Monday, 18 November 2019

Tindersticks ‎– No Treasure But Hope (2019)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Lucky Dog, City Slang

01.   For The Beauty
02.   The Amputees
03.   Trees Fall
04.   Pinky In The Daylight
05.   Carousel
06.   Take Care In Your Dreams
07.   See My Girls
08.   The Old Mans Gait
09.   Tough Love
10.   No Treasure But Hope

Acoustic Guitar – Stanley Staples, Stuart A. Staples
Backing Vocals – Dan McKinna
Bouzouki – Adam Goldsmith
Cello – Andy Nice, Sarah Willson
Double Bass, Piano – Dan McKinna
Electric Guitar – Neil Fraser
Horn – Matt Gunner, Richard Steggall, Tom Rumsby
Percussion, Backing Vocals – Earl Harvin
Saxophone – Terry Edwards
Vibraphone, Organ, Piano – David Boulter
Viola – Rachel Robson, Rob Spriggs, Sophie Sirota
Violin – Alison Dods, Calina De La Mare, Howard Gott, Kate Robinson, Laura Melhuish, Lucy Wilkins, Natalia Bonner, Rick Koster
Vocals – Stuart A. Staples
String And Horn Arranger – Dan McKinna
Producer – Stuart A. Staples

The oddest thing on Tindersticks’ 12th album is its longest track, See My Girls. Stuart Staples, a mannered singer anyway, sounds as if he has been studying Ron Moody playing Fagin in Oliver! And the lyric he delivers in that sly and insinuating voice is set in an unspecified past, in which cameras and newsstands are still everyday things. On the walls of his kiosk, the narrator has pinned the photos his girls have sent him from their travels – Paris, Rome, the Pyramids – via some very odd phrasing (“The tall buildings of the Americas / Skyscrapers as they are known.” Skyscrapers, you say? Really?). Eventually they end up at the scenes of death: Flanders, Birkenau, Cambodia, Yemen, Israel and Palestine. And then it’s back to turtles and dolphins and trees. It appears to be the blandest of all messages: well, the world’s a rum old place, eh? Musically it is so compelling – a twisting, droning, spidery piece – that it only makes the lyric seem odder. 
That aside, No Treasure But Hope is much as you would expect: subdued and crepuscular, everything stripped back so each musical element is distinct and has its own breathing space. The Nick Cave comparisons are still valid, but perhaps a truer one might be Lambchop, with whom Tindersticks share a certain warmth and relative straightforwardness that the Bad Seeds tend to eschew. Warm in sound, that is: Tindersticks’ world is not a happy place, and even beauty brings Staples to his knees (on For the Beauty). The use of severed limbs as a metaphor for loss on The Amputees leads one to fear that Pinky in the Daylight will be about the forcible removal of a finger, but it turns out to be a glorious love song, “pinky” referring to one of the colours revealed in the world once love illuminates it: “Bleached by my own sadness / I was slipping into the grey / But now I see / Pinky in the daylight, crimson at night.” It’s all rather lovely and it yields its loveliness slowly, like a drip. Don’t dismiss it because there’s no instant hit. 
Michael Hann / The Guardian

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Haircut One Hundred ‎– Pelican West (1982)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Arista, BMG Eurodisc, American Beat Records

01.   Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)
02.   Love Plus One
03.   Lemon Firebrigade
04.   Marine Boy
05.   Milk Film
06.   Kingsize (You're My Little Steam Whistle)
07.   Fantastic Day
08.   Baked Bean
09.   Snow Girl
10.   Love's Got Me In Triangles
11.   Surprise Me Again 12
12.   Calling Captain Autumn

Bass Guitar – Les Nemes
Congas, Percussion – Mark (Ilford) Fox
Drums – Blair Cunningham
Guitar – Graham (Blythe) Jones
Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Vocals – Nick Heyward
Saxophone – Phil (Neville) Smith
Trombone – Vince (Kenton} Sullivan
Trumpet – Dave Lord, Herschell Holder, Little Barbara, Little Bobby, Ilford Fox
Brass Arrangements – Phil Smith
Producer – Bob Sargeant

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Yazz Ahmed ‎– Polyhymnia (2019)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Ropeadope

1.   Lahan al-Mansour
2.   Ruby Bridges
3.   One Girl Among Many
4.   2857
5.   Deeds Not Words
6.   Barbara

Alcyona Mick – piano & Fender Rhodes
Alex Ridout – trumpet
Becca Toft – trumpet & voice
Camilla George - alto sax & voice
Carol Jarvis – trombone, bass trombone & voice
Charlie Pyne – double bass, bass guitar & voice
Chloë Abbott – trumpet
Corrina Silvester – percussion & voice
Gemma Moore – baritone sax
George Crowley – bass clarinet
Helena Kay – alto sax & voice
Johanna Burnheart – violin & voice
Josie Simmons – baritone sax & voice
Naadia Sheriff – piano
Noel Langley – trumpet, flugelhorn & voice
Nubya Garcia – tenor sax & voice
Ralph Wyld – vibraphone & glockenspiel
Rosie Turton – trombone & voice
Samuel Hällkvist – guitars
Sarah Tandy – piano, Fender Rhodes & voice
Sheila Maurice-Grey – voice
Shirley Tetteh – guitar & voice
Sophie Alloway – drums & voice
Tori Freestone – alto flute, soprano sax & tenor sax
Yazz Ahmed – trumpet, flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad & voice

That eastern, softened bold sound of the trumpet is unmistakable. Uniquely moving up and down Arabic scales, she paints a panorama of radiant sound. Yazz Ahmed returns with an innovative, wonderfully colourful conceptual album, Polyhymnia.

