Sunday, 3 May 2020

Tony Allen ‎– The Source (2017)

Style: Afrobeat, Post Bop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Blue Note

01.  Moody Boy
02.   Ba d Roads
03.   Cruising
04.   On Fire
05.   Woro Dance
06.   Tony's Blues
07.   Wolf Eats Wolf
08.   Cool Cats
09.   Push And- Pull
11.   Ewajo
11.   Life Is Beautiful

Baritone Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute – Rémi Sciuto
Bass – Mathias Allamane
Clavinet – Vincent Taurelle
Drums – Tony Allen
Guitar – Indy Dibongue
Piano – Damon Albarn
Piano, Organ – Jean Phi Dary
Soprano Saxophone – Yann Jankielewicz
Tenor Saxophone – Jean-Jacques Elangué
Trombone, Tuba – Daniel Zimmermann
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Nicolas Giraud
Composed By – Tony Allen, Yann Jankielewicz

Making your way through the formidable back catalog of long-time Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen—one that spans nearly half a century—is a revelatory, sometimes head-spinning journey. Allen’s work has traversed styles that on the surface have little in common beyond his unique rhythmic presence. In the past 10 years, for example, Allen has tackled everything from Afrobeat (on solo album Film of Life), dreamy French pop (with Charlotte Gainsbourg), downbeat indie rock (with The Good, the Bad & the Queen), and techno (with the Moritz Von Oswald Trio). This range is a testament to both Allen’s redoubtable drumming skills and his ability to rein in his percussive ego in support of the job at hand. 
Curiously, though, for a drummer who absorbed so much of his percussive knowledge from the work of Max Roach and Art Blakey, there was little place in Allen’s catalog for actual jazz until 2017. In May of this year, he released a tribute to Blakey and his Jazz Messengers on legendary jazz label Blue Note. That EP, which saw Allen filter Blakey’s hard swing through his own Afrobeat elasticity, serves as a brilliant precursor to The Source, with which it shares label, musicians, and influences. More importantly, The Source shares a fascinating musical hybridity with the Blakey EP. It’s a continuation of the cultural back-and-forth between African music and jazz that, decades ago, saw Blakey absorb West African musical influences on albums such as 1962’s The African Beat, and Allen mold the influence of jazz into the Afrobeat sound. 
But The Source isn’t a jazz album, per se: Allen’s drums don’t typically swing so much as jitter and jiggle, with boundless syncopated rhythms that sound like a giant squid menacing a drum kit. Nor is it an Afrobeat album, with Allen’s band comprised largely of Parisian jazz musicians plus Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue; Damon Albarn makes a low-key contribution to “Cool Cats.” Rather, this is an album that straddles jazz and Afrobeat in an elegant push-and-pull that sometimes edges closer to the former, sometimes wanders closer to the latter, and often sits joyfully in the middle.

On “Wolf Eats Wolf,” for example, a scratchy Afrobeat groove—all sputtering, percussive organ and ecstatic brass riffs—gives way to a wandering trombone solo. Album opener “Moody Boy” goes in the other direction: a scattered, jazzy introduction that sounds semi-improvised, dissolving into chicken-scratch guitar rhythm and tough funk drums. The hybrid tone of the band is hugely important to this mix, with the Afrobeat licks of Dibongue’s choppy guitar style balanced by the more classically jazz texture of Mathias Allamane’s double bass. 
Freed from the role of support act, Allen is the unequivocal star of The Source, wallowing in the wonderful freedom of rhythmic expression. His unique drumming style rarely resorts to repetition as it alternately responds to and drives changes in the music. The result is a percussive masterclass, from the nervous energy of “Bad Roads,” where Allen’s mongrel rhythm puts a jazz beat onto an Afrobeat motif, to his deceptively complex skills on “Tony’s Blues.” On the latter, a drum pattern that initially appears out of joint pulls into glorious rhythmic focus with the introduction of the other musicians, who play in careful staccato dabs. In this mix, Allamane proves vital, his melodic bass riffs anchoring a musical blend that at times—as on the aptly named “Push and Pull”—threaten to float off into the ether. The one time Allamane is set free, his solo on “Cruising” is a joy, a rock solid bassline loosening into elastic bent notes, like a plastic packet slowly melting on a fire. 
What saves The Source from being an album uniquely for drum nerds is the songwriting. The 11 tracks here—all written by Allen with saxophonist and long-time collaborator Yann Jankielewicz—may understandably not live up to jazz standards like “Moanin’” and “A Night in Tunisia” that appear on A Tribute to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. But there are some fine musical motifs, including a delightfully itinerant chord sequence and jump-cut riff on “Push and Pull,” the moody, merry-go-round melody on “Tony’s Blues,” and a playfully menacing riff that emerges four-and-a-half minutes into “On Fire.” 
Perhaps the greatest attribute of this album, though, is how it makes the complex sound effortless. The Source may draw on Afrobeat and jazz to create something intricate and expansive, but the results are never contrived or academic. In this, The Source mirrors the musical skills of Allen himself, a man who tackles rhythmic mazes like a walk in the park, making this release both a fine addition to his catalog and a load of genre-bending fun. Rarely has percussive innovation sounded this downright satisfying.
Ben Cardew / Pitchfork

