Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Theon Cross ‎– Fyah (2019)

Style: Contemporary Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Gearbox Records

1.   Activate
2.   The Offerings
3.   Radiation
4.   Letting Go
5.   Candace of Meroe
6.   Panda Village
7.   CIYA
8.   LDN’s Burning

Arranged By – Wayne Francis (Ahnansé)
Drums – Moses Boyd
Electric Guitar – Artie Zaitz
Percussion – Tim Doyle
Tenor Saxophone – Nubya Garcia, Wayne Frances (Ahnansé)
Trombone, Arranged By – Nathaniel Cross
Tuba, Composed By, Arranged By, Producer – Theon Cross
Co-producer – Moses Boyd
Mixed By – David Wehinm
Tuba player Theon Cross is probably best known to British jazz audiences as a member of Sons Of Kemet, the Mercury nominated quartet led by multi-reed player and composer Shabaka Hutchings. He’s also been part of Brass Mask, the New Orleans inspired ensemble led by saxophonist and composer Tom Challenger and of Seed Ensemble, the ten piece band led by alto saxophonist and composer Cassie Kinoshi. 
Cross also leads his own bands and is one of a larger group of London based jazz musicians who have been creating waves on the UK music scene through their participation on the much feted “We Out Here” compilation, released by DJ/producer Gilles Peterson on his Brownswood Recordings label. 
Featuring tracks by Cross (“Brockley”) and Hutchings “We Out Here” also includes pieces by drummer Moses Boyd, saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboard player Joe Armon Jones and the groups Maisha, Ezra Collective, Triforce and Kokoroko. There has been a real buzz about the musicians in this circle with many individuals and bands enjoying healthy record sales, high profile gigs and mainstream media interest in a manner rarely seen since the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s (Loose Tubes, Jazz Warriors etc.). Indeed there’s a certain continuity here with many of this current crop of exciting new musicians having come through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme spearheaded by bassist and educator Gary Crosby. 
The success of the “We Out Here” project has led to the musicians in its orbit collaborating with their counterparts from Chicago, notably drummer and composer Makaya McCraven, on the ChicagoXLondon Mixtape album “Where We Come From” released on the Chicago based International Anthem label. Cross, Garcia and Armon Jones all feature prominently amongst other musicians from both sides of the Atlantic. 
Others with whom Cross has worked include multi-reed player Courtney Pine, American soul artist Jon Batiste and the rappers Kano and Pharoahe Monch. He is also a member of South London’s increasingly influential Steam Down musicians collective, based at the Albany Theatre in Deptford. 
Cross released his first recording as a leader in 2015. “Aspirations” was a five track EP featuring the trio of Cross on tuba, Garcia on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Boyd at the drums. The EP was well received and earned Cross nominations for Best Instrumentalist in the Jazz FM Awards of 2016 and 2018 and Best Newcomer in the 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards. 
For “Fyah” Cross retains the same nucleus with Boyd at the drum kit throughout and with Garcia specialising on tenor sax on six of the album’s eight tracks. For his first full length album Cross also enlists the services of a number of like minded guests with Steam Down founder Wayne Francis (aka Ahnanse) taking over on tenor for a couple of tracks with Artie Zaitz adding electric guitar. Tim Doyle, from the band Maisha, provides percussion on one piece while Theon’s brother, Nathaniel Cross, adds trombone to another. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly the music on “Fyah” is highly rhythmic, similar in spirit to that of Sons of Kemet as it mixes elements of jazz, hip hop, grime and electronica with other aspects of African and Caribbean music from Afrobeat to reggae. 
The aptly titled “Activate” gets the album off to an exciting and energetic start as Cross’  rumbling tuba bass lines lock in with Boyd’s crisp drum grooves as Garcia’s tenor dances lithely around them, agile, but full blooded and incisive. Cross is scarcely any less nimble on the mighty tuba as he duets with Boyd’s vibrant and highly contemporary rhythms on this Carnival inspired opener. 
“Offerings” opens with the sampled sounds of party chatter which forms the backdrop to the deep, loping grooves created by Cross and Boyd as Garcia weaves sinuous sax melodies around them. There’s a Kemet like atmosphere of Afro-Futurism about the music with Cross skilfully manipulating his sound via the subtle use of electronics. 
“Radiation” boasts a beguiling stop-start groove underpinned by the leader’s virtuoso tuba bass lines. If Cross was a footballer he’d attract the plaudit “wonderful skills for a big man”, for such is the inventiveness and agility with which he plays the so-called “lugubrious” or “cumbersome” tuba. Boyd deliberately keeps things simple here, all the better for Cross to demonstrate his abilities as he combines with Garcia’s melodic sax motifs. This core trio of Cross, Boyd and Moses is a highly effective unit capable of building a juggernaut like momentum capable of taking jazz back to the dance floor. 
“Letting Go” features more tuba pyrotechnics from Cross, but often it’s his work in a rhythmic context that impresses as much as his playing as a soloist. Again his low register rumble combines well with Garcia’s wispy tenor sax melodies and Boyd’s implacable grooves as the piece gradually gathers momentum, before fading once more to close with the sound of Garcia’s unaccompanied sax. 
The group is expanded to a quintet for “Candace Of Meroe” with Francis, Zaitz and Doyle added to the line up as Garcia sits out. Boyd’s drums and Doyle’s percussion unite to create a percolating groove enhanced by Zaitz’s chicken scratch guitar and Cross’ extraordinary vocalised tuba lines, sounding almost like an electric bass. There’s a more overtly African influence about this joyously celebratory piece. Francis adds a powerful and incisive tenor solo, followed by Cross on the tuba. 
The core trio bring an edgy, restless energy to the grime inspired “Panda City” with its rumbling tuba, taut drumming and earthy tenor augmented by synthesised sounds and beats. 
“CIYA” sees the group expanded again with Cross and Boyd joined by Francis, Zaitz and Nathaniel Cross on a Theon composition arranged by Ahnanse and Nathaniel. This slinkily seductive piece has more of a conventional soul jazz feel about it with Francis adopting a softer sound on tenor and combining effectively with Nathaniel’s trombone. Solos come from Francis on tenor, Nathaniel on rounded, warm sounding trombone, Zaitz on subtly distorted guitar and Theon on tuba. 
The album concludes with the suitably incendiary “LDN’s Burning” with the core trio in rumbustious form. Cross’ rollicking tuba lines combine with Boyd’s boisterous drum grooves as Garcia delivers captivating sax melody lines that again draw on Kemet style Afro-Futurism. The closing section features an extraordinary dialogue between the leader’s tuba and Boyd’s drums. 
“Fyah” is a consistently exciting, and undeniably impressive album, that combines an edgy, urban, contemporary urgency with supreme musicality. The interplay between the core trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia is exceptional throughout with all of the guest performers also making telling contributions. It’s easy to see why there has been such a buzz about this circle of London raised musicians and anybody who has enjoyed Cross’s contribution to the music of Sons of Kemet will find much to satisfy them here. One suspects that the trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia also represent a hugely exciting live act. Catch them if you can. 
Ian Mann / The Jazz Man