After the stellar success of La Saboteuse, Ahmed’s unique cosmic sound has been firmly stamped as a fiercely individual voice in the current jazz line up. This latest release, written in January 2015 over a single six-week period, is a record unlike her previous ones.

La Saboteuse is an inward-looking album, an expression of her creative struggles, but Polyhymnia is outward-looking. It’s a suite of six movements inspired by courageous women chosen by Ahmed. Ahmed’s chosen six are Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female director; saxophonist, Barbara Thompson; The Suffragettes and three activists; Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai. Polyhymnia is a Greek goddess of poetry, dance, arts and eloquence, and a fitting title for Ahmed’s third album.

Performed only once in its entirety since its premiere on International Women’s Day in 2015, Polyhymnia has been brought off the stage and into the studio, cementing these musical responses to these women in time.

“I tried to react to these women’s stories on an emotional level,” Ahmed told me. “Forgetting about myself, taking in their history, their beliefs and the music that surrounded them and their lives. That gave me a lot to think about. I want to write music that is reflective of my own personality as well as getting inspired, but also remembering to give my emotional take as well.”

As well as the women she champions, Ahmed champions her band; it is a diversified group of exceptional talent. The six women’s stories are carried so vividly in Ahmed’s compositions, then amplified and empowered by her guests.

Tori Freestone’s wild tenor saxophone cadenza on ‘2857’ (track 4) exemplifies the metaphorical depth of the album; regular collaborator Sophie Alloway drumming grounds Ahmed’s cosmic voice throughout; rising star Shirley Tetteh’s dreamy and golden soloing over Barbara is delightful; Camilla George, Nubya Garcia, Samuel Hällkvist and Sarah Tandy are another few of the twenty-five musicians who are amongst this great list.

“Adding these extra voices (since the original performance) inspired change and building extra layers and electronics. It’s really nice to hear the guests have their voices heard. It was really fun working with Shirley Tetteh and Samuel Hällkvist, they’re both wonderful guitarists who I have worked with a lot and they have very individual voices. In the studio, you can do lots of really fun things. You can chop it up, play in any way you like. That gave me the freedom to add extra layers, more textures, to give it a more fun experience for the listener. Something to get really deep into your soul.”

Powerful improvisation takes the compositions to the next level, one of the album’s standouts, ‘2857 is of no exception. Written for Rosa Parks, who in 1955 ignited a civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Parks was consequently arrested, sparking revolutionary and historical change. Ahmed responded constructing her composition mathematically using the technique ‘tone row’. “It’s where you have a series of notes, and you make music out of that series in any order you choose. So, I chose random notes and used the 2857 number by starting on 1 note, then counted 1-2, then skipped 1. Then counted 8 more notes, and that would be the next note. So, the notes I chose became the melody. Then with the rhythms, I joined up the dots.”

It’s a mathematical foundation, but Ahmed responded emotionally in her voice. "I wanted the musicians in a collaborative improvisation to build up rage and express the evil of racism and frustration of how to fight for equality and everything being against you. There’s a tenor cadenza by Tori Freestone, which before that she’s playing something very calm which is supposed to be the voice of Rosa Parks and her very calm protest she made on that bus.”

‘One Girl Among Many’ (track 3) is another compositionally intriguing track, and probably the most forthright homage on the album, channelling Malala Yousafazi’s voice directly and musically. Ahmed explains, “I watched her UN speech on YouTube, and it brought me to tears. It wasn’t just the words that she recited, but the tone in her voice, it is very musical. And I thought ‘you’re going to make music from the quotes I find powerful’. So, I transcribed the words and then worked out what the notes were in her voice. Then I harmonised them and built melodies from them. I got everyone to chant which I hope feels mighty. It reflects when her voice rises and falls in pitch, and also in intensity. I wanted to bring that out musically.”

On ‘Deeds Not Words’ (track 5), Ahmed draws four instruments together, boldly harmonising, one by one, embodying the Suffragettes joining of voices as one. The layering of the instruments invokes an inspiring aura, as the whole album does in effect. “Using these electronics, especially the chaos pad, has become part of my voice. And I love using electronics because it just adds different colours to the natural sound of a trumpet or the flugelhorn. I like to live sample whilst I’m playing and mess around with it at the same time, so it’s kind of like a conversation. It’s fun, and you can be more inventive and create different worlds with these added effects.”

