CD

Compact Disc

World of Pixinguinha

8 Jun 2015
Hamilton de Holanda
CD
Adventure Records

Hamilton de Holanda has written a 52 minute love poem. The pen he used was his mandolin, the object of his admiration is Alfredo da Rocha Viana Jr., better known as Pixinguinha.  A composer, arranger, flautist and saxophonist born in Rio de Janeiro before the turn of the 19th Century Pixinguinha lived in Rio de Janeiro until he died in 1973.

On World of Pixinguinha de Holanda collaborates with some very well known musicians and some completely unknown ones, the album is made of mostly duets played by de Holanda and his musical guests.12 tracks feature what is described on the sleeve as a musical bridge between jazz and choro (pronounced SHOH-roh, and  best described as the New Orleans jazz of Brazil). For most the music will sound like romanticized gypsy jazz a la Django Reinhart. The tone is always happy and soulful, the tunes and rhythms have a distinctive Brazilian/South American flavour that is not often played outside of Brazil.

To rock/blues/pop ears the tunes may sound initially as if the strings of the mandolin have been laced with honey, there is a ‘schmaltzy’ feel to some of the tracks, but a second listen reveals a joie de vivre that is at times intoxicating. Those who are familiar with the ‘countryfied’ sound of David Grisman's mandolin will find nothing in common here, the sound of de Holanda is more akin to that of a guitar than a mandolin. De Holanda's skills are augmented by a list of 12 very able musicians, among them Wynton Marsalis, Omar Sosa, Chuco Valdes and Richard Galliano.

The recording is very measured and smooth, sometimes at the expense of transparency. This is a a gentle album that would be a perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer afternoon. A musical journey to a yesteryear from another time and place, on a different continent, filledd with emotion and overflowing with nostalgia. World of Pixinguinha is an enjoyable journey and a very fitting tribute.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Everyone Was A Bird

1 Jun 2015
Grasscut
CD
Lo Recordings

I have to start by saying that Grasscut’s 2012 album Unearth is truly a thing of joy and wonder and Everyone was a Bird only increases their standing IMHO. This band has the ability to transport the listener into the English landscape and with this new selection of eight tracks we are cast into a more wintery realm of town and countryside, by contrast Unearth was a light dappled nostalgic summery affair.

This time the pairing of Andrew Phillips and Marcus O’Dair is joined by collaborators, musicians who bring additional vocals and instrumentation to their intimate sound. In truth I think it is the addition of live strings that gives the overall sound its cool dark, winter aspect. Where Unearth is full of catchy, poppy songs whispering of English magic in the hidden ponds and stone lions of deserted old estates and verges of a hot summers twilight. Everyone Was A Bird glides over a cold, ploughed landscape, reflecting perhaps the maturing of their own lives in and of the moment.

The album is more of a grower than its more immediate sounding predecessor with different layers and aspects becoming apparent with each listen. The live instrumentation gives the album a very rich and full sound, and a good quality sound system reveals beautiful depth and quality in the recording. Something I liked about the previous recordings was the selection of old radio and movie samples that enhanced the overall sense of floating through a musical story. This continues here but to a lesser degree, perhaps because this is harder to reproduce successfully when playing live. But with Everyone Was A Bird Grasscut continue to create beautiful, immersive soundscapes for the listener to fly through.

Patrick Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl, DL

Sounds Of Life

13 Apr 2015
Simone Sou, Guilherme Kastrup, Benjamin Taubkin
CD
Adventure Music

Sounds Of Life is charged with energy and innovative rhythms, but not in commonplace way. On it a very special cast of highly talented musicians create percussive haunting and beautiful music, but there is a caveat, the listener has to be patient (and this listener was not patient enough for one track) because it is not always familiar. The music varies from grand flowing piano to ringing percussion miniatures, from sampled voices to classical, it is jazz, it is samba, it is many things. The musicians who create all of the above are a very unusual mix of talents. Benjamin Taubkin (piano) has made an artform of unifying contrasting rhythms.  On Al Qantara/The Bridge he collaborated with Moroccan musicians. Here Taubkin shares the musical space with percussionists Simone Sou and her partner Guilherme Kastrup, but percussionist is a very loose description of what they do so well. It would be far more appropriate to describe them as sound creators who use percussion, sampling, mixing and voice to form enchanting rhythms and harmonies. I half expected to hear a theremin so diverse is their palette.