Bérangère Maximin ‎– Dangerous Orbits / MTM VOL. 41 (2015)

Style: Abstract, Modern Classical, Minimal, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Made To Measure

1.   Cracks
2.   Glow
3.   A Day Closer
4.   OOP (Our Own Planet)
5.   No Guru Holds Me

Mastered By – Jean-Pierre Chalbos
Sound Objects, Electronics, Voice – Bérangère Maximin
Music By, Composed By, Arranged By – Bérangère Maximin

Bérangère Maximin's Dangerous Orbits stands alone in the current experimental music landscape. Working in isolation in her Paris studio, Maximin does not pander to making it easy with beats and a polished pop sheen, rather this is music of wonderful experimentation. Dangerous Orbits works as a pair with her previous album Infinitesimal, utlising recurring elements such as sound moulding into different shapes. A brave album, it was recorded with no label backing, but this did not get in the way of her vision. She developed the themes, giving the whole work an expansive cosmic feel, and finally delivered a raw, beautiful, organic album.

Maximin comes from a musique concrete/electroacoustic background. Working from that platform, she mutates her writing into something very different, taking in "Kosmische Musik" and dub production ideas, bordering on classical music in places. Stretching the material to the limit, she's created something that sounds like it is torn from within her. It calls for deep listening due to so many beautiful moments appearing out of the mixes which could be missed on a quick blast on a PC. 
First track 'Cracks' is very similar to the start of the Xenakis' 'La Légende D'Eer' piece, with high pitched shrill tones, and a slow build that is followed by a Maximin's signature sound – the "hot/cold contrast" – which is similar to that crispy sound one gets walking in snow. It's like stepping into an alien jungle with birdsongs, or the clanging of a bucket recorded down a well. 'Glow' unveils itself like something from the WDR studios in Cologne, a whirlpool of sound with depth charge bass. A metallic sound slithers across it, little explosions and low key ostinato, like a voluminous space age music. 
'A Day Closer' is one of the first new pieces she composed, a return of the buzzing fly from the previous album, street sounds, sighs, scraping metal, then an amazing loop comes in, an echoing vocal which reminds me of an effect Joni Mitchell used on her The Hissing Of Summer Lawns album. Something seems to be getting dragged, the beat of the loop going on over all this mayhem. There are breaths, sighs, and again the high piercing noise above, like something Scott Walker could have recorded recently, or even like say the backing track of Iggy Pop's Mass Production from The Idiot. 
To follow is the longest piece of the album, 'OOP (Our Own Planet)'. The piece starts with the echoing vocals returning and slowly mutating, the birds chirping, then it melts into the main refrain with a beautiful transition, a truly oceanic melody. A low metallic drone roars like the slow building of a mantra. More sounds pop up briefly; piano keys tinkle now and then, low bass rumbles. Gavin Bryars comes to mind. Then the cymbals clash, the drums come in as the tempo speeds up, the climax builds, something happens that sounds like a manic viola in the depths of the mix, like Derek Bailey on Basil Kirchin's World Within Worlds. Then another level of vocals rise, a song for the siren. The siren calls approach on a rough sonic sea, the manic strings chopping and sawing through the sound wall, the vocals rising higher. Then comes the progressive release, the thunder storm slowly moving away, the room gradually returning to the silence. 
Maximin concludes by going back to the beginning. 'No Guru Holds Me' starts with the same high pitched shrill tones of the opener 'Cracks', but this is the end of the journey. Strings clang, the alien jungle and the beautiful walking in the snow sounds reappear again. Then it all slowly fades out, as if the listener's leaving the place with intrusions of noise, breaking glass and strange metallic roars. The impression of immersion last a bit longer with the notes Maximin wrote around the five tracks in her own inimitable style and which appear on the booklet and back cover. They paint surreal pictures while listening, and add even more mystery to the music. What a journey, what an album. Where will she take us next?
Cindy Stern / The Quietus

