Debashish Bhattacharya ‘Calcutta Slide Guitar’ (Special Edition)CD/DVD (World Music Network) 4/5

Previously chronicled in the original studio edition which has earned critical acclaim and introduced many to his music, Bhattacharya has pioneeered the use of the slide guitar within the field of Indian classical music and became a ‘pandit’ or master at the age of forty. Furthermore he has come to prominence equally as a member of the revived and renewed line-up of Shakti under the aegis of John McLaughlin.

This latest CD features an entirely new selection of pieces recorded live in trio format, but indoors with, as a bonus, the live studio concert on DVD. Excellent audio and visual quality enable the viewer to appreciate the trio’s ensemble playing and of the five lengthy pieces, the opener ‘Usha’ and ‘Aanadan’ stand out as particularly fine examples of Bhattacharya’s craft. The only drawback is there is no interview with Bhattachrya explaining how he has adapted the Hawaian slide guitar to Indian classical music. That would have greatly enhanced our understanding. Otherwise an excellent illustration of one of the new masters of Indian music.Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Rough Guide to Romanian Gypsies’ (World Music Network) 4/5

Located predominantly in central Transylvania, gypsy music has combined Romanian as well as Hungarian melodies, and the folk songs from the region have served as the inspiration for Hungarian classical composers of the calibre of Bartok and Kodaly. In fact by virtue of their nomadic lifestyle and marginal status, gypsy music tends to cut acorss national boundaries. On this latest edition, which updates a previous compilation of the genre, we have a rich variety of sounds. Internationally the best known band is Taraf de Haidoucks and as the first part of their name might suggest, there is something of an oriental flavour to their music. This is typified on ‘Parlapup (Sa va spun de un bautor)’. There is a tendency for gypsy communities to reside in the same street and consequently these are referred to as ‘musicians’ street. Instrumentalists of note abound and are exemplified here by clarinetist Mielu Bibescu on ‘Mite mite’ accompanied by guitar and Toni Iordache playing the uniquely sounding kunan (a kind of zither with Middle Eastern origins) on ‘Cantec si Breaza (ca la fantanele)’. Musicians often play at weddings to earn a living and have an instinctive knowledge of the repertoire. Moldavian brass band Fanfare Ciorcalia fuse traditional and contemporary folk sounds (adding drums) and here contribute two excellent songs ‘Alili’ and ‘Kan marau la’. For an authentic introduction to grass roots gypsy music from central Europe, this compilation should be your first port of call. Tim Stenhouse

Sam Rivers ‘Dimensions and Extensions’ (Blue Note RVG) 4/5

Sam Rivers strided the stylistic gap between post-bop and free jazz to great effect on a series of classic albums in the mid-late 1960s for Blue Note such as ‘Fuschia Swing Song’ and ‘Contours’. In addition he was briefly a member of Miles Davis’ band and as a sideman featured on the superb Larry Young album ‘Into Something’. This late 1960s release featured a fascinating line up of four horns and no piano with Rivers shifting between tenor, soprano and flute. He enlisted a stellar cast of Julian Priester on trombone, James Spaulding on reeds and Cecil McBee on bass. Tracks cover a wide variety of styles from the melodicism of ‘Paen’ and the beautiful flute duet with Spaulding on ‘Involution’ to the freedom of Afflatus’. One hopes that the vastly underrated album ‘A new conception’ is re-issued a some point to complete the Rivers repertoire on Blue Note. Tim Stenhouse

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou ‘The Voodoo Effect’

Covering 1973-1975 this is funk & sato from Benin’s obscure labels often recorded in the most basic of ways. This is music for the people, people who want to dance to this raw mix of horns, guitar, organ on a driving bedrock of bass and drums. It’s amazing where all this brilliant music keeps coming from but you end up wondering how you’ve not come across it before. Thanks AnalogAfrica – keep them coming.