The album, at points, isn’t easy listening. A few of the stories translate unpredictably, and you can find yourself a bit lost in the direction the music is going. Track to track, there isn’t a natural flow to the album either, simply because each track is a standalone story. The album pullout is the reference the listener needs to experience this music. The women’s stories are briefly told featuring powerful quotes, alongside Ahmed commenting on her inspired compositional choices. It’s beautifully illustrated by Sophie Bass, who has designed Ahmed’s album artwork before. Experiencing this, alongside the music, is crucial to understanding and enjoying the music’s sound and concept.

Polyhymnia is packed with cascading electronic warping of trumpets, colourful eastern soundscapes, and strongly charged instrumentals that allow Ahmed to tell these women’s stories in her own language. It is an insight into Yazz Ahmed’s remarkable compositional ability, her inspirations, all attributed to these exceptional women.

This isn’t an album you’d regularly pull out for the joy of listening like perhaps you would with La Saboteuse. This is an extraordinary conceptual album, that exemplifies Yazz Ahmed’s passion for her music and the women who have inspired her. It is a wonderful addition to her recordings, and we can’t wait for her next personal instalment, and to hear Polyhymnia live in York next month.  
Hamish Irvine / Jazz Revelations

Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse (2017)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Naim Jazz

01.   Inhale
02.   Jamil Jamal
03.   Misophonia
04.   The Space Between The Fish and the Moon
05.   La Saboteuse
06.   Al Emadi
07.   Inspiration Expiration
08.   The Lost Pearl
09.   Bloom
10.   Beleille
11.   Whirling
12.   Organ Eternal
13.   Exhale

Bass Clarinet – Shabaka Hutchings
Bass Guitar – Dave Manington, Dudley Phillips
Drums – Martin France
Electric Piano, Electric Piano – Naadia Sheriff
Guitar – Samuel Hällkvist
Percussion – Corrina Silvester
Additional trumpet ensemble parts – Noel Langley
Vibraphone – Lewis Wright
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Flugelhorn, Producer – Yazz Ahmed
Producer – Noel Langley

If Miles Davis was alive today and in the studio recording Bitches Brew, the results might, just might, resemble parts of London-based Yazz Ahmed's La Saboteuse. Other approximate reference points are, during the more reflective moments, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno's Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume 2 and Davis's In A Silent Way. But Ahmed's album is no knock-off of any of those discs—there are lengthy passages on which it does not sound remotely like either one of them—nor is it built around the kind of shape-shifting production interventions employed by Eno or by Davis's producer, Teo Macero. It is a statement in its own right, and one with substance. 
Foremost among the singular elements Ahmed brings to the music is her cultural background. Raised in Bahrain by her Bahraini father and English mother, she relocated to Britain at age nine. She tentatively explored her Middle Eastern roots on her 2012 debut album, Finding My Way Home. On La Saboteuse, her use of Arabic modes and scales is more assured and her improvisations upon them more jazz-based. The result is a genuinely transcultural music, rooted in Middle Eastern and jazz traditions yet also resolutely futuristic. 
The band on La Saboteuse is bigger than the one on Finding My Way Home and newly assembled. The only returnees are Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Corrina Silvester on percussion. Among the featured new recruits are Lewis Wright on vibraphone, Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes and Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitar. Martin France is a great choice of drummer. Most of the tracks were written by Ahmed, alone or with Wright. The only cover is Radiohead's "Bloom" (Ahmed and second trumpeter Noel Langley guested on the band's 2011 album, The King Of Limbs). 
When In A Silent Way was released, one hostile old-school critic condemned it as "opium music." They know a thing or two about opium in the Middle East, and in parts of London too, but La Saboteuse is a life-affirming rather than a life-denying album—not so much addictive as offering the kind of solace for the soul that repays being revisited. 
Chris May / All About Jazz

Throbbing Gristle ‎– D.o.A. The Third And Final Report (1978)

Style: Industrial
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: The Grey Area

A1.   I.B.M.
A2.   Hit By A Rock
A3.   United
A4.   Valley Of The Shadow Of Death
A5.   Dead On Arrival
A6.   Weeping
B1.   Hamburger Lady
B2.   Hometime
B3.   AB/7A
B4.   E-Coli
B5.   Death Threats
B6.   Walls Of Sound
B7.   Blood On The Floor

Bass Guitar, Violins, Vocals – Genesis P-Orridge
Lead Guitar, Effects, Tapes – Cosey Fanni Tutti
Tapes, Electronics Machines – Peter Christopherson
Synthesizers, Drum Programming, Electronic Rhythms, Tapes – Chris Carter,

Friday, 15 November 2019

Sparks ‎– Lil' Beethoven (2003)

Style: Modern Classical, Big Beat, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: PalmPictures, Lil' Beethoven Records

