CD

Compact Disc

The Tel Aviv Session

20 Mar 2014
The Touré-Raichel Collective
CD
Cumbancha

It is very hard to see how it came to be that Idan Raichel, a big domestic Israeli star who plays very ordinary pop music, and the son of Ali Farka Touré ‘ear-stormed’ their way into such an inspiring musical creation. One that nods to sub Saharan, Ethiopian, Yemenite and Israeli folk music. Be that as it may the result is a relaxed rhythmic set of beautifully crafted and musically infectious tunes.

The Touré-Raichel Collective consists of Vieux Farka Touré (guitar), Idan Raichel (piano), Yossi Fine (bass) and Souleymane Kane (calabash), there are other musicians playing Arabic violin and the Tar (an Iranian guitar), adding a ‘world’ vibe to the Afro-Middle eastern sound. The album is made ip of 11 mostly instrumental gems which take you on an interesting musical journey full of tunes and harmonies that manage to fuse the roots of many styles in to melodious, gentle and rhythmic mix. Unsurprsingly it’s reminiscent in places to the music of Touré's famous father.

Initial impressions may lead one to assume that the sound is sub Saharan, but the mix introduces a piano that veers from classical to western pop, supported by bass and the occasional harmonica that create delta-blues like atmospherics. The last track takes yet another sudden turn towards Iran and central Asia. No single musician dominates, it is a collaborative collective in the truest sense, as the name of the group suggests.  The music is played in a fashion that highlights the capabilities of all who take part; Touré's guitar is prominent but not necessarily as a lead instrument, he and Yossi Fine take their turns in keeping the rhythm in check. The percussion quietly and rapidly adds musical commas and exclamation marks along the way. As to the piano, those few who may have heard Raichel's music in the past (or decide to discover him after hearing tracks from this album) are in for a very pleasant surprise, his piano playing is revelatory and transformed in a supremely positive way when compared to the gentle pop songs which made him the darling of many a teenagers in Israel.

The album's overall sound signature is intimate and open, you can sense the room that the almost purely acoustic instruments were recorded in. The Bass and highs are finely balanced creating a very convincing three dimensional presence with a wide and deep soundstage. This is a single-sitting affair, the tracks are as short as they are intoxicating to listen to. Very highly recommended as an antidote to the oft broadcast news of scandals and mayhem from the regions that those who were involved in the making of the album came from!

Favorite tracks - Experience followed closely by Hawa, Le Niger and Ane Nahtka. 

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
WAV download

Simple Things?

12 Feb 2014
Mina Agossi
CD
Candid

Mina Agossi is a jazz vocalist but in many ways she should be considered an instrumentalist as her voice is often used in the fashion of a jazz instrument. Agossi, who was born in Benin in 1972 but has lived in France for most of her life, specialises in turning the simple into the avant garde in a mesmerizing fashion. Her vocal performance has a silk-to-shout range which takes the listener from somewhere near Billy Holiday to the vicinity of madness incarnate with a sound not unlike a trumpet. Simple Things? her fifth album came out in 2008 and in keeping with the earliest albums Agossi is accompanied by a small and slightly unusual band that includes percussion, drums, bass, keyboards and a rapper.
Agossi takes you on a musical journey through funk, African, gentle, jazzy, weird, expressive and colourful styles. She has mastered the art of producing unique and appealing (both intellectually and musically) versions of famous and less than famous hits. On this album she offers an outlandish but nevertheless pleasing version of Pink Floyd's Money as well as one of the best versions ever of Wardell Grey's Twisted, the song made famous by Annie Ross (with Lambert and Hendricks) in the late 50s and performed by Joni Mitchell and countless others over the years. Agossi has as strong an affinity to modern jazz as she has to Jimi Hendrix, whose songs frequently appear in her work. On this album she offers a slow steamy rendition of Hendrix’s 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from the Electric Ladyland album, there is also a nod to Nina Simone, Billy Holiday and Dinah Washington in a version of Feeling Good. Agossi's unique vocal abilities are accompanied on this album by Eric Jacot (bass) Ichiro Onoe (drums) Manolo Badrena (percussion) Fred Dupont (Mini Moog) and Racos (MC). Simple Things can equally be described as jazzy, funky, bizarre and avant garde. The recording is warm with slow'ish bass and gets about 6 out of 10 but is acceptably clear and never sounds compressed. Agossi’s performance is as pleasing as she is unusual, a must hear artist who combines tremendous ability, intellect, energy and charm. Very highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

