Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Nat Birchall Quartet ‎– The Storyteller - A Musical Tribute To Yusef Lateef (2019)

Genre: Jazz, Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Jazzman

01.   Tales Of Saba
02.   Ching Miau
03.   Love Theme From "Spartacus"
04.   Mashariki
05.   Morning
06.   Ringo Oiwake
07.   Brother John
08.   Willow's Walk
09.   Not Yet Ornette
10.   Inward Flight
11.   Salaam Brother Yusef

Mixed By – John Ellis, Nat Birchall
Bass – Michael Bardon
Drums, Percussion, Berimbau – Andy Hay
Piano – Adam Fairhall, John Ellis
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Zurna, Reeds, Balafon, Mbira, Guimbri, Bells, Shaker, Guiro – Nat Birchall

The deification of Yusef Lateef, which began only after his passing in 2013, rests on the first decade of his long recording career, from 1957—1967, when he extended the language of jazz to include elements of Asian and Middle Eastern musics while recording for Savoy, Prestige and Impulse. After a second decade with Atlantic, where he recorded ten stonkingly good soul-jazz albums, Lateef took up with Creed Taylor's CTI and began a sad decline into noodling wallpaper music. This period was documented exhaustively on Lateef's own YAL label. 
With hindsight, intimations of Lateef's post-1970s trajectory were apparent as early as 1961, on Eastern Sounds, his breakthrough album, which was originally released on Prestige's easy-listening imprint, Moodsville. While the tunes are attractive and the performances engaging, Lateef's arrangements are on the approximate level of Les Baxter's exotica: briefly diverting but slight. 
That said, Lateef made mostly transporting and adventurous music during his early heyday, mapping out a transcultural pathway for later astral-jazz travellers such as Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. Alongside this, his mid-1950s experiments with modal jazz were acknowledged as important influences by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. 
So the centennial of Lateef's birth, which falls in 2020, deserves celebrating, and the Jazzman label has had the inspired idea of asking British reeds player and astral-jazz champion Nat Birchall to mark the event with a tribute album. The result, The Storyteller, is as much Birchall's as it is Lateef's and it is a beauty. 
Instead of simply revisiting some of Lateef's greatest moments, Birchall wrote six of the eleven pieces on the album himself. More about these in a moment. Of the remaining five pieces, three were written by Lateef and two others are associated with him. Lateef's "Morning" comes from Jazz Mood (Savoy, 1957), whose cover art is also referenced on The Storyteller (and whose band included Alice Coltrane's brother Ernie Farrow playing the Afghani rabat). Lateef's "Ching Miau" and Alex North's "Theme From Spartacus" are from Eastern Sounds. Masao Yoneyama's "Ringo Oiwake" is from Jazz 'Round The World (Impulse, 1964). And Lateef's "Brother John" was recorded live in Philadelphia in 1964 but not released by Impulse until 1976, on Club Date. 
Birchall's own compositions do not follow a blueprint, but are in tune with Lateef's general approach to composition—strong melodies and bass ostinatos and piano vamps and unusual (for jazz) time signatures. In addition, Birchall clearly relished employing some of the many instruments from outwith Western culture that he has collected over the years. See "Personnel" below for details. And yes, the album does sound as delightful and genre-bending as those instruments suggest. 
A final thought. It would be appropriate if Atlantic marked Lateef's centennial by making available again the down-on-the-one albums he recorded for the label, all made with R&B producer Joel Dorn. The series cries out for wider recognition.
Chrys May / All About Jazz

Animal Nightlife ‎– Shangri-La (1985)

Style: Acid Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Island Records, Polystar, Cherry Pop

A1 Native Boy
A2 Waiting For The Bait To Bite
A3 Perfect Match
A4 Love Is Just The Great Pretender '85
A5 Insomniazz
B1 Mr Solitaire (Original)
B2 Preacher, Preacher
B3 Between Lovers
B4 Throw In The Towel (All Over Now)
B5 Bittersweet

Bass – Leonardo Chignoli
Drums, Drum Programming – Paul Waller
Guitar – Fabian
Lead Vocals – Andy Polaris
Lyrics By – Polaris
Saxophone, Keyboards – Billy Chapman
Music By – Animal Nightlife, McKinley Horton