1.   The Rhythm Thief
2.   How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?
3.   What Are All These Bands So Angry About?
4.   I Married Myself
5.   Ride 'Em Cowboy
6.   My Baby's Taking Me Home
7.   Your Call's Very Important To Us. Please Hold.
8.   Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls
9.   Suburban Homeboy

Drums – Tammy Glover
Guitar – Dean Menta
Keyboards, Orchestrated, Programmed By – Ron Mael
Vocals, Programmed By– Russell Mael
Written-By, Producer, Arranged By – Ron Mael, Russell Mael

This album's just too damn weird to review. Really. Like if I told you that Lil' Beethoven, the umpteen-millionth album from Sparks, was some weird mesh of classical and pop music, you might think of the stilted latter day work of, say, Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello or someone else who started to take themselves too seriously, and that would be wrong. You might surmise from that comparison -- and from the title of the album itself -- that this is some serious statement. Erm, not exactly. This is Sparks, remember. 
So, okay, yeah, let's try this again. There is a lot of what you'd think of as "classical" music here - -big, sweeping string sections, a penchant for dramatic musical gestures, and song structures that are more complicated than your typical pop song. There aren't really many synthesizers -- which have been in tow on Sparks projects since 1979 -- but rather the orchestra tells us the story. But the Mael brothers, the creative forces behind the band, brought along a weird bunch of songs. I guess that's par for the course for a Sparks project, but these are really weird, almost unlistenably weird at first, but strangely captivating on the second or third time. 
Lil' Beethoven does stand as one of the most substantial albums in the sprawling Sparks catalog because of its massive reach, but that reach will serve to alienate just as many listeners as it charms … but, oh hell, who are we kidding? Sparks couldn't be any more of a cult act than they already are, and this (like every record they've put out for years) is very much intended for that cult, for everyone who's been following the plot all along. And those people won't be freaked out by the bizarre material here, like the poetic/spoken word "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?" -- an obvious response to rap-metal and its ilk, albeit a couple years too late -- or "Your Call's Very Important to Us, Please Hold", which irritatingly repeats that very line for four minutes. That's just part of the story. 
The album's opener, "The Rhythm Thief", does a good job summarizing the sonic direction of Lil' Beethoven through the lines "I am the rhythm thief / Say goodbye to the beat" and a multi-tracked chorus responding "oh, no, where did the groove go?" The drama is bolstered by a swarming string section, creating the aura of genuine drama -- that whoever this "The Rhythm Thief" is, he really did steal the rhythm, and that the people are truly worried. It's a marvelous way to begin such an odd album, especially since Sparks continue on with song structures like they would've often employed -- quirky, repetitive tunes that sound made for some sort of other-world disco -- except backed by this massive orchestra in the place of the "groove." 
The second track, "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall", comes close to wearing out the joke (who hasn't heard the old line "How do I get to Carnegie Hall / Practice, man, practice" before?), but that's the only real misstep. Another highlight, the gorgeous, late-period Beatles-esque "I Married Myself" weds an idyllic, pastoral track to Russel Mael's love poem to himself ("I married myself / I'm very happy together"). 
Two of the best tracks come at the end. First there's the epic and extremely discordant "Ugly Guys with Beautiful Girls", which lulls the listener into complacency with its almost Celine Dion-smooth intro before crashing into the manic choruses. Seriously, this is one of the most mind-blowing tracks on a record out this year. Russel Mael spews out crazed spoken-word monologues asking why ugly guys can get beautiful girls on each verse before the almost-frightening, multi-tracked chorus barks "WOP / WOP / WOP / WOP / Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" over and over again -- and this goes on for seven minutes. The bits of the song sound extremely jarring together, but that's part of what captures Mael's wounded-heart protagonist so well. It's also one of the only songs with much guitar work, which sounds extremely shocking after seven tracks of orchestral grandeur. This song may appear to be a horrible, unlistenable mess at first -- it certainly did to me -- but it's truly one of the most inventive and exciting songs I've heard all year. 
And as if things couldn't get any weirder, Sparks close the album with "Suburban Homeboy", a bouncy springtime romp making fun of, well, suburban homeboys. The song is so utterly silly and happy, so, well, so gay, in every meaning of the word, that wedding it with lyrics like "I say 'yo dawg' to my detailing guy" and "I bought me cornrows on Amazon / I started listening to Farrakhan" sounds both hilariously silly and like deadly-serious social satire. 
Yes, Lil' Beethoven is brilliant. It may take a few listens to get there, because this is unlike any record that you're likely to hear this year, and it's unlike any record that Sparks have ever released. But it's worth all the effort. 
Jason Damas / popMATTERS

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Dick Hyman ‎– Moon Gas (1963)

Genre: Electronic, Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: The Omni Recording Corporation

01.   Moon Gas
02.   Maid Of The Moon
03.   Isn't It Odd
04.   Stella By Starlight
05.   Imagination
06.   Space Reflex (Blues In 5/4)
07.   Bye, Bye Blues
08.   They Can't Take That Away From Me
09.   For All We Know
10.   Desafinado
11.   I'm Glad There Is You
12.   Star Eyes