Kaytranada ‎– Bubba (2019)

Genre: Electronic, Hip Hop, Pop
Format: Vinyl
Label: RCA

01.   DO IT
02.   2 The Music (Feat. Iman Omari)
03.   Go DJ (Feat. SiR)
04.   Gray Area (Feat. Mick Jenkins)
05.   Puff Lah
06.   10% (Feat. Kali Uchis)
07.   Need It (Feat. Masego)
08.   Taste (Feat. VanJess)
09.   Oh No (Feat. Estelle)
10.   What You Need (Feat. Charlotte Day Wilson)
11.   Vex Oh (Feat. GoldLink, Eight9fly & ARI)
12.   Scared To Death
13.   Freefall (Feat. Durand Bernarr)
14.   Culture (Feat. Teedra Moses)
15.   The Worst In Me (Feat. Tinashe)
16.   September 21
17.   Midsection (Feat. Pharrell Williams)

Kaytranada’s last album ‘99.9%’ was a blockbuster. Released in 2016, the Montreal musician’s debut album was a thing of epic proportions. It mixed house, funk, soul, hip-hop and beyond across 15 glistening tracks, featured big names such as Anderson .Paak, Craig David and Vic Mensa, and the sample-heavy ‘Lite Spots’ made a run at the Song of The Summer. It’s little surprise, then, that we named it one of our Albums Of The Year back in 2016, and that it picked up The Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury Prize. 
Follow-up ‘Bubba’ immediately feels like a more low-key affair. Announced on Monday (December 9) and released just four days later, the record doesn’t include previous singles ‘Dysfunctional’, ‘Nothin Like U’ and ‘Chances’. Instead ‘Bubba’ is made up of brand new material and have been played live in his DJ sets sparingly.  
But that’s how Kaytranada likes to work. His voice is absent from almost all of his output, but the music is decidedly his own. Whether it’s the choice of samples, beat construction or even the pitch and spaciness of the keys, his work is instantly identifiable. On a personal level, we know little about him – interviews are few and far between – but understand this: few do it better than him. 
‘Bubba’ has the feel of an expertly curated DJ set, where tracks transition smoothly into one another and beats disappear as soon as they arrive. Only a handful of songs break the three-minute barrier. Take the album’s opening third, from the stop-start ‘DO IT’ through to the record’s finest moment, the Kali Uchis-starring ‘10%’, which is stuffed with sharp ideas and beat-switches. It’s kinda like a dancefloor packed with ravers – moving not because they want to, but simply because they have to. 
The aforementioned ‘10%’ is perhaps the most pop-ready song he’s done to date, as is the Pharrell Williams-starring ‘Midsection’, inspired by the rhythms of French ‘80s group The Group NSI. The instrumental ‘Scared To Death’ is similarly explosive, while Charlotte Day Wilson’s guest feature on ‘What You Need’ makes for a sultry house stomper. 
‘Bubba’ may be lacking the type of big bangers that thrive in festival sets like ‘99.9%’, but is no worse for it. Instead it’s a dizzying hour that is more interested in enthralling the already-fans that have made it into the club and to give them a helluva night. Job done.
Liam McRae / NME

Family Atlantica ‎– Cosmic Unity (2016)

Genre: Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Soundway

01.   Okoroba
02.   Enjera
03.   Cacao
04.   Visa
05.   Puerta
06.   La Humanidad
07.   El Rio
08.   Baião Infinito
09.   Neti Neti
10.   Near The Ocean
11.   Efik
12.   Blue Atlantic
13.   Cosmic Unity
14.   Blanca Y Negra
15.   Canto De Pilon

Family Atlantica started out in Hackney, east London, and have developed an increasingly sophisticated style that echoes London’s cultural diversity. There are influences from Latin America, east and west Africa and the Caribbean here, with songs in English, Spanish, Yoruba and Portuguese. Some of the 15 tracks are remarkably brief, and the emphasis constantly changes. 
So the opening Okoroba starts with a slinky kalimba riff and chanting vocals from the Venezuelan singer Luzmira Zerpa and ends as an exuberant, brassy clash of Latin and African styles. Then the band are off, veering from Ethiopian jazz on Enjera to a cheerful burst of calypso on Neti Neti, with the songs driven on by the west African drummer Kwame Crentsil and multi-instrumentalist Jack Yglesias, of Heliocentrics fame. This colourful, rousing set also features two veteran celebrity saxophonists: the Nigerian Afrobeat hero Orlando Julius, and Marshall Allen, current leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Robin Denselow / The Guardian