Graham Radley

Until recently Benin was a relatively unknown country from a musical perspective and our knowledge was restricted to present day diva Angelique Kidjo. However, during the 1970s independent labels released some sumptuous music and the first volume of a two-part series by enterprising UK label Analog Africa is devoted to one of the key bands of the era in Benin, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Myriad influences come to play in this intoxicating mix, but elements of Nigerian juju and Afro-Beat, US funk and soul and Latin rhythms are all evident. However, the distinctive sound of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is due to the voudous religious component in the form of the indigenous sato drums and the disonnant guitar riffs that are omnipresent on these recordings. Key tracks include the brass-laden ‘Se we non nan’, the juju-influenced ‘Assibari’ and the funk riffs on ‘Aho ba ho’. Weighing in at seventy-five minutes, this is an excellent value compilation of one of Africa’s least known bands.

Tim Stenhouse

Empty Boat ‘Waitless’ (Poo) 3/5

This release highlights the very worthy cause of the chronic lack of sanitation in Africa. This UK-based project is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dean Brodrick and the music inspired by a trip to Mozambique. Calling in a number of guest musicians including Brazilian vocalist Monica Vasconcelos, themes are based around the concept of water. From a musical perspective the instrumentation is in large part Latin-tinged (though vocals are in Portugese) with the 1950s big band Cuban style of ‘Agua pura’ impressing. Jazzy mambo sounds permeate ‘Eu vivo neste mundo’ (’I live in this world’)while catchy accordion playing is a highlight of ‘Drinking water’. Clearly this is not exclusively a music project and its main purpose is to highlight the daily needs of millions of Africans. For every CD sold, one pound is donated to the campaign and equates to a lifetimes santation for an African citizen. Tim Stenhouse

Mohawks ‘The Champ’ 2LP/CD (Vampi Soul) 4/5

The late 1960s in Britain witnessed musical and fashion fragmentation into two opposite camps: mods and rockers. The former worshipped the soul-jazz sounds coming out of America, notably the hammond organ of artists such as Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff that would invariably be heard on jukeboxes in condensed 45 format. Added to this influence was the gritty southern soul of independent labels like Stax in Memphis and the newly emerging sound of reggae from Jamaica. British studio arranger and keyboardist Alan Hawkshaw was soaking up all these influences and offered his own take on the new sound in 1968 with the project contained herein. The resulting album ‘The Champ’ and especially its title track would compare most favourably with music recorded across the Atlantic and in turn would be sampled two decades later by US hip-hop artists. Hawkshaw is best known for his arrangements of music for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and later for his jingles and theme tunes on British television.

As leader, however, his finest moment came with ‘The Champ’, a series of tightly arranged and perfectly executed slices of jazz-inflected organ. Alongside the devastating title track, the Mohawks take on Wilson Pickett’s ‘Funky Broadway’ impresses. Little wonder, then, that another hammond organist, Reuben Wilson, should record the number for Blue Note around the same period. Otis Redding was arguably the most respected soul singer at the time and his ‘Sweet soul music’ is interpreted in fine soul-jazz fashion. Heavy bass and organ combine wonderfully on ‘Dr. Jekyl and Hyde Park’ while Hawkshaw stretches out on hammond on ‘Beat me til’ I’m blue’ which in many ways is a precursor to the sound he created for Serge Gainsbourg. Six bonus cuts are added of which the percussion heavy ‘Pepsi’ and New Orleans-inspired ‘Ride your pony’ stand out. Impressive gatefold sleeve and notes on Hawkshaw’s career round out a timeless classic that is finally available in both CD and vinyl formats. Tim Stenhouse