Producer – Creed Taylor

There is a distinct possibility that this is the greatest record ever recorded before 1968. Space age bachelor pad music meets concrete music. 1963 was the recording date ! Unbelievable. Strange synths, oscillators and custom made electric guitars with help of the lowrey organ. No words can really describe this record. The jazz genre spawned a couple of quite colorful subspecies that were part of important pop cultural movements to let the ordinary man escape from the daily grind. Two of the most prolific pop jazz spheres were exotica, which accompanied the tiki culture that was omnipresent throughout the '50s and early '60s, and space age music, a rather pop-oriented, accessible style with hints of swing and vocal jazz spiced up with quite mind-altering sound effects. Moon Gas, a 1963 collaboration between pianist and organist Dick Hyman and singer Mary Mayo, hits the center of the space age genre directly, with its dreamy tunes; haunting, melancholic vocal melodies; and groovy, swinging compositions that invite the listener to an easy dance. Strange little sounds whistle and sparkle around the rather uncomplicated, easy-listening, jazz-pop compositions. The songs alone would certainly be on par with the best contemporary hit tunes of their age, but what really makes them outstanding is this combination with the sound-world of a space laboratory or starship. 1963 was definitely a year in which the USA found itself in competition with the Soviet Union for dominance in space, so this type of music fit well with the dreams of the average man to explore distant galaxies. About six or seven years later, when psychedelic rock had reached a peak and the music was ready to leave the earth behind, these early sounds were developed into space rock by such groups as Hawkwind. In 1963 we are still far away from this, and what Dick Hyman, Mary Mayo, and their unnamed band members create is a rather smooth and calm affair that still pushes one's mind towards certain borders of reality. All these funny noises transport the listener into a world of huge computers with flashing lights on board interstellar space ships traveling from one galaxy to the next. At its core, it's cool vocal jazz music, surrounded by arrangements of bleeping, rattling, and swooshing. The sweet, enchanting melodies evoke a futuristic dream; the musicians are tight and professional; and Mary Mayo sings in a distinctive and harmonic style that soothes the senses. Take a relaxed trip to the stars with this classic album.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Onyx Collective ‎– Lower East Suite (Part Three) (2018)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Big Dada

01.   Onyx Court
02.   Don't Get Caught Under The Manhattan Bridge
03.   Battle Of The Bowery
04.   There Goes The Neighbourhood
05.   2 AM At Veselka
06.   Delancey Dilemma
07.   Rumble In Chatham Square
08.   Eviction Notice
09.   Magic Gallery
10.   FDR Drive

Boris Vian once said, “Sans le jazz, la vie serait une erreuronce”. 
Loosely translated this means: Without jazz life would be a mistake. The same could be said for New York’s Onyx Collective in 2018. The group’s ability to incorporate jazz, rock, punk with avant-garde sensibilities means their music can fit perfectly in the Tate’s Turbine Hall as well as at a gritty house in Brookyln, making them one of the most important bands on the planet at the moment. 
As their name implies Onyx Collective, are more than a number of regular players, having collaborated with Nick Hakim, Princess Nokia, Julian Soto, Dev Hynes, Wiki and have, in one guise of another, appeared on David Byrne’s new album and in Ibeyi’s live band. At times they feel like the Wu-Tang Clan of jazz, with a roster of core, and fringe members who could appear on any track at any given time.

