CD

Compact Disc

Brightbird

1 Nov 2017
João Paulo Esteves da Silva, Mário Franco, Samuel Rohrer
CD
Arjunamusic

To some the album Brightbird might be considered an expression of modern jazz. I beg to respectfully disagree. This incredibly well recorded album sounds like a modern version of baroque music. It is very intricate and rich in tonal colour and harmonies. It is also almost ‘algebraic’ and often cerebral in its composition, requiring both concentration and a very open mind. Yet it is never difficult to listen to, a neat trick if you can pull it off.

Brightbird is a strictly acoustic collaboration by a trio of musicians. João Paulo Esteves plays piano, Mario Franco on double bass and Samuel Rohrer is the drummer/percussionist.  This is a very non-Brexit, pan European collaboration marrying Latin and Swiss temperaments and nationalities, it highlights the musical skills of all its protagonists and offer all the chance to strut their stuff.

Brightbird consists of 13 wonderfully recorded tracks that ebb and flow in a very intimate fashion with a constant gentle movement of complimentary layers of sound. The lush result relies on harmonies rather than rhythms and on intricate movements rather than on melodies.

The effect is a rich tapestry of musical shades that convey a very opulent yet reserved and introspective sonic character. In places intriguing, in parts very captivating, this album is certainly not for those who are looking for background music, it requires both concentration and an open mind (as well as open ears). Those who get to hear Brightbird will have the opportunity to enjoy a rich tapestry of sounds that are not often heard, and be the richer for it.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
download

Guris Celebrating the music of Hermeto Pascoal

14 Aug 2017
Jovino Santos Neto, André Mehmari
CD
Adventure Music

Guris is a charming and in places romantic Brazilian antidote for super-hot summer days of the sort we occasionally experience in the UK. It is a musical smorgasbord that contains flavours from many musical styles but is fundamentally a testament to the very unique charm and magic of Brazilian music and culture. Those looking for a samba or bossa nova will be disappointed, while those rhythms are here, they are mixed and intertwined and never dominate or take the foreground. There are influences of modern classical and jazz but the harmonies and tunes can only be described as “Brazilian”. 

Guris is a collaboration that celebrates the life of composer Hermeto Pascoal, a musical tribute for his 80th birthday. It is full of soul, musicality and talent that’s charmingly performed by Jovino Santos Neto (piano) and André Mehmari (piano, Fender Rhodes, harmonium and bandolim). The album is a musical romp (for the most part) that oozes and smoulders its way through a mix of very lyrical and soulful tunes that one can easily sing along to or harmonise with. It is played by both with much confidence and a great deal of talent. The songs are Pascoal originals which while they may be familiar in his native land are not well known further afield. That said his Slaves Mass album was repressed by Pure Pleasure on 180g vinyl not so long ago. It is quite a gem.

On this album the performance is aided by voices and towards the end of the album the two performers indulge in what sounds like puerile nonsense (read: noises) as they add voice to the instruments. Pascoal used a pig to provide such sounds in at least one of his performances. The album is not for everyone, some may struggle with the absence of a clearly defined style, but those who take time to listen will discover a mighty rich tapestry from a musical world that can usually only be found in Brazil. The recording quality is somewhere between rich and exact.

Standout tracks
‘Samba Do’
‘Andorinhas’

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Oté Maloya

23 Jun 2017
Various Artists
CD
Strut

Subtitled The birth of electric maloya on Réunion Island 1975 – 1986, the music on this compilation is something else. Réunion is part of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean and a melting pot of different cultures for centuries, maloya is it’s traditional music, originally described as the music of slaves. This album however focuses on what occurred when western influences combined with local styles and electric instruments to create a fusion that is apparently unique. The influences may have been jazz, funk, blues, rock, reggae and beyond but what results is fabulous in a whole other way. The 19 tracks were compiled by local duo La Basse Tropicale, who are DJ Konsöle and DJ Natty Hö who have found some real gems including Hervé Imare’s ‘Mele-Mele Pas Toué P’Tit Pierre’ with its noodling guitar, and the irresistible opening track Caméléon’s ‘La Rosée Si Feuilles Songes’, where the groove is made up with electric organ, percussion and guitar. All 19 tunes are songs, with a mix of male and female voices so there’s plenty of variety but also a certain vibe that knits them together.