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Shabaka And The Ancestors ‎– Wisdom Of Elders (2106)

Style: Avant-garde Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Beat Records

1.   Mzwandile
2.   Joyous
3.   The Observer
4.   The Sea
5.   Natty
6.   Give Thanks
7.   Nguni

Alto Saxophone – Mthunzi Mvubu
Artwork – Mzwandile Buthelezi
Bass – Ariel Zamonsky
Drums – Tumi Mogorosi
Percussion – Gontse Makhene
Piano, Electric Piano– Nduduzo Makhathini
Tenor Saxophone – Shabaka Hutchings
Trumpet – Mandla Mlangeni
Vocals – Siyabonga Mthembu
Mixed By – Dilip Harris

This recording is the culmination of the triangular experiences of tenor man Shabaka Hutchings and his personal destiny. Born in London, his family relocated back to their native Barbados, where Hutchings was raised in a musical environment until his teen years. Returning to London, he became a fixture on the free jazz scene, and while on holiday to South Africa, was drawn back to the primordial source of inspiration. Recorded over one day with no rehearsal, Wisdom Of Elders explores and expands upon traditional Nguni rhythms, while injecting blues, spiritual hymns, and Caribbean calypso. Accompanied by the best players from Capetown; this session transformed into a tribute to those who have played jazz in the townships, especially saxophonist Bheki Mseleku, a major influence on Hutchings, and an inspiration for this production. This is an intended throwback to the era when African jazz was played as a spiritual path to resistance and creative survival. 
The bass opens the blistering "Mzwandile," which is the tribal name bestowed on Hutchings, vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu then commences his incantations, allowing Hutchings to weave his horn into an intro for the rest of the band, accented by propelling percussion and spatial piano work from Nduduzo Mahathini. Having raised the temperature at the outset, "Joyous," has a soothing effect, featuring local legend Mandla Mlangeni on trumpet, who carries on an honored tradition of South African trumpeters. Altoist Mthunzi Myubu joins Hutchings on solos, as they rise up in one voice. 
"The Observer," is dedicated to a Barbadian calypsonian from Hutchings' youth, and is presented as a melancholy blues; vocal chanting invoking hope and redemption amidst the sadness. The township connection is evident on "The Sea," as the repetitive bass pattern and dual saxophones invoke the master Abdullah Ibrahim, and his extended forays into cerebral jazz. Strategically placed midway through the record, this is a soaring aural orison. 
There is a slight undercurrent of reggae syncopation in "Natty," as Hutchings reaches into his mixed bag of influences, yet remains anchored in the ritualistic concept initiated. The provoking drums and sax exchange in "Give Thanks," is centered around these two instruments exclusively, both taking turns on solos and maintaining the fiery tempo. They end as they commenced, with a bass intro on "Nguni," but this time the mood is tempered as the vocal chants slowly bring it up to a crescendo. This final track is in honor of the Swazi, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, and Bantu people of southern Africa, whose history and lineage reach back to the dawn of time, and whose influence on jazz is monumental. 
Creating from an abiding space beyond the instruments, compositions, and arrangements, Shabaka Hutchings' African sojourn tuned him into a higher energy source, and he plays his music from that dimension. Of course, a lot of the credit goes to the accompanying musicians on this project, for they were his enthusiastic guides and accomplices on this spiritual endeavor. This is music of the utmost caliber, performed with an unrefined attitude, taking jazz back home. 
James Nadal / All About Jazz