The Royal Sessions

7 Feb 2014
Paul Rodgers
CD
429/Pie Records

This album is a nostalgic journey for Paul Rodgers. For those among of a tender age, the name will mean very little, but for many he will forever be associated with the bands Free and Bad Company. I am not a devotee but have kept in touch with his work over the years and proudly count his Muddy Water Blues as a cherished album. That album was a collaboration between Rodgers and some of the best guitar players in the business including: Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, David Gilmore, Steve Miller and others. It celebrated the music of Muddy Waters with a rock accent.
This album is a slightly different affair, it concentrates on re-imagining and rearranging a selection of classic soul hits, the music in fact of Rodgers’ youth. It seems the years have not changed his voice and energy in a meaningful way, considering his age (64) this is quite a tour de force. The album was recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Royal studios in Memphis where the singer was accompanied by the musicians that worked there in the seventies. These include the Reverend Charles Hodges on Hammond B3, Lester Snell (piano), Archie ‘Tubby’ Turner (Wurlitzer) and Michael Toles on guitar. Among a strong backing of horns, strings and vocals by the people who made the Memphis soul sound in the first place. The overall effect is exact and mighty big. The sound of this very able band matches Rodgers’ energy and vocal abilities. The album includes the following tracks:

I Thank You
Down Don’t Bother Me
I Can’t Stand The Rain
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
That’s How Strong My Love Is
Walk On By
Any Ole Way
It’s Growing
Born Under A Bad Sign
I’ve Got Dreams To Remember

Some of these are amazing renditions that breath an original air into songs that have followed many of us all our lives. The execution is as perfect as any Steely Dan album, with each note almost ‘machined’ into shape. Which is all the more surprising given that for the most part this was a live recording. The amount of joy you get from this album will depend on your affection for the genre. I really enjoyed three tracks but in spite of the perfect musical execution of the others, I wasn't able to fall in love with the rest of the album. I put it down to the fact that nostalgia plays a great part with this type of music. In the event I really liked I Can't Stand the Rain, Walk on By and Born Under a Bad Sign. His version of Walk on By especially needs to be heard. The recording was made to analogue tape and the sound sits on the warm, bassy side of the equation. A fine balance is struck between the warmth that is always associated with soul music and the speed of the drums and horns, resulting in really nice bass and horns that will not shatter glass.

Reuben Klein

Anyone With a Heart

3 Feb 2014
Iiro Rantala String Trio
CD
ACT

I have just listened to the album of the year, and it’s only the end of January. It will be nigh on impossible to convey the sheer beauty of this album and the talent of the trio that weave their magic and musical spell across its tracks. To get the measure of the euphonic bliss, try to conjure the following; imagine Bella Bartók playing his music to an arrangement by Nino Rota accompanied by a Bill Evans.

This magical album was created by the very considerable talents of Iiro Rantala (piano), Adam Baldych (violin) and Asja Valcic (cello). If this has made your eyes roll and your nose twitch, fear not, the combination of instruments never sounds strange or pretentious. The music moves in an effortless way from the first note and merges from one style into another. Track one starts with strumming of violin and cello that sound funky, track two veers from jazz to what for some may sound like a long forgotten Bartók piano concerto, and meanders into a thingymajig that is reminiscent of a peasant violin tune captured by Dvorak, only not at all like it. All the while Rantala is manoeuvring his piano from a semi gospel blues to classical to a hint of New Orleans boogie-woogie. On and on it continues, with minuets and blues riffs contrasted by olde worlde Viennese violins, and cello bass notes and strumming. All done with cheek, wit and talent that makes the noisy din of bad news and TV reality shows go away and an involuntary smile to settle for a duration. Only the last two tracks of the album give way to a gentle and very slow style which hijacks the fun, but hearts are not always happy. As sound quality goes this album doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to either transparency or three dimensionality, but it is adequate.