The sound isn’t exactly polished but neither is it crude, in fact for the most part it’s mercifully free of production effects. These tracks sound like fairly natural analogue recordings on the whole but Oté Maloya isn’t primarily recommended for its sound quality, the music is far better.  Some of the tracks can be found on YouTube but the thin MP3 sound does them a disservice, this album is a doorway into a parallel rhythmic universe it deserves better.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl

Behind the Vibration

24 Apr 2017
Rez Abbasi & Junction
CD
Cuneiform Records

Rez Abbasi, a stalwart of the New York jazz scene with a good twenty five years’ experience and twelve recorded albums under his belt informs us that the music on this new release is intended to create an intersection, a junction where all the music that he and his band love can come together. In his words, it’s not jazz but the music of now. Trying to avoid being neatly filed away in a category is a typical response of many a musician and yet for the rest of us there has to be some sort of frame of reference to begin with. Abbasi and his band return to the glory days of jazz-rock, trying to recapture its original spirit before it became a joyless, million note a minute marathon. To this they add a myriad of other influences and ideas all presented in a very ‘in the moment’ type of recording where the listener has the constant sensation of witnessing a live performance.

From the opening ‘Holy Butter’ it is immediately obvious that Abbasi thrives on writing and performing material that demands a highly cohesive performance by the whole band. Here we find plenty of propulsive strength in Kenny Grohowski’s drums which deliver constant deep grooves along with Mark  Shim’s doubling on tenor saxophone and Wind Controller (a synthesizer that plays like a sax), and Ben Stivers proposing differing sounds on Rhodes and Hammond B3. Overall, what we have here is a complex sound, a uniquely New York scene mixture of deep grooves and intricate combinations of shimmering sax and sizzling organ. Abbasi himself often leans towards Allan Holdsworth’s legato style without being overtly cerebral and yet often shifting towards a jazzier and more pristine sound when required. The absence of a bass player reduces overall bandwidth but allows for more spacious arrangements where every nuance counts and the dialogue between musicians is more clearly revealed. There’s also the odd progressive rock intrusion; on ‘Inner Context’, the main melody played in unison by guitar, Wind Controller and organ could have easily come out of the classic Gentle Giant songbook. In spite of everything that has been said in fusion over the last fifty years, Rez Abbasi and Junction have somehow managed to find new avenues and make the whole thing sound fresh and invigorating. More of this please.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

Live 1970

18 Apr 2017
Nucleus with Leon Thomas
CD
Gearbox Records

It is almost unbelievable that this recording has sat in a vault for well over four decades. Thankfully, Gearbox saw fit to release it first on 180gram vinyl and now in a gatefold cover CD. On paper nobody would have ever put Leon Thomas on the same stage as Nucleus but, thanks to Peter King who was their manager at the time, Nucleus often found themselves working as a backing band for visiting musicians at Ronnie Scott's. So at the beginning of June 1970 they had been backing Leon Thomas for a good two weeks at the club. By the time they met again for this concert in Montreux, Nucleus were at one with Leon Thomas, often taking his peculiar spiritual mixture of blues and soul inflected post Coltranian jazz to a much wider context.

Thomas was then a largely conventional singer with more than a hint of the Joe Williams about him who had been caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time. Out of sheer necessity, he had developed a type of guttural stop-start yodel that he liked to use a great deal in between lines. Here, the opening ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ with its long, languid rhythm patterns laid down by John Marshall and Jeff Clyne sees Thomas alternating conventional singing with  ample stretches of yodelling. Whilst the lyrics he sings on ‘Damn ‘Nam (Ain’t Going to Vietnam)’ are very much of their time, Chris Spedding’s scratchy and furious guitar matches the intense feelings note for note and are a joy to hear.

Elsewhere, Thomas takes things a step further with his intricate scatting on ‘One’ with Nucleus running at speed in a tight pack with highly charged soloing by Brian Smith on soprano sax and Ian Carr’s flugelhorn. Then, Thomas displays his credentials as a blues singer in the classic ‘Chains of Love’, with more persuasive interplay between singer and band.

