Roland Kirk ‘Anthology. The Atlantic Years 1965-1976’ (Warner) 4/5

Multi-reedist extraordinaire Roland Kirk divided fans and critics alike with his own unique high energy brand of post-bop jazz that willingly and effortlessly took on board new developments in contemporary black American music at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now view these recordings in a slightly different light and simply appreciate Roland Kirk for what he was: an amazingly/highly versatile and proficient player who was steeped in the blues, the then emerging soul and jazz genres, and, in addition, had a wide ranging love of music that also took in Hindemith, Villa-Lobos as well as Fats Domino. While his recordings on Warner as a whole cannot be considered a comprehensive guide to his career overall (a simliar anthology of the early 1960s period on Mercury is required to superseed the expensive and now long deleted complete recordings package that surfaced in France during the 1990s), within the framework of the one label here it is does cover the essential material and goes a bit beyond that two, though unlike an earlier 2 CD set ‘Does your love have lions’, it does not include Kirk’s participation in the Mingus band (these sides are readily available elsewhere for those interested). For those not already familiar with the musician’s craft, it is a fine place to begin and then supplement with individual albums of the calibre of ‘We Free Kings’ and ‘Rip, Rag and Panic’.
By the mid-1960s Roland Kirk was a fully mature musician and the live recording which opens CD 1 from ‘Here comes the whistleman’ is testimony to this. Of all the numbers that can be immediately appreciated by even a passive fan of jazz, ‘Making love after hours’ is a fine way to introduce Kirk to a wider audience. It also affords the listener the opportunity to hear a then young Lonnie Liston Smith accompanying on acoustic piano. For lovers of a more intense style of jazz, ‘A tribute to John Coltrane’,  from a live recording on the 1968 LP ‘Volunteered slavery’ will fit the bill nicely and evidence of Kirk’s appreciation of what came before as does ‘Lady’s Blues’, another homage this time to Billie Holiday. However, Kirk was a keen listener of new trends and within a year of Bill Withers recording the classic ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, the reedist had produced his own inimitable version, complete with added percussion, miscellaneous instrumentation from Sonelius Smith and even background vocals courtesy of one Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney. CD 2 features one of Roland Kirk’s most beloved compositions, ‘Serenade to a cuckoo’, which was an ideal pretext for Kirk to display his mastery of a panoplia of instrumentation including the nose flute as well as the newly invented manzello and stritch.
One could quibble with the odd selection and there are some omissions such as the title track of  ‘Bright moments’, but that would be splitting hairs. Ideally one would have liked a large photo of Roland holding and playing more than one reed instrmuent simultaneously and, believe me, this was no mere gimmick, but rather the sign of a highly original artist in full flow. Terrific value for money and extremely generous timing with full details on the recordings and useful notes from jazz writer Kevin Le Gendre.  Tim Stenhouse

Leo Gandelman ‘ VIP’ CD + DVD (Far Out) 3/5

Brazilian saxophonist Leo Gandelman has an impeccable training with a period at the prestigious Berklee College of Music before beginning a professional career in 1979 and thereafter going solo in 1987. Musically, he fits into the soul-jazz bag with hints of a Latin tinge in parts. As such this release will appeal to jazz fans more generally who like their jazz on the melodic side and Gandelman’s influences seem to include in his approach to the tenor the likes of Eddie Harris and Stanley Turrentine to name but two. This is typified on numbers such as as ‘Lançamento (‘Release’)’ and there are even hints of Harris’ epic ‘Cold duck time’ on ‘Camisa 7 (No. 7 Jersey’)’. Accompanied by an acoustic trio and horn section, Gandelman blends in well with the other reeds on the samba-jazz piece ‘Nego, ta sabando (‘They know’)’ and there is some lovely Latinesque piano vamping on ‘VIP VOP’ which would not be out of place on a Horace Silver album. Another composer, Wayne Shorter, is evoked on the busy opener ‘Sinal veremlho (‘Red sign’)’. The only standard is a beautiful cover of Edu Lobo’s seminal song ‘Reza (Peace’)’ which here is taken at a slower pace than on the original vocal version. One wonders why Gandelman does not devote an entire album to the composer, following on from his 2007 recording devoted to composer/pianist Radamés which earned the tenorist the best instrumental album award in Brazil. In comparison to another Brazilian reed player, Hector Costita, who recorded jazz-fusion during the early 1980s, this new recording is more straight ahead, but with a subtle Brazilian influence nonetheless. An accompanying DVD with both the leader in performance and a documentary is added to the package which all helps to enhance the listener’s understanding of the artist.  