This album grows on a listener, it is constructed from what appear to be musical tales with chapters inserted in them, some of the tracks are made up of as many as three parts. The parts are related to one another but often quite loosely, but that hardly matters. The music is compelling from the very start, but each time the album is replayed it becomes more special and more compelling. There is a strong presence of jazz, Caribbean styles, samba and African themes. The interaction between styles that verge on the avant garde and native themes is constant. Yet it cannot be described as world music. The album mixes world sounds to create a unique individual signature of its own.  Sounds of Life is also well recorded, it has a live feel even though various electronic effects are constantly present. There are three stand out tracks: Pifaiada, Gota D'Agua and Mozambik Bembe. This is a very special album that’s worth every Grosch, Piastre, Lireta or Drachma you have to pay.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
none

Slant Signature

23 Mar 2015
Benny Sharoni
CD
Papaya Records

Let's get one thing straight from the start, this album is fabulous. It is filled with talent and verve and amazing music on top. It’s one of a kind, a bebop tour de force of the highest calibre. It doesn't just be and bop, it shuffles it goes Caribbean and does some of the most inspired and tightest jazz things I have heard in many years. A happy, and for the most part rhythmic affair, that provides an incredibly talented sextet the space to impress and beguile in equal measure. The musicians are: Benny Sharoni (tenor sax); Jim Rotondi (trumpet); Joe Barbato (piano); Mike Mele (guitar); Todd Baker (bass); Steve Langone (drums). Sharoni is a Boston based Israeli who has made one other album as a leader and collaborated on three others, if Slant Signature is anything to go by there need to be a lot more of both.

The album is made up of both originals and tributes to the music composed by Lee Morgan, Freddy Hubbard and pianist Ray Bryant. The band plays the finest bebop one is likely to hear today, they play with confidence, accuracy, sensitivity, speed and a rhythmic groove that you rarely hear, they have the be and the bop sorted. Jazz is not always fun but this album will be cherished by jazzers of all persuasions. This is helped by a recording that does the musicians justice, it is clear, fast and clean but also sweet and natural, instruments are placed realistically and solidly across and within the soundstage. To my ears Freddy Hubbard's Down Under and Sharoni’s Bitter Drops are the strongest. But each and every track is a sheer and rare joy to listen to. Very highly recommended. Even though it is only March, I have put this album at or near the very top of my best of 2015 shortlist. Buy it.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

La Vie En Rose: Rencontres avec Edith Piaf et Gus Viseur

16 Mar 2015
Richard Galliano & Sylvain Luc
CD
Milan Records

The French must be music connoisseurs, this album proves as much if nothing else. Frenchmen Richard Galliano (accordions) and his very able partner Sylvain Luc (acoustic guitars) play a nostalgic tribute to a unique style of music. The album is a marriage of Gallic passion, verve and virtuosity, it is an intimate musical romp through the era and ambiance of France when chanson was all the rage.
They play renditions of South American music as well as well known French songs that span the years from the forties to the sixties, the nineteen sixties that is. The performances are breathtaking. Richard Galliano is without dispute one of the most prolific, capable and musically intriguing accordionist on our blue planet, what he does with various accordions and instruments can only be described as magical. Galliano is joined by a guitarist who has recorded a wide variety of music, from blues to French gypsy jazz and regularly plays with another French guitarist, Bireli Lagrenes. Galliano and Luc weave tunes and harmonies in a manner that very few musicians will ever be able to equal. The music is always very tuneful and lyrical, flowing gently but with plenty of energy. The album is recorded in a manner that places the listeners in a small venue. For some this album will be a trip down memory lane, for most it will be an introduction to fabulous melodies performed by two musical geniuses. A very highly recommended album that gently captivates and excites through all and every one of its 16 tracks.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
none

Skyscrapers & Deities

19 Jan 2015
Kouyaté-Neerman
CD
No Format!

The balaphone is a type of wooden xylophone that one rarely gets to hear, let alone see. Its inclusion in this album is just one of the unusual factors which makes Skyscrapers & Deities a very delightful encounter. Lansiné Kouyate (balaphone) and David Neerman (electric and acoustic vibraphones) have been able to put together an eccentric yet very pleasant album and fill it with innovative and intriguing rhythms using instruments associated with sub Saharan Africa aided by electronic sounds. It is further spiced up by guest musicians including the wonderful kora player Ballake Sissoko. To ensure that the strange mix of distorted electronics and ancient African instruments sets this album apart, the use of political power poetry read to rhythm by the British Caribbean artist Anthony Joseph on the track Haiti guarantees an ‘alternative’ stamp. It’s also surprising to see a Serge Gainsbourg composition in Requiem Pour Un Con, the only non original number.