More yodelling and an excellent oboe solo by Karl Jenkins over a rumbling, hypnotic far eastern sounding shuffle brings this set to its conclusion. Here the Nucleus front line clearly showed how far out they could go by interweaving the melody like a drunken Art ensemble of  Chicago. In the end, the crowd wanted more. A sentiment I heartily share.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
vinyl

Det Andre Rommet

25 Nov 2016
Erlend Apneseth Trio
CD
Hubro

If you think Arvo Pärt’s Fratres sounds beautiful then this gem from the consistently  fascinating Norwegian label Hubro should be on your must hear list. It’s stark music lead by Hardanger fiddle player Apneseth but it is also radiant with Nordic light, timbrally rich and unquestionably essential. Stephan Meidell provides accompaniment on guitar and electronica in an unobtrusive fashion and there’s not a great deal in the way of Øyvind Hegg-Lund’s drums and percussion, but what there is counts. The three have been playing together since Apneseth’s debut Blikkspor in 2013, and clearly the time has been well spent in honing the 10 pieces on this album into extraordinary atmospheres, alien atmospheres to many ears I suspect, but strangely appealing ones nonetheless.

Blikkspor was largely based on folk tunes and Apneseth has high standing in that field but Det Andre Rommet (The Second Room) rises above traditional music while remaining informed by it. That is why it is at once familiar yet new, powerful but not aggressive, and rich in tone and texture. The latter is what it shares with Fratres, in other regards it’s very different, it’s not serene and although you wouldn’t call it jarring although it does skirt close to dissonance on a few occasions. Its appeal will rest on whether the sound of the Hardanger fiddle, a variation on the violin with resonator strings under those played, a bit like a 12 string guitar, appeals. It certainly does to me and at 39 minutes this album ends far too soon, but that’s usually the case with the best ones.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl, DL

Strandebarm

3 Oct 2016
Stein Urheim
CD
Hubro

If there’s a stringed instrument that Stenin Urheim can’t play and play well I’d like to know what it is. However that’s not a reason to listen to his third release on the excellent Hubro label, unless of course you enjoy hearing different stringed instruments that are very well played and recorded. The best reason is that Strandebarm is full of uplifting tunes and compositions that just happen to be played on guitars, banjo, flute, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, mandolin, pocket cornet, Turkish tanbur and modular synth among other instruments. There are even some vocals evident on a few of the seven tunes but they are not a major factor, that said the lyrics on ‘Oh So Nice’ are by Kurt Vonnegut so they are worth listening to, which isn’t always the case

Urheim’s style owes a little bit to Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack inasmuch as slide playing often does and I’m sure Ry got his inspiration from other musicians. Urheim credits a wide range of influences including Lightning Hopkins, Jon Hassel, Ornette Coleman, Chinese guqin, Lou Harrison and the “motion picture paintings of Andrie Tarkovsky” among many others. Such a melange of sources could create chaos but Strandebarm is melodic, multi-layered and inspiring. It creates a fabulous ambiance but also warrants your attention, there is plenty to listen to but none of it is shouting for attention. Strandebarm was recorded in the church of the Norwegian town of the same name, a space chosen because of its acoustics, which are undoubtedly part of this album’s appeal, that and the fine recording work done by Audun Strype. It’s rare to hear natural reverb on recordings of contemporary music, that is what Urheim makes of course yet it is very much his own creation. You can hear where some ideas may have come from but the whole collage is unique. Occasionally it lapses into conventional forms, the last tune ‘Berlin’ Blues being the only occasion really and even then the acoustic guitar blues is slowly interwoven with other instruments and slides into ragtime.

Jason Kennedy

 

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl

The Attic Tapes

7 Sep 2016
John Renbourn
CD
Riverboat

In the early sixties when British ‘folkies’ like John Renbourn were honing their licks, few were truly aware of the origins of the blues tunes they were playing. YouTube wasn’t even a notion and genuine blues musicians were very scarce in the UK ,so they learnt songs from friends and records. This excellent collection of Renbourn’s early tapes finds him playing many of the classics of that era, folk tunes with a strong blues flavour. It kicks off with Davy Graham’s ‘Anji’, a piece covered by pretty much every acoustic guitarist at the time but this version as with most of the twenty songs gathered here was not included in Renbourn’s early releases. It was recorded prior to commercial release it so based on hearing it live at the legendary Les Cousins folk club where Graham was the king of the scene. It’s followed by a fine version of Jackson C Frank’s underrated classic ‘Blues Run the Game’ and another 18 tracks recorded both live and in the ‘studio’, although the term studio suggests something more professional than was often the case.