Tim Stenhouse

Skatalites ‘Walk with me’ (WRasse) 4/5

Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations are forthcoming and now is an appropriate time to listen to one of the island’s finest and longest standing musical institutions, the Skatalites. If the 1960s was the golden era of the collective with the great Don Drummond at his peak, then the group adapted well to the 1970s with a superb instrumental dub album re-issued as ‘Heroes in dub’ (Motion Records) and even in the early-mid 1980s the nucleus of the Skatalites was still intact as heard on the excellent Island/Mango album from 1984 ‘The return of the big guns’. Sadly, several key members of the band have now passed away leaving just Lester Sterling and vocalist Doreen Shaffer (who rejoined the band in 1992) from the original line up. The good news is that the replacements have maintained the fine level of musicianship and the most recently deceased original member. drummer Lloyd Knibb, can be heard on several tracks so there are in practice three original members who can be heard here. For lovers of Jamaican jazz, the minor theme pieces have always been a joy to behold and the Lloyd Knibb penned classic ‘King Solomon’ finds this band at its apogee. Likewise the uptempo groover ‘The leader’ impresses with a fine trumpet solo from Kevin Batchelor and some fiery alto courtesy of Lester Sterling. Covering jazz standards ska-style has been a recurrent practive of the band and on this occasion the Horace Silver chart hit ‘Song for my father’ is given a fine rendition while there hints of another Blue Note classic on ‘Hot flash’ which has all the feel of Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’. Indeed a whole album of Blue Note covers would make a fine one-off project for the future. In general the album is full of instantly catchy hooks such as the breezy Eastern-themed opener ‘Desert ska’ while there are two version of Lalibela’, the first instrumental ska and the second a dub version. Doreen Shaffer excels on the mid-tempo Love is the way’. Lengthy and informative sleeve notes will be a fine introduction to the collective for younger fans of ska and the classic Studio One recordings are still readily available (watch out for the Ja 50 anniversary listings).

Tim Stenhouse

Luisa Sobral ‘The Cherry On My Cake’ (Universal Portugal) 3/5

Portugese singer Luisa Sobral is difficult to categorise, but has a jazz-pop sensibility with elements of folk and a nasal voice that recalls Blossom Dearie. This parallel is most evident on the opener ‘I would love to’ and on the 1950s style small jazz combo outing ‘Mr. and Mrs. Brown’ with a fine clarinet solo from Lynus Wyrsch. Sobral is to be commended for not going down the already well trodden retro bossa nova route, but does on two numbers sing in Portugese where her voice is more distinctive, the best of which is the laid back ‘O en graxador’. In contrast ‘Xico’ is an uptempo song with trad jazz accompaniment. There is certainly a market for the more delicate sounding female voice in an old school jazz setting and those who already like Gretchen Parlato and Stacey Kent will find much to appreciate here, though in Sobral’s case the range is at present still somewhat limited. A promising release nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Zhenya Strigalev ‘Smiling Organizm’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