Those who like the sound of xylophone, vibraphone and marimba will find the sound Kouyoate's balaphone interesting, it has a resonance and a distorted reverb that makes it a near perfect partner to some of the distorted bass and electronic effects that are added as a syncopating support throughout. It may be alternative but it’s never avant garde, and the ten mostly very short tracks feature a nearly hypnotic percussive undertone that will be much liked by fans of Tony Allen and Mulatu Astatke. The album is well recorded, but not a statement in realism as the mix contains natural and deliberate distortions. It’s another beautifully crafted and slightly unusual musical gem from a small French label. Highly recommended to fans of rhythmic world music.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Best Albums of 2014

8 Dec 2014
various artists
CD
ACT

Iiro Rantala String Trio
Anyone With A Heart
ACT

This is musical magic encapsulated and way beyond classification. It has all the chutzpah, creativity, wit and cheerful essence with which one can transform a gray day into a colourful one. It is jazz, blues and central European folk music interwoven with sheer inspiration. A unique emotional experience that deserves to be heard by as many music lovers as possible. Reuben Klein

A second opinion
This album likely wouldn’t have even been on my radar as recently as a couple of years ago, let alone made it into my top three picks of the year. However classical-jazz crossover is a genre that is becoming increasingly present on my playlists, a sure sign that my musical horizons are finally broadening. Anyone With A Heart sees composer and pianist Iiro Rantala team up with violinist Adam Baldych and cellist Asja Valcic to create and present in classical piano trio form a delightful collection of gems, all of which are original excluding a homage to the much loved Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Free from stylistic limitations, melodies are the emotive foundation of this album, they are what makes it play from the heart and into the soul. The synergy and interplay between the trio feels incredibly natural, and whilst free in spirit remains unpretentious without even the slightest hint of self-indulgence. I would challenge anyone with a heart not to experience a profound emotional response when listening to this masterful creation. It is the ‘must-own’ album of 2014, regardless of your musical background or preferences. Richard Barclay


Joachim Kühn Birthday Edition
Trio Kühn Humair Jenny-Clark

Europeana
ACT

Imagine what would have happen if Dvorak and Bela Bartok asked Gil Evans to join them in creating a piece that merges European folk music played to perfection by an orchestra that contains jazz musicians. This album offers a broad musical statement that’s recorded to perfection and is beguiling and entertaining in equal amounts. Not to be missed! Reuben Klein


Marcotulli & Biondini Duo Art
La Strada Invisibile
ACT

Piano and accordion combined to produce a musical spell. From blues to funky rock rhythms, from classical to Nino Rota melodies. Romance and greed. You'd never imagine that two keyboards can fill such a large space with flowing music and energy. Audiophonic charm and intrigue of the most superlative type. Reuben Klein


Beverley Craven
Change Of Heart
Right Track

My runner up for best CD of 2014 was recorded by Beverley Craven and called Change Of Heart. Beverley has been a favourite right from her first album on, but she was never so open about her personal life before. Change Of Heart deals with the past and opens up her future to us. The recording is good, but not exceptional on most tracks and it consists of up tempo tracks interspersed with slow songs. Next to her piano, the band surrounds her with tight bass, playful percussion and more. Love to play this one because it often reminds me of her first album. René vanEs


Isabelle Boulay
Merci Serge Reggiani
Universal

This is heavy stuff if you do not understand the French language, but a delight to listen to nonetheless. It contains Isabelle Boulay’s take on the songs of the Italian/French composer Serge Reggiani. A man who captured the way of life in France, boiling it down to its essence; living in small villages, street life, to love and be loved. Isabelle has a very good voice and is one of those singers that only needs acoustic backing for her performance to capture your full attention. The band uses typical French instruments including accordion, guitar and piano. And there reinforce Reggiani’s compositions. Isabelle tender style of singing often reminds me of Juliette Gréco, yet she can albe be powerful and feminine. A recording to listen to late at night, no matter if you fully understand what she sings. For those who love France it’s a must have, it will transport you to exquisite restaurants where lovers meet, to the streets of Paris and to the countryside. René vanEs


Stacey Kent
The Changing Lights
Warner Jazz

The best album this year for me (actually released at the end of 2013) and played far too much during reviewing is The Changing Lights by Stacey Kent. This American singer, who lives with her British husband and saxophone player Jim Tomlinson, sings in English, French and Portuguese. No matter that the recordings where made in Sussex, England, she captures her love for Brazil and France in her songs. From the first note you hear how much effort has been made with the recording. There’s no loudness war here, each and every instrument shines. Stacey’s voice is admirable, light in tone, sometimes even childish, yet she will open your ears and conquer your heart. This album will bring sun to rainy afternoons, enlighten your pleasant evening or send you to bed with a smile on your face. Recording quality is excellent and beautiful voice plus the best band members she could wish for makes for a great sound. I love it every time, no matter how often I listen to it and it has seen a lot of use over the past year. Being not only a true music lover but also a devoted audiophile, this is the stuff to determine a system’s performance for voice, clarity, image and naturalness. René vanEs