Onyx Collective’s RZA is saxophonist Isiah Barr. On Lower East Suite Part Three, he is joined by Austin Williamson on drums, Walter Stinson on upright bass, Spencer Murphy on electric bass, and Roy Nathanson as guest sax on four tracks. There is another, mostly invisible, member of the group, one who holds them together, who inspires and challenges them, and that is New York City itself. 
'New York's role in Onyx Collective is everything,' Barr recently said. 'The names of people, the places, the street corners here are so legendary and historically prominent - it leaves a roadmap that we can walk through and a story for us to follow.' On Lower East Suite Part Three, like their previous releases, the city is at the heart of the music. Gritty sax explode like car horns during rush hour, drum patterns replicate the East River surging along, and bass lines mimic the never-ending procession of people populating its street. 
Before recording began Onyx Collective were priced out their HQ and moved to a practice space at the Magic Gallery. This effected the new music being written, as concepts like eviction and gentrification show themselves in the songs titles. ‘Don’t Get Caught Under the Manhattan Bridge’, ‘Battle of the Bowery’, ‘There Goes the Neighbourhood’, ‘Rumble in Chatham Square’ and ‘Eviction Notice’ tells us all we need to know. NYC is in flux, and this is fuelling Onyx Collective’s fire and giving them some extra bite to their music. 
Opening track ‘Onyx Court’ conjures up images of waiting for an audience with Haile Selassie, or Isaac Hayes in ‘Escape from New York’. Gongs tremble, horns vibrate as the emperor walks to his throne and you are ushered in for an audience. 
‘Battle of the Bowery’ gives of a feeling of being unsteady and slightly light headed. As the music swirls around you there is an off-kilter bounce to it. This is when Lower East Suite Part Three really starts to come into its own, and Onyx Collective give a hint of what they’re capable of. Stinson’s bass is the grounding force here. Williamson’s drums and Barr’s sax play off each other to create eddies and maelstroms that create a feeling of movement, and flux, that feels like a short bout of vertigo, or when you get in from a night out and realise you’ve drunk too much. Everything is slowly spinning round you, it’s not unpleasant, but you can see the room slightly turn. ‘Magic Gallery’, an ode to their new home, is the most romantic song on the album. 
You can feel the excitement and passion for their new practice space, but the regret and longing for having left their pervious home. 
The standout tracks are ‘2AM at Veselka’ and ‘Rumble in Chatham Square’. ‘2AM’ is the most straight forward song on the album, but don’t be deceived, through classic jazz sounds, and vibes, there is plenty going on. Each member is given a chance to showcase their virtuosity at their applied disciplines. It also gives a period of reflection, to take in what you’ve just heard, and get ready for the next barrage. ‘Rumble’ opens with a jaunty sax riff and ad-hock drum fills, while the bass manages to hold everything together. Its wired and frayed in places, but this is when it’s at its most exciting and breath-taking. Much like a real-life rumble, the sax and drums are taking shots at each other, while the bass tries to keep them apart, and play mediator. 
On Lower East Suite Part Three, Onyx Collective have delivered an album that builds on the sound, and reputation, of their previous releases but pushes that sound further. Gone are the vocal samples, and field sounds, but in its place is a calculated and frenetic energy that seeps from ‘Lower East Suite Part Three’, showcasing each member’s classical training, but also their disdain for it. They have thrown off the shackles of conventional composition and, instead, opted for something that suits their collectives loves. Lower East Suite Part Three is an important album, not just in Onyx Collective’s career, but in music in general. It shows that jazz isn’t confined to the past, or dusty records, and is loud, vibrant, angry at society and has something to say. It shows that Onyx Collective can rub shoulders with any band and give as good as they get. It also shows that Onyx Collective can write music flawless music, as well as just jam the bangers out, and have fun doing it. 
Nick Roseblade / Drown In Sound
An expandable quartet composed entirely of native New Yorkers is rare, but does that affect their musical product? Does residence matter in today’s tiny connected world? Taking a break from backing such pop near-celebrities as Princess Nokia, Blood Orange, and Wiki, Onyx Collective answer these questions in the positive by creating a mad NYC night out with John Lurie, Charles Mingus, and a straitlaced Albert Ayler as your guides, tongues firmly in cheeks. 
There’s no denying Messrs. Isaiah Barr (alto and tenor saxophone), Austin Williamson (drums), Walter Stinson (upright bass), and Spencer Murphy (electric bass) have absorbed the grittiness of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1992. Many of their often brief, through-composed tunes whirl around like street food vendors and congueros vying for space in Tompkins Square Park. The fidelity is lo, the energy East Village carefree. 
Enter from the top or the bottom; it’s all gurgling dissonance and lopsided rhythms, a late-night confection of warbling tones, dive-bar atmospheres, and the convoluted essence of some Manhattan past where rents were low and groceries affordable. 
Oddly, the group waits until the album’s final song, “FDR Drive,” to reveal its menacingly trippy trademark swing beat, and it’s a delight, like Jackie McLean playing Tilt-a-Whirl with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson guests on four tracks, but such nearly danceable ditties as “2AM at Veselka” and the equally compact “Delancey Dilemma” are all Onyx Collective’s deranged show, as humorous as they are catchy. 
Ken Micallef / Jazz Times

Yussef Kamaal ‎– Black Focus (2016)

Style: Contemporary Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Broken Beat, Deep House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Brownswood Recordings

01.   Black Focus
02.   Strings Of Light
03.   Remembrance
04.   Yo Chavez
05.   Ayla
06.   O.G.
07.   Lowrider
08.   Mansur's Message
09.   Wingtai Drums
10.   Joint

Drums, Percussion – Yussef Dayes
Electric Bass – Kareem Dayes, Tom Driessler
Electric Guitar – Mansur Brown
Synth, Electric Piano – Henry Wu
Tenor Saxophone – Shabaka Hutchings
Trumpet – Yelfris Valdés
Vocals – Gordon Wedderburn
Written-By, Performer, Producer – Henry Wu, Yussef Dayes
Engineer, Producer – Eric Lau, Malcom Catto, Richard Samuels