Another UK-based Russian jazz musician has emerged following on from band leader Yuriy Galkin, in this case alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev who has studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The leader has already recorded several solo albums, this being his fifth which comes as something of a surprise. The line-up is mightily impressive with some of the cream of US session musicians such as bassist Larry Grenadier (integral part of of Brad Mehldau trio), Eric Harland on drums (Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran), the excellent UK pianist Liam Noble (Christine Tobin and others) and fellow Russian and obvious be-bop devotee, trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev. Graduating in 2007, Strigalev has experienced a wide range of musical exchanges and here all but one of the compositions are his own. On one of the mort overtly melodic pieces ‘Fairy stairs’ Strigalev features as a soloist and the influence of Lee Konitz is present (elsewhere Jackie McLean and Art Pepper are evoked). Some of the numbers are more challenging such as the staccato drumming pattern that characterises ‘Anchovies’ in contrast to the gentler brass acompaniment and Monkesque hues on piano from Noble. Trumpeter Golovnev excels on the opener ‘Fletcher’ while the two horn plays combine in Jazz Messengerish fashion on the brisk ‘Yaspin’. In general this CD plays very much as a live set (a deliberate attempt possibly) and, perhaps, some of the pieces need to be shortened and more finely tuned for a studio setting. This being said, the album does whet the appetite for a live appearance of this formation and a slightly revised formation have been performing in London this year. If Strigalev still has to find his own distinctive voice, there are positive signs with the open-minded approach adopted here and the future is likely to include an ambitous attempt at Indo-Jazz fusion which, from a Russian perspective, could be an event to saviour.

Tim Stenhouse

Alex Hutton Trio ‘Legentis’ (F-ire) 4/5

British pianist and trio leader Alex Hutton offers an all original set of compositions that impresses with its focus on folk-based themes and a nice mixture of classical and folk influences alongside jazz and even rock elements. A gorgeous folk-jazz ambience is created on ‘Clouds’ with, on the surface, an apparent simplicity to the playing belying a more sophisticated approach and especially strong melodies. In particular the bass work fromYuri and Goloubev and drumming from Asaf Sirkin, the latter recently heard on the latrst Gwilym Simcock release, display a great deal of sensitivity. Leader Hutton reveals a genuine passion for Scandinavian music on ‘A Norsk tale’, with Grieg’s ‘Lyrical pieces’ immediately springing to mind and further classical tones emerge on ‘The legend is script’ with the delicate use of French horn and flute. The all too brief ‘Hymn II’ even features the cor anglais and is an intiguing blend of classical and folk. In terms of pianistic influences, Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett and possibly classical maestro Emil Gilels have all weaved their spell on Alex Hutton and it has done him a power of good. Guest vocals from Heidi Vogel and a rockier beat on the wordless vocalese piece ‘J.J.’. One of the more original pianists to have emerged in recent times with a clear idea of where he is working towards. A promising future beckons.

Tim Stenhouse

Oricle ‘ Every New Day’ (F-ire) 4/5

Composer and guitarist Jonny Phillips is the brains behind this intruiging octet that attacks the Latin repertoire from a decidely left-field perspective. Thus on ‘Mountain flower’, a Brazilan flavoured piece (though from a folkloric baiao rhythm rather than the usual bossa nova take and all the better for it) the craggy tenor solo from Idris Rahman combined with Latin vamps from pianist Nick Ramm comes off a treat. Elsewhere ‘Levante’ hints strongly at Spain with a fine flamenco guitar solo and this is a truly wonderful way to start the album on a high while Venezuelan rhythms surface on ‘La sonrisa picara’ (’The mischievous smile’) which has a most unusual signature tune and is augmented by another flamenco-inspired guitar. More conventional, but still infectious is the 3/4 time paced samba ‘Temba’ with effective use of Brazilian percussion, fine vamping from Ramm and some soulful saxophone licks courtesy of Ingrid Laubrock. To indicate how wide ranging this collective really are South African gospel hues are revealed on ‘Sherpa song’ with the music of Abdullah Ibrahim being conjured up as a result. Overall a nice summation of a variety of Latin music styles which could accordingly be developed in more depth on future releases. The only minor gripe this writer has with the CD is the actual cover which does not sufficiently indicate the Latin flavours on offer inside and verges on the gaudy. Otherwise a fascinating take on Latin music and one that is deserving of wider attention. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Lack of Afro: one way remixes and rarities’ (Freestyle) 2CD 4/5