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Fatima Mansions ‎– Viva Dead Ponies (1990)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Radioactive, Kitchenware Records, MCA Records

01.   Angel's Delight
02.   Concrete Block
03.   Mr. Baby
04.   The Door-To-Door Inspector
05.   Start The Week
06.   You're A Rose
07.   Legoland 3
08.   Thursday
09.   Ceausescu Flashback
10.   Broken Radio No. 1
11.   Concrete Block
12.   Look What I Stole For Us, Darling
13.   Farewell Oratorio
14.   The White Knuckle Express
15.   Chemical Cosh
16.   Tima Mansio Speaks
17.   A Pack Of Lies
18.   Viva Dead Ponies
19.   More Smack, Vicar

Accordion – Kenny Davis
Bass – Hugh Bunker
Drums – Nick Allum
Guitars – Andrías Ó Grúam, Nick Allum
Keyboards – Cathal Coughlan, Nick Bunker
Vocals – Cathal Coughlan
Additional Vocals– Dame Alison Jiear
Written-By – Cathal Coughlan
Producer – Cathal Coughlan, Ralph Jezzard, Tíma Mansió

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Moonchild – Little Ghost (2019)

Style: Contemporary R&B, Neo Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: eOne, Tru Thoughts

01.   Wise Women
02.   Too Much To Ask
03.   The Other Side
04.   Sweet Love
05.   Strength
06.   Everything I Need
07.   Money
08.   Nova
09.   Get To Know It
10.   What You're Doing
11.   Come Over
12.   Onto Me
13.   Whistling
14.   Still Wonder

Cello– Danica Pinner
Violin – Eliza James, Rebecca Schlappich, Lila Crosswhite
Piano, Electric Piano, Synth, Bass , Flugelhorn, Drum Programming, Ukulele, Synthesizer – Andris Mattson
Alto Saxophone, Piano, Electric Piano, Synth, Drum Programming, Bass, Clarinet – Max Bryk
Vocals, Lyrics By, Electric Piano, Synth, Bass, Tenor Saxophone, Drum Programming, Flute – Amber Navran
Arranged By (Horn Arrangements) – Amber Navran, Andris Mattson, Max Bryk
Producer, Music By, Recorded By, Mixed By – Moonchild

Tall Black Guy ‎– Let's Take A Trip (2016)

Style: Soul, Neo Soul, Jazzy Hip-Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: First Word Records, Sweet Soul Records

01.   A Train Is Coming.....
02.   One Device, One Method, One Thing
03.   Rockin From Beginning To End
04.   This One Is For The Ladies And Gents
05.   The Kids Are Listening Interlude
06.   80's Babies - Don't Box Me In
07.   Beware Of The Groove
08.   Come With Me And Fly
09.   Is There More To Life
10.   I Will Never Know
11.   Mario Smith Speaks On
12.   Things Deeper Than My Skin
13.   Peace And Love

Written-By, Mixed By – Terrel Wallace

Over the course of two albums—one under the alias “Yusef Rumperfield”—Detroit producer Tall Black Guy has forged his own distinct path through hip-hop, even if his mix of hard drums and obscure samples aren’t breaking new ground. On Let’s Take A Trip, TBG stays the course, offering up a soundtrack for escape. 
He makes that concept clear from the jump: The cover sports an animated locomotive with TBG hanging from its left side, and two song titles—“A Train is Coming,” “Come With Me and Fly”—reference travel. The journey is musical as well; on “This One Is For The Ladies And The Gents,” TBG and trumpeter Miles Bonny bridge the gap between J Dilla and Sade, offering a mellow vibe with adequate knock. The same goes for “Rocking From Beginning to End”; its blend of boom-bap and floating keys would slot in perfectly on adult contemporary radio, or in the background of a coffee shop. 
Musically, Let’s Take A Trip is dialed into yesteryear; on “Beware Of The Groove” and “I Will Never Know,” TBG pays homage to Midwestern funk and neo-soul with the help of vocalists Mario Sweet and Moonchild. Taken in full, Let’s Take A Trip is another success for one of indie rap’s best-kept secrets, and another step in the right direction for a formidable talent who’s still building his name. The sounds may be familiar, but the ability is clear. 
Jesse Fairfax / bandcamp daily

Fatima Mansions ‎– Against Nature (1989)

Genre: Electronic, Rock, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Kitchenware Records

1.   Only Losers Take The Bus
2.   The Day I Lost Everything
3.   Wilderness On Time
4.   You Won't Get Me Home
5.   13th Century Boy
6.   Bishop Of Babel
7.   Valley Of The Dead Cars
8.   Big Madness / Monday Club Carol

Bass – Jon Fell
Drums – Nick Allum
Guitar – Andrías Ó Grúama
Keyboards – Zac Woolhouse
Written-By, Arranged By, Keyboards, Programmed By, Voice – Cathal Coughlan