If people still think that the capital of jazz is New York, surely they've never been to London or listened to anything that comes from the British capital these days. Just like New York, London is a melting pot. Because you can find musicians from any part of the world, the produced outcome is extremely cosmopolitan. Yet, since London never had such a rich history of jazz as New York, the music tends to carry a very different vibe while essentially being part of the same tradition. Yussef Kamaal is a perfect illustration of such phenomenon. 
The band officially consists of Yussef Dayes on drums and Kamaal Williams on keyboards. However, additional instruments (e.g. electric bass, guitar, trumpet, etc.) feature in the majority of the tracks on Black Focus. The album is rhythmically saturated: a few tracks feature additional percussion, which in combination with a standard acoustic drum kit add an exotic flavour to the entire mix. Artificial sound effects on keyboards, trumpet, and guitar applied to most of the tracks have a huge impact to the overall sound, too. Yet, since the drums and the bass are left without much additional processing, the sonic template sounds well balanced as most of the tracks have a solid acoustic base giving Black Focus a trance-like feel. 
Yussef Kamaal states that their musical inspirations derive from artists such as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Thelonious Monk, or Kaidi Tatham. That might be very true, but in terms of the rhythmic vocabulary, harmonic progressions, choice of instruments and their sonic textures, music on Black Focus also resembles Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies, or Incognito—bands that were described as being part of Acid Jazz movement. While labeling the band as Acid Jazz collective would be as problematic as trying to define the term itself, it does explain why Yussef Kamaal is under the wings of Gilles Peterson and his Brownswood Recordings label. After all, it was partly because of Peterson that the term Acid Jazz emerged. 
There are two types of tracks on Black Focus—with and without melodic improvisations. Perhaps, this split is the main problem with the album. Tracks featuring solo improvisation make the music sound outdated, while tracks without melodic soloing articulate something extremely fresh and radical, jeopardizing the whole modern jazz paradigm that for so long enchained the music. If only Yussef Kamaal had more confidence to follow such a solo-less direction, the album could have benefited more in terms of its internal coherence, innovation and a healthy dose of anarchism. Nonetheless, despite the division, Black Focus is a forward-looking sonic journey that will fill one in on what's happening in London's jazz scene right now. 
Rokas Kucinskas / All About Jazz 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Scrimshire ‎– Listeners (2019)

Style: Afrobeat, House, Nu-Disco, Downtempo, Trip Hop, Soul
Format: Vinyl
Label: Albert's Favourites

A1 Theme For Us (Feat. Joshua Idehen & Chip Wickham)
A2 The Socials (Feat. Soothsayers)
A3 Life Is Valuable (Feat. James Alexander Bright)
A4 Before
A5 After (Feat. And Is Phi)
B1 I Never (Feat. Madison McFerrin)
B2 Won’t Get Better (Feat. Emma-Jean Thackray)
B3 Don’t Stop Here (Feat. Ego Ella May)
B4 Thru You (Feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow)

Drums, Recorded By – Chris boot
Electric Piano, Piano, Synthesizer, Percussion, Drum Programming, Guitar, Bass – Adam Scrimshire

Scrimshire has become one of the more influential voices of the London scene for quite a while now. Knowing him primarily from his label Wah Wah 45s, as well as his fantastic DJing, this new album is actually my first proper introduction to the talented musical polymath. His new album Listeners is a sublime project, combining his influences of jazz, soul and electronic music in a cohesive, intricately composed and beautifully textured album. 
9 tracks in length, the project features an array of producers that bring their own personalities to the table. “Theme For Us” features instrumentalist Chip Wickham and poet Joshua Idehen, who both provide such stellar moments through incredible flute compositions and a spoken word piece that just works brilliantly together. Soothsayers feature on the upbeat “The Socials,” as they bring their wild afro beat and dub sounds to an eclectic and beautiful piece. Scrimshire’s synth leads and electronic compositions throughout are brilliant. The track “Before,” for instance has this profoundly moving piano piece that bridges two incredibly soulful tracks together. We’ve already spoken about “Life Is Valuable” with James Alexander Bright, a beautifully soulful track, while “After” is an angelic, spiritual track featuring And Is Phi, who provides mesmeric vocals to this rhythmic masterpiece.The soul of “I Never” with Madison McFerrin is gorgeous, as the percussion, keys and synths add a soft, soulful touch to this track. “Won’t Get Better” featuring Emma-Jean Thackray is one of my favourite tracks of the year, as I’ve played it countlessly on radio and with my headphones in, walking around South London. The rhythms and pulsating energy of this track is incredible, as Emma-Jean really excels vocally throughout. “Don’t Stop Here” features another incredible vocalist, Ego Ella May, who’s soothing voice is perfect for the subdued, beautiful composition. The legend Georgia Anne Muldrow features on “Thru You,” as she provides powerful vocals over heavy percussion and drums that bring infectious energy. A perfect way to close this album. 
As I mentioned before, this is a sublime, exciting body of work and Scrimshire has exceeded all expectations for me. Listen to his brand new album Listeners below via Bandcamp and don’t forget to support! Released via Albert’s Favourites. 
Martin Boev / In Search of Media

Africa Express ‎– EGOLI (2019)

Style: African, Electro
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Africa Express