Summertime grooves galore on this dancefloor-imbued compilation from Lack of Afro founder aka remixer extraordinaire Adam Gibbons. The tracks work best on the Latin fusion flavours on ‘Polonio’ by Los Manolos v Lack of Afro where Latin and reggae drum and guitar patterns combine effortlessly while go-go style percussion is in evidence on the reworking of the Ray Camacho and the Tear Drops’ ‘Si se puede’. More classical Brazilian rhythms are to be found on ‘Bossa for bebo’ by Flow Dynamics where, if there is a Brazilian undercurrent to the vocals, then the keyboards are straight out of the Joao Donato piano repertoire. Pan Latin flavours emerge on ‘Borken samba’. However, Afro and nu-soul influences are apparent elsewhere as on Mr Confuse’s ‘Lookout weekend’ for the former where Afro-Beat meets Santana head on while ‘Idle time’ by the New Mastersounds could be the template for an Erykah Badu instrumental. Expect around two hours of musical métissage mayhem. When warmer temperatures return to our shores, make sure this is on your summer listening schedule. Tim Stenhouse

Hilton Felton ‘The best of Hilton Felton’ (Jazzman) CD/LP/Digital (3/5)

Keyboardist Hilton Felton comes across as an equivalent of Jackie Mittoo for the jazz world, yet was sufficiently well respected to have performed with Grant Green. This collaboration immediately springs to mind when one hears the eight and a quarter minute jazzy groover that is ‘Spreading fever’. With its use of rhythm guitar, hammond organ and heavy percussion, it recalls in style Green’s epic rendition of the James Brown classic ‘Ain’t it funky now’. There is no questioning whatsover about the calibre of the musicianship on this release with delicious guitar licks on the nine minute ‘Bee bop boogie’ which, far from being be-bop jazz infused, is rather a Latin-tinged ditty with Felton playing on what sounds like a fender rhodes. However, only five tracks are present on this anthology which totals less than forty minutes. Given the extensive discographical details in the expansive and excellent sleeve notes, one needs to ask why these othewise fine tracks were not coupled with others (or at the very least one of Felton’s albums). As it stands, this is only a partial overview of the musician and a far more comprehensive selection of material is urgently required. In terms of content alone, the release merits a 4, but only receives a 3 because of the paucity of time for what purports to be a ‘Best of’ collection, but in reality only covers a tiny fraction of the keyboardist’s output.

Tim Stenhouse

Owen Marshall ‘The naked truth’ (Jazzman) CD/LP + 7″/download (4/5)

Among unrecognised jazz musicians, multi-instrumentalist Owen Marshall is a name that will not be found in any authoritative jazz guide and yet, like many musicians of his kind, his aesthetic contribution to music far outweighs any commercial considerations. Part of the Jazzman ‘Holy Grail’ series, with a bonus brace of 45s for vinyl purchasers (both contained on the CD), Marshall comes across as an in-between of the spiritual early-mid 1970s sounds of Pharoah Sanders with hints of Sun Ra and, perhaps, more frequently Alice Coltrane on keyboards. Underpinning the majority of album tracks is a driving, percussive rhythm section. Owen Marshall doubles up on electric piano and flute on ‘Planet funk’ which is more subtle than its title would at first suggest and features laid back fender bass playing and a delicate electric piano solo from Ernest Slaughter. Both Alice and John Coltrane are evoked on separate pieces with the former’s echoey electric piano surely influencing Marshall on ‘Nana’s sleeping’ while the bassline to ‘Casa del soul’ sounds distinctly like that of Coltrane’s ‘Love supreme’. On the two bonus cuts Marshall sounds as though he is playing baritone saxophone on ‘Grunt-uh-uh-uh’ and this has a funkier feel to the rest while he peforms on flute on ‘Evolove’. Since no discography is provided in the brief notes, either as sideman or leader, one can only presume that this recording was not preceded by any others. Owen Marshall earned his living primarily as both a live performer, having played with the likes of Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner, trumpeter Ted Curson and tenorist Jimmy Heath among others, and as a composer. In this latter role he composed two pieces on the debut Blue Note album for Lee Morgan as well as other pieces for Jackie McLean, Max Roach and Horace Silver. One day greater light will be shed on his collaborations with the aforementioned artists. For the time being this excellent re-issue of an extremely rare and limited original vinyl will suffice. A one-off musician with a clear vision of his craft. Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993