Anne Pigalle ‎– Everything Could Be So Perfect... (1985)

Style: Chanson, Synth-pop, Ballad
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Island Records, ZTT, Salvo

A1.   Why Does It Have To Be This Way...
A2.   Via Vagabond
A3.   Looking For Love
A4.   He! Stranger
B1.   Intermission (The Gods Are Bored)
B2.   Souvenir D'Un Paris
B3.   A Crack In The Ocean
B4.   The 1000 Colours Waltz

Piano, Organ, Synthesizer – Nick Plytas
Producer – Luis Jardim
Vocals, Lyrics By – Anne Pigalle

Ms. Pigalle. The left field chanteuse of ZTT records. When ZTT erupted with their high-tech Trevor Horn crafted sound with the debuts of Art Of Noise, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda in the ’83-’84 period, no one might have predicted that the label would sign a French disciple of Edith Piaf. By 1985, the label was attempting to branch out from their métier of highly produced, widescreen techno pop. Avant Garde minimalist Andrew Poppy had been signed to the label, and ZTT celebrated its recent, gold-plated past and looked forward to its future by releasing a compilation album featuring rare cuts by its stable of artists.

Notable to those who could look past the unreleased FGTH and Propaganda material, were cuts by Instinct, who proffered NWOBJP stylings and Anne Pigalle, who did the same through a French filter with the aid of her keyboardist, Nick Plytas. Nick had begun his career with Roogolator and had distinguished himself with tasteful ivories on records by Lene Lovich, Snatch, Joan Armatrading and Heaven 17, among others. Alas, the two tracks by Instinct on this album were all that was ever released by them. Ms. Pigalle fared better with a handful of singles and her album, “Everything Could Be So Perfect…”

One is immediately struck by the minimalism of the package design, such a strong volte-face from the typical XL ZTT packaging  overkill of the time. There are no quotes from Roland Barthes or reams of tiny details to get lost in.  Just a field of blue, a photo and the artist/title. The album was produced by ZTT Theam member and percussionist to the stars Luis Jardim, but not before Mr. Trevor C. Horn managed to get his hands on the boards for a single track, “Why Does It Have To Be This Way…” 
The tracks are sung in a mixture of French and heavily accented English that serves the somewhat beat-jazz influenced material well. While some cuts are fatalistic piano ballads, others, like “Intermission [The Gods Are Bored]” are fuller expressions of the ZTT kitchen sink aesthetic, now aligned to the New Wave Of British Jazz Pop. The first single was “Hé Stranger” and the 12″ single of it was more typically a product of ZTT, at least from a packaging standpoint.

The de riguer 12″ A-side remix by Trevor Horn was augmented with “Stranger [than fiction]” and “Hé Stranger [Plight Return], two alternative mixes. There was also a single non-LP B-side, “Johnny.” The second single was for the track that Horn produced, “Why Does It Have To Be This Way…”

In lieu of an extended remix of the A-side, there were no less than three B-sides. “Faut-il Vraiment Que Ce Soit Comme Ca” was simply the French language version of the A-side, but there was also “Why Does It Have To Be This Way… [piano version] and “Like We Do,” a non-LP B-side. 
The album was a release that I never ever saw on vinyl, in spite of keeping an eye peeled for it. I finally found the German CD of this in the early 90s. A quick jaunt to reveals that this album was re-issued last year in Japan by ZTT with all of the 12″ bonus tracks appended to double the running order! Yes! But the only dealer I can find that is selling this right now is on GEMM and the asking price is $62… no! So it looks like I’ll be making do with digital remasters from my vinyl going forward. 
There’s nothing you could find that Anne released from 1985 all the way until 2003, when she released a pair of EPs called “Amerotic I & II.” These are available only from Ms. Pigalle in person or from her website, so interested parties should not rest on any laurels if they have an interest.
Post-Punk Monk

Dorothy Ashby ‎– The Rubáiyát Of Dorothy Ashby (1970)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Geffen Records, Cadet, Dusty Groove America

01.   Myself When Young
02.   For Some We Loved
03.   Wax And Wane
04.   Drink
05.   Wine
06.   Dust
07.   Joyful Grass & Grape
08.   Shadow Shapes
09.   Heaven & Hell
10.   The Moving Finger