Beg, steal or borrow if you must or just order your copy instead. Do not miss the chance to enjoy and experience music on a scale one only gets to hear once in a blue moon. This is not an album you sit and listen to, Anyone With a Heart affirms and confirms that music benefits to your sanity and wellbeing. Still not convinced? Seek professional help and get your head examined. Other than that I don't have any strong opinions about it.

Reuben Klein

Extended Circle

29 Jan 2014
Tord Gustavsen Quartet
CD
ECM

If you have not heard Tord Gustavsen's seminal albums this will be, for the most part, a musical joy and a refreshing experience as you discover a quiet but powerful force in contemporary music. Gustavsen and his musical partners are treading on slightly new ground, replacing some of the very melodic and lyrical expressions from previous albums (especially the first three) with a more sombre and introspective style. Gustavsen fans will note the continued use of his trade mark phrasing that fuses tango and flamenco with a blend of instrumental expression that is lacking the macho and senseless speed of modern jazz. The album will reward fans of music and not the devotes of genres of musical this-or-that, it requires a measure of patience and cerebralism and rewards with intoxicating strands of notes, rhythms and harmonies that are not quite jazz nor quite classical. Modern his music is, but it owes much to musical routes that are not tied to jazz.

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet is Gustavsen (piano), Tore Brunborg (saxophone), Mats Eilertsen (double bass) and Jale Vespestad (drums). They play with what sometimes sounds like a telepathic connection, the music is flowing, never forced, the instruments synergistically apply themselves without any clear lead or a dominant member. Gustavsen's melodies veer from tango to classical, from arabesques to flamenco to jazz in a seamless style that is never exaggerated or sounds gimmicky, the sound is understated but never dull. It’s as musical as it is lyrical and tuneful.
Extended Circle will satisfy music lovers who wish to explore how much can be encompassed and expressed in just a few notes. I have listened to the album four times due to some heated debate with the esteemed editor regarding its euphonic qualities, and it sounds richer and more engrossing with each session.  For those who own Gustavsen's previous albums please note, the sound quality of the recording is different. The album has a warmer less open sound than the last one, it isn't worse, it is just quite different. It means that you can enjoy the album with not a single iota of fatigue at the high volume levels that it sometimes requires. Instruments are accurately placed in the sound stage and the ECM recording avoids an unrealistically wide piano effect which is common to many recordings. To my ears Right There (1), Staying There (5), The Embrace (9) and Glow (11) are the best pieces on the album and are the equal of Gustavsen’s best work. The Embrace, however, takes the gong and best demonstrates the ability of these four musicians to create a very special and compelling musical statement, the like of which one rarely hears. If your collection includes both jazz and classical music you owe yourself an introduction to this musician.  For anybody who wishes to bathe in the glow of musical creation at its best Extended Circle is highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

 

Concerts Bregenz/München

15 Jan 2014
Keith Jarrett
CD
ECM

These two concerts were recorded in 1981 but the full Munich performance has never been previously released. They came shortly after what would become the height of Jarrett's commercial success with The Köln Concert and followed the Sun Bear Concerts. Bregenz and Munich were performed five days apart, hence there are versions of the same pieces at both venues. This was the era when Jarrett had the confidence to idle between bursts of intensity, to coast while waiting for the muse to strike. An approach that yielded a broad range of results from the sublime to the demonic. He combines influences as diverse as Bach, Delius, Evans and Nancarrow and gets closer to boogie woogie than usual in the process. He is also clearly enjoying himself, stomping on the stage and playing in a very physical style, accompanied no doubt by gurning for the rapturous audience. They were right to get excited though, at their best both concerts offer up a master at the peak of his powers, a man totally in the moment, providing a conduit to a world beyond words. You can hear why Bregenz came out first, it's full of exuberance, dynamics and moments of serene beauty, but the full Munich concert is a treat for those of us that are hungry for Jarrett at his best.

