up the challenge of the title track which, along with ‘Mr PC’ and ‘Countdown’, still speak something of the language of bebop, thanks largely to having pianist Tommy Flanagan in the accompanying trio together with Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly making cameo appearances with Art Taylor playing the drums on the majority of the pieces. Of course, Chambers, Cobb and Kelly also made telling contributions to ‘Kind of Blue’. Coltrane certainly wasn’t averse to change, and he seemed to continually push himself in new directions, some of which may not have always been so listener-friendly.

This celebratory release is available as a download, on CD and on vinyl. Alongside the familiar material we get an additional 40 minutes of outtakes which offer a fascinating insight into the artistic process and “a window into the time of their creation”. For instance, we are accustomed to the headlong tempo of the title track but it’s interesting to hear a somewhat ‘Westcoast Cool-School’ treatment too.

Accompanying notes come from Ashley Khan, who in addition to being an acknowledged Coltrane authority, was also responsible for writing ‘Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece’. There is clearly no doubting his writing credentials. The notes also include testimonials from several generations of saxophonists who have since emerged from Coltrane’s shadow.

The recorded sound is fabulous and signals the emergence of the now famed Coltrane ‘sound’. The programming of the tracks is perfect, and the 2-CD set allows space for a wealth of alternative takes which shed new light on a legend of post-bop jazz. It’s sobering to think that ‘Trane would be with us for a mere seven years more, but what years they were! If you are familiar with the original album, it’s good to have the additional material available. If you are new to Coltrane, I’m hoping that you will enjoy the music as much as I have over the years.

Alan Musson

Tim Garland ‘ReFocus’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

Sixty years on from Stan Getz’s classic album Focus, saxophonist/composer Tim Garland has taken the bold and intriguing step of writing, recording and releasing ReFocus, a reworking for our time. As with Getz’s original release from 1961, Garland takes the idea of ‘jazz with strings’, or ‘symphonic jazz’ if you prefer, revisiting the style and feel of Getz’s groundbreaking album, with (all bar one) new tunes written and performed in the spirit of the original recording.

Getz’s collaboration with composer Eddie Sauter was an important album in so many different ways. “It is not just the spirit of Focus I wished to pay homage to on this album” says Garland, “but the experimental urges of the 1960s that were heard in jazz, film music, and the classical world – fuelled by romanticism and the burgeoning psychedelia of the new decade.”

What is immediately apparent on first listening to Garland’s ReFocus, is the immediacy of the music and the skill with which Garland has truly captured that spirit. Right from the opening bars of the first tune, “I’m Late, I’m Late”, the only piece taken directly from Getz’s original album, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a remastered for the 21st-century version of Getz himself. Garland’s sax sound and the arrangements throughout this new album are totally in keeping with the writing and performance on Focus, yet there is also a very clear freedom of expression and more expansive style in Garland’s excellent compositions. He may be revisiting the strange crossing point of musical trajectories, but anyone familiar with the UK saxophonist’s previous releases will not be too surprised by what they hear, the themes, motifs and writing style providing yet another adventure in Garland’s own accomplished musical history.

ReFocus provides the listener with some memorable, invigorating and enthralling music. Featuring Garland on saxes and piano, Asif Sirkis on drums, Yuri Goloubev on bass, with Chamber Orchestra and additional contributions from John Turville, Adam Kovacs and Ant Law, the tunes are performed with skill and panache. There’s some sublime original music on this album. “Maternal” is thoughtful and reflective, nostalgic yet daringly modernistic. “Thorn in the Evergreen” is refreshingly bold and flamboyant, an adventure to behold, uplifting and melodically effervescent. Some tunes are more obviously inspired by Getz’s album than others, the wonderful “Past Light” and the audacious, incorrigible “Night Flight” being prime examples. A fascinating album overall, Tim Garland once again comes up with the goods and shows just why he is rightly considered as one of Europe’s leading composers and performers.

Mike Gates

Raúl Monsalve Y Los Forajidos ‘Bichos’ LP/CD (Olindo) 4/5

Bassist Raúl Monsalve has long been a promoter of the African influences within folk music in his native country, Venezuela. Monsalve’s Los Farajidos, the first incarnation of which dates back to 2007, return with guests from the home country, Paris and London to bring us “Bichos”, an exciting mix of traditional Afro-Venezuelan rhythms, Latin-jazz, Afro-beat and electronica.

The album opener “Malembe” is both traditional and contemporary as it features singing and rhythms from Vasallos del Sol, a Venezuelan folk collective underscored by deep electronic bass. African influences are pushed to the foreground for the first single, “Bocón”. London-based Luzmira Zerpa’s vibrant, husky voice leads the call-and-response vocals amid a wall of percussion contrasting with subdued and tasteful trumpet. The Latin jazz-funk of “Cafunga” swaggers; bursts of horns and fluid electric piano framed by the groovy repetitive bass line. On “La Pulga”, the simple lines of guitar and keys interplay joyously and melodically amid choirs, Afro-beat bass grooves and purring synths. Natural ambience and pure cool synths float on vigorous percussive ripples for “Palo de agua”, which features the Caracas-based group, Afrocódigos.

“Mosquito” is a feast of African rhythms, call-and-response sax soloing, chinking funky rhythmic guitar and a precise and authoritative vocal performance from Betsayda Machado. “La Mariposa”’s abstract horn jags and the broken beat feel of the drum pattern is vaguely reminiscent of Greg Osby’s 1990s Blue Note jazz hip-hop crossover experiments. In my opinion, this is a good thing. On “Los tres venenos”, Rafa Pino’s rap flows into an electronic drum loop with reverbed percussion. It brings to my mind the psychedelic Afro-dub masters, African Head Charge. This is also a good thing! The celebratory, Latin feel of “Pa’ los Maestros” brings the set to an anthemic conclusion.

Bichos is an enjoyable and slick meeting of funky styles where it’s Afro-Venezuelan roots are embellished by other African and Latin grooves with an exhilarating rhythmic drive, loaded with synthy ear-worms. The musicianship of the band is good, of course, but the mainly Venezuelan guest artists provide the depth and subtlety that make this album something special. It inspires the listener to seek out their work and other native folk and roots music. The sleeve art from another Venezuelan, Gustavo Dao, is beautiful too, and perfectly represents the colour and complexity of the contents.

Kevin Ward