Compact Disc

No Deal

2 May 2014
Melanie de Biasio
Play It Again Sam

Melanie de Biasio is a Belgian singer who seems to be big on the continent but this is her first release in the UK. I must confess that I only became aware of her very recently thanks to the remarkable French radio station FIP.  In No Deal Ms de Biasio has produced a gem of an album, one which carries a strong recommendation made up of two words: MUST and BUY.

The album is a short affair with only seven tracks that leave one aching for a lot more when they finish. Six of the tracks are penned by de Biasio and clavinet/synth player Pascal Paulus, the other is a classic made famous by Nina Simone (I’m Gonna Leave You). For reasons that are beyond my understanding each and every discussion concerning de Biasio brings an avalanche of comparisons to other songstresses, I think the comparison is not only unnecessary but also does this very talented singer an injustice. Melanie de Biasio has a very special presentation, there are no gimmicks or special effects involved, just something honest and emotional that captivates and enchants. As per the comment made above her voice and the style in which she presents her songs have been subject to many unjust comparisons. In my view she is unique enough to be taken on her own merits and for the album to be compared to her previous album (A Stomach is Burning) alone.

Her sound is dark, but not angry or depressed, her voice is just there, projected in a manner that allows the emotions it carries to be heard and felt with little that veils or hypes the presentation. The sound is not jazz or it is but not quite, the inclusion of a clavinet especially gives it a seventies feel, while at times the pianist conjures up the feel of Arvo Pärt. The analogue synth and drums give the rhythms and syncopation a tension that makes even the gentlest passages feel punctuated and defined in a very unique way. At times soul, at times jazz, at times chill but at all times beyond reproach and brilliant. Nothing is hurried yet a storm surrounds the listener with layers of notes and emotions. The album’s seven tracks are performed by Biasio voice and flute, Paulus, Dre Pallemaerts on drums and Pascal Mohy on piano; a very able group of musicians.

To my ears The Flow, the second track on the album, steals the ultimate accolade. This album is pure magic. One of the most delightful discoveries in recent times, I for one will make sure that it is not the only album of hers that finds its way into my collection.

Reuben Klein

Ed’s note
Melanie seems to inspire comparisons with many great singers, Simone being my choice, but I have to agree with Reuben’s findings, this is a superb album and it sounds good too.

Formats also available: 
180g vinyl, 24/44.1 download

Searching For Jupiter

28 Apr 2014
Magnus Öström

Magnus Öström and his band play rock, but not exactly, funky metal, but not exactly, progressive rock, but not exactly, jazz, but, you guessed it. This album is a wonderful musical romp, as entertaining as it is musical. It has a tangential feel to it, with a repetitive tendency and notes that make you feel as if you’re moving in a series of endless circles. With the exception of one number it’s hard to switch off and invites high volumes and repeat play. It’s very ‘listenable’ material that never challenges but always interests and intrigues the ears and brain.

Searching For Jupiter has a Bela Fleck esque feel to it (especially Dancing at the Dutchtreat), which in my book at least is high praise (I would encourage anyone interested to look up Bela Fleck and the Flecktones playing Blu Bop). The band consists of on time e.s.t. drummer Magnus Öström (also on percussion, voice and additional keyboards), Andreas Hourdakis (electric and acoustic guitars, banjo), and Daniel Karlsson (grand piano, keyboards) Tobias Gabrielson (electric bass, bass synthesizer, keyboards and others). The ACT label uses the moniker ‘In the spirit of jazz’ but as mentioned earlier, the music played is an interesting fusion between rock and many other styles, it will remind many of albums that were made in the 70s by the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and conversely Jan Hammer.

It starts with haunting piano and guitar rhythms reminiscent of Andreas Vollenweider (but not exactly) that continue to build volume and rhythmic tension, moving onto a piece that sounds almost like a country dance-fair in the midwest (but not exactly) Then the tempo drops substantially to produce a track that is at odds with the rest of the album, but things immediately improve with the title track. This offers devotees of seventies prog an earful of rhythms, stops and starts that will produce smiles and induce replays. Things move swiftly to a darker, austere track that could be used as a soundtrack to at least one modern day Scandinavian crime series, and on it goes. This is a feast of associations and sounds.  The band works well together, there is no dominant member and there is an ample opportunity for all to shine.

To my ears the title track is the best but this is followed very closely by the opening number The Moon (and the Air it Moves). The recording is open and precise if a wee bit bright in places, it is tempting to listen at high volumes but may fatigue the ears of those who own bright speakers. This is a great album to discover, equally at home on the system as well as in the car, it’s exceedingly highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

Holst, The Planets suite

7 Apr 2014
Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle
Warner Classics

Back in 1982, Herbert von Karajan recorded the Planets with the Berlin Philharmonic for DG – a massive seller in its day; both on LP and CD. By co-incidence, the young Simon Rattle also recorded the work for EMI with the Philharmonia around the same time. His 2006 remake with the Berlin Philharmonic is slightly broader than the Philharmonia account in one or two movements, but overall the feel is richer and more deliberate. The playing is very beautiful, but on balance the performance hangs fire slightly – it’s neither a brilliant virtuoso account, nor a quintessentially British one. The Berliners produce a very sumptuous and refined sound, aided by a smooth recording that sounds mellow and integrated rather than forward and detailed. Increasing the volume a notch or two helps, then one can savour the impressive dynamic range, deep bass, and subtle instrumental detail -  all captured without obvious microphone spotlighting. The old Karajan recording sounded brighter, and a lot more immediate, while Rattle’s Philharmonia account was quite distantly balanced – the orchestra set well back in a spacious acoustic. Here, the acoustic is rich and fairly spacious, but not too reverberant. Like most recorded performances of the last dozen or so years, Colin Matthews’ Pluto the Renewer is included after Holst’s Uranus. And there’s a bonus CD containing Asteroids - four short Space related pieces by four composers, including Mark Anthony Turnage. 

Jimmy Hughes

Formats also available: 
24/96 download

The Tel Aviv Session

20 Mar 2014
The Touré-Raichel Collective

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

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
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

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

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

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

Laura Marling
Once I Was an Eagle

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
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

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

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

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



Subscribe to RSS - CD