Best albums of 2013

18 Dec 2013
various
CD
various

Laura Marling
Once I Was an Eagle
CD

Laura Marling has made many great albums for one so young but her latest is the most appealing. The recording is extremely intimate and Marling incredibly seductive as a result, even if the songs themselves tell a different story. Musically it has a strong Led Zeppelin feel, but folksy Zep rather than heavy, in fact it’s reminiscent of Bert Jansch who was a clear influence on Jimmy Page. There’s something of the Joni Mitchell to Marling, not in the sound but in the intelligence of the songs and the subtlety of their delivery. Perhaps she should cover some of Joni’s songs as well. But she doesn’t need to with tunes of the quality heard in Little Love Caster and Beast which pricks the hairs on your neck with the singer’s presence. This is a mature and sophisticated album by a singer/songwriter who just keeps on getting better. JK

 

 

Herbie Hancock
River: The Joni Letters
24/96 download

Released in 2007 this is Hancock playing the music of Joni Mitchell with a number of guest singers including Joni herself. As a big fan of the originals I was surprised at how much I have enjoyed this exceptional recording. The opener is Court and Spark sung by Norah Jones who brings plenty of nuance and depth to the song, and this combined with Hancock’s arrangement brings new qualities to the piece. The same is true for Edith and the Kingpin sung by none other than Tina Turner, a surprising but very successful choice that finds the singer in remarkable fettle and able to dig out the pathos of the song in no small way. In truth I didn’t realise it was her, it’s a long way from her eighties sound and it’s a long time since I heard that, but she is no small talent and it’s great to have her back. My final pick is the last track, The Jungle Line from Hissing of Summer Lawns, here the lyric is spoken by Leonard Cohen with backing by Hancock alone. Both the voice and piano are superb in this deep, dark piece. JK

 

 

Samuel Yirga
Guzo
24/48 download

This one I have reviewed in full here. Suffice to say that this Ethiopian pianist is a talent the like of which rarely comes along. I like his solo work the best, you can get closer to him and the message is clearer than on the tracks with full band backing but many of those are fine too. Of the piano tracks Dance with the Legend and Ye Bati Koyita are probably the strongest, they remind me of Abdullah Ibrahim and Keith Jarrett at their respective best, and without the vocalisations of the latter or the relatively poor recording of the former. Black Gold of the Sun is great too, not far from the original except in the voice it’s a proper choon and joyfully executed. JK

 

 

Agnes Obel
Aventine
CD

After her debut album Philharmonics, Agnes Obel delivered an even better album Aventine in 2013. Her intriguing music with fine orchestral arrangements gets into my veins and makes my blood rush. The fact that Aventine is available on vinyl makes me happy too and for convenience a CD is included in the sleeve. I’ve played this over and over since its release. RvE

 

 

Janine Jansen
Bach Concertos
CD

She might be Dutch, just like me, but that is not the reason for recommending her latest CD on the Decca label. Janine Jansen’s interpretation of the Bach Concertos represents her way of playing music. She can play her violin with delicacy then change to being wild in a second. Jansen gets totally involved with the music she plays. On stage or on an album it is always a great pleasure to listen to her performance. Highly recommended. RvE

 

 

Lori Lieberman
Bricks Against The Glass
CD

If you are looking for a lady who is still pure, a singer songwriter in every bone and who brings out wonderfully recorded music, look no further than Lori Lieberman. She is still singing and performing all the time, over 40 years after Killing Me Softly With His Song. Her latest album Bricks Against The Glass might only be for sale from her own website but that should not stop you. Buy all the other ones while you are there. Beside her music I like the way she helps young musicians to get publicity. Almost like a mother presenting her own children, caring, proud and making room for fresh talent. Yes, I am very fond of her and fond of her music of course. RvE