As the sleeve notes in the accompanying booklet of this deluxe re-issue tell us, “Animal Nightlife should have been big. In Andy Polaris they had a singer with a golden croon and a Hollywood presence“. So why WEREN’T they big? After all, most people my age would remember the Londoners’ 1984 chart botherer (of two) that was the irresistible smooth funk/jazz classic ‘Mr Solitaire‘, and the almost as successful follow up (albeit a re-issue of their debut single) less than a year later, the masterful ‘Love Is Just The Great Pretender‘. They seemed to indicate there were great things on the horizon, but Shangri-la, upon its initial release, inexplicably limped meekly to number 36 on the UK singles chart with little fanfare. One very minor dent on the Top 75 singles chart and a 1988 album, Lush Life, that severely bombed later, and the band went their separate ways, downbeat, disconsolate, and disillusioned. 
The band themselves largely blame the lacklustre production of Lenny White on that second album and the excessive gap between those two records for their untimely demise, and are quick to point out that they were no whipping boys of the music world, having secured an eight week residency at Ronnie Scott’s in their heyday, amassing a large, loyal fanbase along the way. It isn’t hard to see why, when you listen to Shangri-La all these years later. 
Opening with the sophisticated pop of another single, the infectious ‘Native Boy‘, Shangri-la in its entirety is possibly one of the easiest listens of the entire decade, sharing both a political and musical ethos with Paul Weller’s band of the time, The Style Council. Indeed, Weller himself was a fan, and even provided backing vocals on their biggest hit (included here in its 12″ format on the second “bonus” disc). And the easy swing of ‘Waiting For The Bait To Bite‘, which follows, is as good an example of great songwriting in that genre as you could find. 
But I have my own theory as to why Animal Nightlife did not quite enjoy the commercial breakthrough they were looking for – they were too ‘pop’ for the alternative crowd and too leftfield for the Top 40 connoisseurs. That kind of glossy sheen would serve The Human League well in 1986 on their smash single and album Human and Crash respectively, but I fear it may have detracted from the fact that, for those who were paying attention, their lyrics were often peppered with intelligent observations on society and personal relationships. Don’t believe me? Just try and Google the lyrics for ANY of their songs, even the more sizeable hits. See? Bugger all comes up. And on the flipside, the likes of Spandau Ballet were transforming themselves from well respected purveyors of electro-pop into sickly saccharine balladeers, embracing the dubious legacy of Thatcher’s Britain; Animal Nightlife, by contrast, were a staunchly Labour collective who were merely trying to provide some glitz and glamour as an escape from the overbearing greyness of the previous ten years or so. Just listen to the Pink Panther style saxophone of instrumental ‘Basic Ingredients‘ and try not to lose yourself momentarily in another world, a better world even, where everyone is equal and conflict is unheard of. 
Sure, it’s far from perfect, and some of the tracks here get lost in that excessively shiny eighties lustre, but really that is its only downfall. You can’t fault the compositions; all you can do is shake your head and contemplate what might have been.
Loz Etheridge  / God Is In The TV

Daniel Schell & Karo ‎– The Secret Of BWLCH / MTM VOL. 27 (1990)

Style: Modern Classical, Neo-Classical
Format: CD
Label: Crammed Discs, Crammed Discs

01.   Choral
02.   Souvenir D'une Vague
03.   Parfume Mon Frere Bilingue (Van De 7 Sloten)
04.   Sois Ilot
05.   Le Secret De La Pyramide
06.   Le Nouvel An Birman
07.   Le Voyageur / He Passes The Night Waiting For The Dying Of The Wind
08.   CWLCH Se Cache
09.   Il Fouine L'Eau Des Havres
10.   The Secret Of BWLCH
11.   Midir Perd L'Oeil
12.   Het Gezin Van Paemel, Opening
13.   Papegall, Quartet For Clarinet And String

Alto Vocals – Lucy Grauman
Baritone Vocals – Claude Massoz
Ensemble – Daniel Schell & Karo, Halvenhalf Quartet
Cello – Jan Kuijken
Chapman Stick – Daniel Schell
Clarinet – Dirk Descheemaeker
Keyboards – Jean-Luc Plouvier
Percussion – Pierre Narcisse
Cello – Claudine Steenackers
Viola – Wiet Van Der Leest
Violin – Jacqueline Rosenfeld, Jeannot Gillis
French Horn – Patrick Verstraeten
Guitar – Pierre Van Dormael
Keyboards – Jean-Luc Manderlier
Painting – Angel Vergara Santiago
Recorded By, Mixed By – Gilles Martin
Soprano Vocals – Marie-Paule Fayt
Tenor Vocals – Bernard Plouvier
Composed By – Daniel Schellon