Paolo Nutini
Caustic Love
Atlantic Records

The third album of his career, and released almost five years after Sunny Side Up, Caustic Love displays a marked maturing in Paolo’s Nutini’s songwriting, arranging and vocal prowess. It explores grown-up themes framed in a dark and gritty soundscape that is built on a combination of soul and funk in their rawest states. I was not a fan of Paolo when he first emerged, but my appreciation has grown with each release. Caustic Love is without question his best to date and marks a genuine ‘coming of age’. From the grimy and downright groovy Scream (Funk My Life Up) to the dark and dystopian epic Iron Sky, the album’s fresh yet retro vibe and emotionally-charged lyrics will remain relevant for future generations and likely secure its status as a contemporary classic. Richard Barclay


Coldplay
Ghost Stories
Parlophone

I thought twice before revealing this album as my third choice, it seems that any mention of Coldplay these days triggers instant ridicule and derision. I am not a Coldplay fan especially, but have come to appreciate their continued progression in musical and sonic creativity through the years. Ghost Stories marks another significant change in direction for the band. It is much more atmospheric and chilled out than their previous album, Mylo Xyloto, which by comparison was mostly anthemic and arguably chaotic and disjointed in places. Largely inspired by lead singer’s Chris Martin’s reflections on the ending of his long-term relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow, Ghost Stories flows as a more cohesive body of work by portraying a hauntingly melancholic but cathartic theme throughout. Its mellowness provides listeners with a comforting environment in which to enjoy some much needed time for reflection, something we could all use more of in our frenetic lives.Richard Barclay


Wesseltoft Schwarze Berglund
Trialogue
Jazzland

I’m a big fan of Bugge Wesseltoft, Norway’s finest exponent of contemporary instrumental music, so the release this year of an album made with est bass player Dan Berglund and German DJ Henrik Schwarze was a cause for celebration. Unlike Duo the album he made with Schwarze in 2011 Trialogue is less beat driven and more subliminal, it incorporates a string quartet on some numbers but it’s the presence of Berglund’s double bass that alters the mood. Time will tell if it matches the brilliance of Duo but less than a month in the signs are very good, it gets better on every listen.
Trialogue shows Wesseltoft’s softer side, has radiant beauty and encourages drifting with the vibe The presence of strings give it a tonal depth that extends the emotional range of the compositions and gets them right on target. Jason Kennedy


Melanie de Biasio
No Deal
Play it Again Sam

Belgian chanteuse and flautist de Biasio has a sultry style that arrested me in my tracks when I heard her earlier in the year. She has the essence of Nina Simone and many other classic jazz singers but sounds entirely individual, even when singing the standard I’m Gonna Leave You. This is musique noire with a strong fifties feel but modern backing from a superbly nuanced band of keyboards, drums, bass and piano. They keep things spare much of the time and create powerful, expansive and atmospheric soundscapes behind the beguiling voice of singer whose soul sounds older than her twenty something years. Jason Kennedy


The John Aram Quartet with Kenny Wheeler
Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
Coup Perdu

Nottingham’s Coup Perdu went to great lengths with the artwork on this double vinyl release but the music itself is yet more spectacular. This is a contemporary take on Silitoe’s book and film of the sixties, complete with snippets of dialogue from the movie. Aram is a British trombonist living in Switzerland and he gathered a very hot combo to play this suite: Colin Vallon on piano, Andy Scherer on tenor sax and the late Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn alongside a very capable rhythm section. It’s a remarkable piece of work, a mix of contemporary and bebop styles with distinctly European vibe that shows Aram to be a composer of the first order. Jason Kennedy
 

Special mention
A commendation is required for two Brazilian musicians who at times threatened to hijack the very top spots. Benjamin Taubkin's Al Quantara & The Bridge and Clarice Assad's Imaginerium should be on the shortlists of all music lovers this Christmas. Their music is as innovative and musical as they are emotional and original.
FIP radio is a French state run radio station that can be heard online. It plays eclectic selections of a myriad musical styles that one can only but dream of hearing on this side of the channel over the airwaves. In my view it should be a part of mandatory music lessons in schools around the UK at least once a week. Reuben Klein
 

Formats also available: 
various

Sunken Condos

20 Nov 2014
Donald Fagen
CD
Warmer Brothers

Some of us have been listening to ‘the Dan's’ music for nearly four decades, yet the noise is as compelling as it was way back when. It’s safe to say that the sound for which Donald Fagen is so well known was established somewhere in the late 70s and, for better or worse, has been used in all the various albums that were produced by both Fagen and his musical partner Walter Becker since that time.
This album, Fagen's fourth solo effort, features nine of his trademark slightly self obsessive songs about relations with (much too) young women and other middle class tales of angst and disillusion. The sound is the same yet different, gone is the very exact and artificial feel of the his 1980s recordings, in its place comes a looser, funkier, bluesier and yes jazzier feel. The keyboards and synthesized sounds are there but in addition there is meaty bass, the intimate effect of room echo and a different combination of leading instruments, even a trumpet solo!