01.   Welcome
02.   City In Lights
03.   The River
04.   Bittersweet Escape
05.   Johannesburg
06.   Become The Tiger
07.   Africa To The World
08.   Absolutely Everything Is Pointing Towards The Light
09.   Mama
10.   Where Will This Lead Us To?
11.   Morals
12.   Taranau
13.   No Games
14.   The Return Of Bacardi
15.   Sizi Freaks
16.   I Can't Move
17.   See The World

Mastered By – Frank Merritt
Mixed By – Blue May, Scott Knapper
Recorded By – Africa Express, Steve Sedgewick

Five albums in, and Africa Express – Damon Albarn’s cross-cultural collaboration engine – has pitched up in Johannesburg, known as Egoli in Xhosa. It could be the best iteration yet of this speed-dating pop writer’s camp, in which a handful of UK and US artists (Nick Zinner, a returnee, plus Super Furry Gruff Rhys and grime MC Ghetts, to name three) and a 20-stong cast of local producers, musicians, singers and groove-bringers pull an album together in a week. 
Thanks to South Africa’s vast natural resources of dance music, both traditional and bleeding-edge, Egoli is a party album almost end to end, an update on Buraka Som Sistema’s Angolan-Portuguese rave dynamics and more like a Gorillaz record than anything you might normally file under “world music”. The frisky, blue-wigged Moonchild Sanelly locks horns with Infamous Boiz, innovators in South Africa’s gqom genre. Together they lead the charge for body-moving pop. 
Of the few lower-key tracks, the incessantly lovely Absolutely Everything Is Pointing Towards the Light is sung alternately in Welsh and Xhosa by Rhys and Zolani Mahola. 
Kitty Empire / The Guardian

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Uschi Classen ‎– Soul Magic (2002)

Style: Broken Beat, Future Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Earth Project

01.   Soul Magic
02.   Dizzy Heights
03.   Now Illuminate
04.   Wise Words
05.   Fire
06.   She
07.   The Path
08.   Meditative Flow
09.  Home
10.   Only In Your Eyes

Arranged By, Producer, Keyboards, Programmed By – Uschi Classen
Mixed By – Marc Woolford, Uschi Classen
Scratches (Cuts & Scratches) – Da Boodley

Friday, 1 November 2019

EABS ‎– Slavic Spirits (2019)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Astigmatic Records

1.   Ciemność = The Darkness
2.   Leszy = Woodland Spirits
3.   Południca = The Noon Witch
4.   Ślęża (Mgła) = Ślęża (The Fog)
5.   Ślęża = Ślęża
6.   Przywitanie Słońca (Rytuał) = Sun Worship (The Rite)
7.   Przywitanie Słońca = Sun Worship

Bass Guitar – Paweł Stachowiak
Drums – Marcin Rak
Electric Guitar – Vojto Monteur
Executive-Producer – Sebastian Jóźwiak
Flute, Soprano Saxophone – Tenderloniousr
Percussion, Effects – Spisek Jednego
Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Harmonium, Effects – Marek Pędziwiatr
Tenor Saxophone – Olaf Węgier
Trumpet – Jakub Kurek
Mastered By – Marcin Cichy
Mixed By – EABS, Maciej Jakimiuk, Vojto Monteu
Performer – Jakub Kurek, Marcin Rak, Marek Pędziwiatr, Olaf Węgier, Paweł Stachowiak, Spisek Jednego, Tenderlonious, Vojto Monteur

The name of the label here makes it clear enough that this music places itself in the searching, modally sprung musical and spiritual tradition associated with the great Polish pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda, whose 1965 recording Astigmatic with, a.o., Tomasz Stanko (t) and Zbigniew Namyslowski (s) is generally regarded as one of the best ever Polish recordings. 
The Wroclaw-based and curiously titled EABS ensemble paid explicit homage to Komeda on their well-received 2017 debut release Repetitions (Letters To Krzysztof Komeda), which focused on some of the composer’s lesser known works. Here, the brooding opening that is The Darkness was apparently born out of a collective improvisation on a Komeda-inspired medley. It sets an appropriate, challenging yet compelling note for a release which charts a freshly voiced albeit structurally familiar passage between matters consonant and dissonant. 
Overall, this charged session would seem to allude to tough times in Polish history, even as its long-form modal moods can modulate from a characteristic Polish melancholy to a Coltrane-like affirmative ethos fired by ancient animistic or pantheistic tropes.

Hip-hop inflections and plenty of diversely swirling electro-textures elicit strong playing all round, with Wegier and the London-based 22a entrepreneur Tenderlonious contributing some invigorating saxophone: sample Woodland Spirit (which features some of the most swinging rhythm here) and Sun Worship. 
If, like me, you wish to find out more about EABS, there are some good clips on YouTube. This distinctly atmospheric release is available in digital/CD/LP formats, with the CD and LP issues also available in a luxury limited edition which comes with a book. 
Michael Tucker / Jazz Journal