 

Miami Pop Festival

21 Nov 2013
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
CD
Experience Hendrix

I was eating breakfast, BBC 6Music on the radio, then Sean Keaveny dropped Foxey Lady from this album and stopped me in my tracks. Lummy doesn’t fully express the effect that the track had on me that morning, but at least it’s polite. The sheer energy and power that Hendrix unleashed at the Miami Pop Festival was nothing short of phenomenal, and if it has that much power today there must have been some serious carnage down in Florida in the summer of ’68. Hendrix’s use of feedback is to use contemporary parlance, epic, and in truth rarely bettered. The studio albums are remarkable works but involved extra layers of guitar, bass and other elements, the live versions are just three instruments and a voice which have raw power that puts them on another plane.

Recorded by the remarkable Eddie Kramer at the time and mixed by the same wizard for this release over four decades later, this recording is the best encapsulation of the intensity, dexterity and imagination of rock’s most influential axe man I’ve encountered. It contains nine songs from the evening gig and two more from the afternoon of the same event, those two being the most incendiary numbers Foxey Lady and Fire. Tracks that make most so called rock gods sound limp but there’s more, Red House is as fine an example of electric blues as you could hope to hear. And it’s not just Jimi who’s on form the British guys, Mitch and Noel, are up to the mark as well, the drumming almost matching the ferocity of the guitar and the bass holding the whole thing in place.

Liquid Spirit

6 Sep 2013
Gregory Porter
CD
Blue Note/Universal

This review took longer than most because Liquid Spirit is a great sounding record, so good that it became a reference within days of its arrival and looks like remaining one for a long time to come. This is Porter’s first major label release, quite why it took so long is a mystery but at least he was picked up by a label with pedigree. It sounds like jazz because the band has a double bass, piano and brass but Porter is closer to being a soul singer with the skill and range of a jazz singer. The rhythms are often jazz powered which gives them extra appeal, both the opener No Love Dying and title track are excellent examples, the latter being a driving, snappy number while the former thrills with the harmony of voice and band.
Porter cites gospel and Nat King Cole among his influences and these are apparent on many of the 14 tracks on this album but what sets it apart from the majority is his rich baritone voice. He really is a class act, this is the main reason that Liquid Spirit sounds so good but the recording and production have something to do with it too, it’s not devoid of compression but has decent dynamics and sumptuous tone which make up for a lot. Maybe I don’t listen to enough contemporary soul-jazz but this stands head and shoulders above what has come my way, to be frank it stands pretty high regardless of style.
 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

Into The Woodwork

13 Aug 2013
The Swallow Quintet
CD
Xtra Watt

Steve Swallow is a bass player and partner of the organ player Carla Bley, her sound is as much a key to this album as Swallow's, it creates the ambiance. The bass is brought to the fore as you might expect but it doesn't compete with the lyrical skills of Bley, Chris Cheek on tenor and Steve Cardenas on guitar. Drums, provided by Jorge Rossy, are the only instruments dedicated to rhythm. The organ provides the smoky, late night feel, the lounge lizard vibe that pervades most of this often louche album. It reminds me of Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits albeit sans vocals, the feel is the same even if the tunes are sometimes more dense. Most are played at a medium or relaxed pace, a tempo which allows Cardenas in particular to shine and I don't think that's just because I prefer guitar to sax, jazz guitar is not usually my bag.
Xtra Watt is a Swallow's own label and part of the ECM group but the sound is quite different from that usually found with ECM studio recordings, warmer, closer and well suited to the lounge feel of the band. Swallow himself plays superbly with a weighty but nimble sound that doesn't hog the limelight but provides a sinuous groove around which the rest of the band can orbit. Into the Woodwork reveals the diversity of Swallow's writing abilities and has a great vibe, he's no ordinary bass player that's for sure.

 

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

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