Sound quality is suprisingly good for the vintage and presumed equipment quality, proving that analogue tape is a forgiving medium especially if the material doesn’t need wide bandwith or dynamic range. Standards vary of course, ‘Picking Up The Sunshine’ featuring Beverley Kutner (soon to become Renbourn) sounds a little crude but you can appreciate the quality of performance from both singer and guitarist. There’s a lovely version of ‘I Know My Babe’ recorded live at Les Cousins and some great picking on ‘Buffalo’. ‘Beth’s Blues (Live)’ is one of several tracks that appeared on Renbourn’s eponymous debut in 1966, giving fans a bit of insight into its origins. Davy Graham himself pops up on an atypical version of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out (Live)’ which sounds like a later recording but is in fact from the era prior to Renbourn’s first album. With liner notes written by the artist shortly before he passed away last year The Attic Tapes provides an insight into a scene that spawned many great artists and reveals that Renbourn should be as familiar a name as any of them.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Take Me to the Alley

1 Jul 2016
Gregory Porter
CD
Blue Note

It’s unusual for ascendant artists to stick with the backing bands that got them started, which makes Gregory Porter a bit different, after all it’s his name that sells and he’d probably do just as well with session musicians. But Porter is a singer with integrity, that much is clear when you listen to this his second release on Blue Note. Take Me To The Alley is a more soulful album than 2014’s breakout Liquid Spirit which mixed soul, blues and jazz in just about equal amounts, there are a few energetic tracks on here but either Porter is mellowing or he’s realised that that style has broader appeal.
However, the title track is powerful despite its mellow vibe, the singing is excellent from Porter and restrained backing by Alicia Olatuja works really well. It’s the first time I’ve heard him perform with another singer and the contrasting styles/tones work very effectively. Of the 12 tracks on Take Me to the Alley the opener is one of the strongest but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘Consequence of Love’ has a piano riff that’s strongly reminiscent of a seventies classic but is part of the smoothest groove on the album, Porter’s honeyed baritone staying just the right side of smooth. A soulful song with the great line: “The game for me is you, the game for me is love”, one of many penned by the singer.
‘In Fashion’ deals with the travails of the working musician, not so different from the life of a long distance trucker, if ultimately a little more glamorous. It includes the lines: “Last year’s runway passion no longer in fashion” and “I find myself obsessed with how you dress and whom you see when you’re without me”, which sounds like they could be true to life and that is undoubtedly part of this artists appeal. It also includes a bit of scat over a familiar rhythm line, something that Porter should do more of. ‘Fan the Flames’ is one of the more go ahead jazz numbers with some nice work by horns and piano, with Porter revealing that he can do dynamics as well as the rest of them.
Take Me to the Alley sees Porter seeking to expand his audience by toning down the jazz aspect of his work, which seems like a bit of a pity. As you can hear on his earlier releases the man has a truly fabulous voice and he can write a good tune so it seems a pity to tone it down but you can understand the desire for success and we do have those earlier albums.

Jason Kennedy

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, 24/96 DL

Amiira

10 Jun 2016
Klaus Gesing, Bjorn Meyer, Samuel Rohrer
CD
Arjunamusic

Amiira has an atmospheric essence that flows all the way through, it haunts and charms in equal measure. It builds layers of tones and mixes them with chords and then splashes rhythms that slowly build from a Tibetan monk’s bell and percussion to prog-rock played with treated saxophone. It is a very intimate album in many ways but it is never stark or lacking pace.

Amiira is the brainchild of bass clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing, bassist Björn Meyer and drummer Samuel Rohrer.  In addition to their instruments they employ loops and electronic noises to fill the spacious soundscape with a constant atmospheric background. They create incredibly emotional and yet unpredictable sound that meanders stylistically over 10 tracks. The start of track 2  ‘Minne’ is reminiscent of a Nino Rota tune for a movie that Fellini never made, track 3 ‘Fulminate’ will be cherished by fans of Porcupine Tree, and for their part, fans of King Crimson will devour track 9 ‘Sirènes Sacrés’, which to my ears is the jewel in this musical crown. For the most part Amiira is an incredibly listenable affair that oozes energy and originality.

The recording is lush, accurate and very, very good indeed. The electronic and acoustic instruments all sound very real through the speakers. The bass is as fast as it is rich and prominent. It will make your system sound better whether it be a pair of earphones or a big stereo system. I am intrigued to hear whether the 24/44.1 WAV download that Arjuna is offering sound any better.

Standout track: ‘Sirènes Sacrés
Arjunamusic

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV DL

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