Hugh Masekela ‘Home is where the music is’ (Verve) 4/5

Formerly on the collectable Blue Thumb label, this long deleted re-isssue captures Hugh Masekela in excellent form on what was originally a double LP from 1972 recorded in London. Co-produced by Crusaders producer Stewart Levine and composer/musician Caiphus Semenya, Masekela was forced to record in exile because of the political situation in South Africa throughout the 1970s. This album assembles a stellar group of American-based and exiled South African musicians. The former include bassist Eddie Gomez and pianist Larry Willis. Extended numbers predominate on this CD which is great value at almost eighty minutes. Among key tunes are the Willis composition ‘Inner crisis’ which has a Headhunters feel with Willis playing electric piano while Masekela’s ‘Maseru’ has something of a Latin feel to it and trumpet playing that recalls early Freddie Hubbard. Political themes were never far from Masekela’s repertoire and ‘Blues for Huey’ is a tribute one of the principal figures in the black consciousness movement in the States. A more reflective side to the ensemble is found on ‘The Big Apple’ with Larry Willis demonstrating the kind of keyboard skills on acoustic piano that would later be an integral feature of Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band. Hugh Masekela recorded for numerous labels and it is heartening to know that one of his most coherent albums is now available once again to a wider public. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Pacifico Colombiano’ (Otrabanda)4/5

Colombia is a country of music aficionados whose indigenous rhythms serve as the base for multiple musical styles that are largely unrecognised outside of its borders. This compilation is thus a handy thermometre of the genres that have dominated in the decade between 1998 and 2007. On the Pacific coatline of Colombia one finds influences as diverse as west African highlife and Palm Wine, Cumbia and even Dixieland-style. A perfect illustration of the heady fusion of sounds is Grupo Bahia who, ithin a song such as ‘Cantare’, change tempi and rhythm several times. Key to the overall sound is the use of an African percussion instrument the malimba along with jazzy horns and a guitar solo Carlos Santana would be proud of.

In contrast the rapid currulao rhythm is exemplified by the best known artists on the compliation, Peregoyo y su Combo Vacana with ‘La Iguana’. For a long time Afro-Colombian rhythms were deingrated in the country and considered inferior to commercial salsa. However, in the late 1990s attitudes changed and a plethora of artists were encouraged to record. An outstanding example is the catchy ‘La Oya’ by La Revuelta that begins as a jazz-inflected intro, but quickly transforms into an infectous Afro-Colombian piece with chanted horns. With excellent recording quality and informative and detailed bi-lingual notes, mark this down as one of the year’s most enlightening discoveries. The CD fills an important gap in the Latin music market and one hopes there will be more music of this calibre to follow. Tim Stenhouse

Omara Portunondo ‘Gracias’ (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) 3/5

One of the off shoots of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, Omara Portuondo has in fact led a parallel career since the 1970s and recorded regularly in Cuba before and after the worldwide success of Cuban traditional music. This latest album sees Omara return to the classic Cuban repertoire with a number of guest musicians and singers. Portuondo had tended to shift between styles from bolero to feelin’ and has tended to stick to a more laid back from of Cuban music. Melancholic ballads sung in Spanish are acceptable up to a point provided there is variety elsewhere to compensate. On this album Portuondo invites a number of guest ranging from Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes, one of the pioneers of the nueva trova sound, to Camerounian singer and guitarist Richard Bona. By far the catchiest numbers on this album are the uptempo ones, particularly the pared down reworking of a Brazilian classic, ‘’O que sera’ in collaboration with its original composer and singer Chico Buarque. A reworking of Silvio Rodriguez’s ‘Rabo de Nube’ remains faithful to the original and the most impressive ballad is ‘Lo que me queda por vivir’.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Powerhouse Selector’s Choice (George Phang)’ Vol 1 & 2 Separate 2CDs (VP) 3/5

Amid the mid-1980s digital revolution a number of new producers emerged and of these George Phang was among the most consistent. The first two volumes on offer testify to the calibre of singers and DJs who recorded under Phang. Volume one features dancehall favourite Barrington Levy with two cuts while Frankie Paul who was a pivotal figure in the digital era offers another brace of tasty numbers. Other younger singers would emerge from the mid-1908s onwards and of these Little John has stood the test of time extremely well. While DJs were less prominent from 1984, Phang still believed in their prowess and consequently Josie Wales and Yellowman are both featured here. Volume two adds quality singers such as Frankie Jones, Michael Palmer and Admiral Bailey. George Phang stuck to a similar format with his production chores and it certainly paid dividends in the dancehall. Another two volumes will follow. Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993