Danophiles and Fagenites may be surprised by the lack of big name musicians who used to be associated with this artist, but don't be frightened, the very high standards we have come to expect are maintained. The quality of the recording is somewhere between OK and average. All is well and clearly presented but a little bit thick and slightly shut in. I can't quite recommend a best track, with the exception of I'm Not The Same Without You and Out of the Ghetto, all the tracks are entertaining and they are compelling sonically, musically and dare one say, intellectually.
To this listener's ears its Fagen’s best effort to date. In the pantheon of Steely Dan’s work it one should find a place somewhere at the very top of the list (I beg to differ, Ed.), a must have for the fans and a good introduction for those who may be new to the Dan and the Don.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads 1

17 Nov 2014
Joe Locke
CD
Motema

A runner and a dancer may be equally fit and develop similar muscles but watching them ‘strutting their stuff’ elicits very different reactions. A case in point is Joe Locke's vibraphone led Lay Down My Heart. As I am partial to the sound of a vibraphone and own albums by the likes of Lionel Hampton, Terry Gibbs and Milt Jackson among others I was happy to discover another protagonist of this instrument. Locke's quartet offers a take on jazz that’s not often heard today, it is unashamedly bluesy, swingy and altogether exceedingly enjoyable. In contrast to cerebral players who push a faster and higher must be better agenda, Locke and his group prove that enjoyable need not be read as simple, and melodious does not mean uninspired. This album has the feel of the Modern Jazz Quartet, it is stylish, rich and offers a reminder of sounds that have regrettably vanished from jazz clubs.

The pieces are a mix of seductive interpretations and original material presented in expressive and rhythmic fashion by Joe Locke (vibraphone), Ryan Cohan (piano), Jaimeo Brown (drums) and David Finck (bass). It all starts with one of the best renditions I have heard of Bill Wither's Ain't No Sunshine, it transforms the intimate original into a grand swinging blues and funk piece. It also shines a new light on Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me and the old standard Makin' Whoopee.

The quartet brilliantly merges precision and playfulness, tension and speed with plenty of opportunity for each musician to show his abilities. The recording is rich and precise. The bass is large, rich and tight, and even though it presents both the piano and vibraphone in a wider than life manner, it should on the whole please the ears of audiophiles. To my ears the best two tracks are the aforementioned Wither’s song and the third track Bittersweet.  This is highly recommended to anybody who needs a musical uplift that includes verve, style, elegance, creativity and most of all enjoyability.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Big Inner

6 Oct 2014
Matthew E White
CD
Domino

Matthew E White is a prolific guy indeed. In addition to releasing a single (One Of These Days), this album and a follow up EP called Outer Face, he fronts an avant-garde jazz band (Fight the Big Bull), and manages to arrange ‘this’ and collaborate with ‘them’ as well. It’s an admirable work ethic from a guy who only went solo two years ago. His style and choice of music invites many comparisons, all are very complimentary in their nature. There is a bit of pop, gospel, rock, New Orleans jazz and much else woven into his album. I would describe him as a North American version of Guy Garvey (Elbow), the musical tapestry may not be identical but the talent, ambiance, individuality and qualities are in many respects very similar.

Big Inner is made from a very heavy dose of 70s sound of the very highest pedigree. The music will be eerily familiar to those who are 50 or over for that reason. Soul, rock, blues and gospel fusion supported by brass and strings dominate the album, but there is much to enjoy besides. There is a Blood, Sweat & Tears feel to some of the arrangements, while others sound like an unpublished track from a never released Beatles album, or a future Elbow album. One of the tunes has a very strong flavor of Randy Newman’s style in that era. White's singing style is quiet and nonchalant, no drama and no shouting, just a rhythmic and melodious presentation of four minute musical vignettes. The recording quality is nothing to write home about, but that does not detract from this enjoyable and fairly short 41 minute album – a good fit on a vinyl LP. It’s the perfect album for those who crave an easy to digest yet interesting new musical encounter.

Stand out track: Big Love

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
vinyl, download

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