Alto Saxophone – Cliff Davis
Flute, Oboe, Piccolo Flute – Lenny Druss
Guitar – Cash McCall
Harp, Vocals – Dorothy Ashby
Kalimba – Fred Katz
Vibraphone – Stu Katz
Violin – Ed Green
Composed By – Dorothy Ashby
Arranged By, Conductor, Producer – Richard Evans

Issued on Cadet in 1970, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby is really a left-field offering for the jazz harpist. But being a jazz harpist was -- and remains -- an outside thing in the tradition. Her previous offerings on Prestige were pure, hard bop jazz with serious session players soloing all over them. She made recordings for Atlantic and Jazzland before landing at Chess in 1968 with Afro-Harping which began her partnership with arranger Richard Evans. Ashby became content as an iconoclast and was seemingly moving forward toward the deep well of spiritual jazz in the aftermath of John Coltrane's death and the recordings of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. On this set for Cadet, she again teams with Evans who wears the hats of producer, arranger, and conductor of a string section and the record goes in a somewhat different direction. Whereas Afro-Harping hit on a direction for Ashby and cemented her relationship with Evans, Rubaiyat realizes that partnership in total. With a band that included a host of percussion instruments -- Stu Katz played vibes and kalimba, and Fred Katz played a second kalimba, Cash McCall was enlisted as guitarist, Cliff Davis played alto saxophone, and Lenny Druss played flute, oboe, bass flute, and piccolo. There is also a bass player and a drummer but they are not credited. For her part, Ashby played her harp, but she also brought the Japanese koto into the mix as well as her voice. Rubaiyat is no ordinary jazz vocal album. It is exotic, mysterious, laid-back, and full of gentle grooves and soul. The opening cut, "Myself When Young," with its glissando harp and koto, is in an Eastern mode, and immediately lays out Ashby's vocal as this beautiful throaty, clear instrument hovering around the low end of the mix. Midway through it kicks into soul-jazz groove without losing the Eastern mode and goes, however gently, into an insistent funky soul-jazz groove. There is no kitsch value in this music, it's serious, poetic, and utterly ingenious musically. It sounds like nothing else out there. And it only gets better from here. The poem that commences "For Some We Loved" gives way to a percussion and koto workout that comes right from the modal blues. The oboe playing is reminiscent of Yusef's Eastern Sounds but with more driving, hypnotic rhythm. "Wax and Wane" begins with kalimbas playing counterpoint rhythms and Ashby singing in Japanese scale signature, but soon hand percussion, strings, and a flute enter to make the thing groove and glide, ethereal, light, beautiful. "Drink" is a pure soul-jazz ballad with harp fills, a funky bassline, and shimmering flutes above a trap kit. The piano solo -- played by Evans, we can assume -- on "Wine," is a killer move bringing back the hard bop and giving way to a smoking vibes solo by Katz. It's as if each track, from "Joyful Grass and Grape," "Shadow Shapes," and "Heaven and Hell," enter from the world of exotica, from someplace so far outside jazz and western popular musics, and by virtue of Ashby's vocal and harp, are brought back inside, echoing the blues and jazz -- check out the koto solo on this cut, by way of the symbiotic communication between Evans and the musicians. You can literally hear that Ashby trusts Evans to deliver. Ashby transforms "Shadow Shapes" and "Heaven and Hell" from near show tunes in her contralto into swinging, shuffling jazz numbers. The lithe beauty on display in her voice and the in-the-pocket backup of the rhythm section is flawless and infectious. The set ends on its greatest cut, "The Moving Finger." Introduced by what seems like an Eastern Buddhist chant, it quickly slips into harp, koto, guitars, drums, and bass bump. Evans adds strings for drama playing repeating two-note vamps before Katz and his vibes take the thing into outer space. The slippery guitar groove and alto solo that cut right into the flesh of the blues turn it into a solid late-night groover with plenty, plenty soul. The fuzz guitar solo playing counterpoint with the kalimba rhythms is mindblowing, sending the record off to some different place in the listener's head. And this is a head record. Time and space are suspended and new dimensions open up for anyone willing to take this killer little set on and let it spill its magic into the mind canal through the ears. Depending on how much of a jazz purist you are will give you a side to debate the place of this set in Ashby's catalogue. For those who remain open, this may be her greatest moment on record.
Thom Jurek / AllMusic