Saturday, 30 May 2020

Brian Wilson ‎– Smile (2004)

Style: Pop Rock, Art Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Nonesuch

01.   Our Prayer / Gee
02.   Heroes And Villains
03.   Roll Plymouth Rock
04.   Barnyard
05.   Old Master Paint / You Are My Sunshine
06.   Cabin Essence
07.   Wonderful
08.   Song For Children
09.   Child Is Father Of The Man
10.   Surf's Up
11.   I'm In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop
12.   Vega-Tables
13.   On A Holiday
14.   Wind Chimes
15.   Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
16.   In Blue Hawaii
17.   Good Vibrations

Bass Guitar, Other – Bob Lizik
Drums, Percussion, Saw, Effects – Jim Hines
Strings, Horns – Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns
Vocals, Guitar, Brass, Theremin, Whistle – Probyn Gregory
Vocals, Guitar, Other  – Nick Walusko
Vocals, Guitar, Other – Jeffrey Foskett
Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion, Guitar – Scott Bennett
Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion – Darian Sahanaja
Vocals, Other – Taylor Mills
Vocals, Percussion, Whistle, Other – Nelson Bragg
Woodwind, Saxophone, Harmonica, Conductor – Paul Mertens
Producer – Brian Wilson, Darian Sahanaja

While current list-orientated thinking places the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as one of the greatest modern popular recordings, debate still rages as to whether its mooted follow-up, Smile, would have outshone it. Only ever glimpsed in segments, was the album just a victim of a self-perpetuating myth, enhanced by legends of Brian and his missing marbles? Or was this one of the great lost opportunities? 40 years later, Brian's finally letting us know... 
After creating Pet Sounds almost single-handedly while his siblings toured the globe, Brian - already in the throes of considerable mental anguish - embarked on a project even more gargantuan. With maverick lyricist Van Dyke Parks he proceeded to craft a 'teenage symphony to God'. Six months of intense work yielded most of the tracks, but by then Wilson was suffering from intense paranoia and exhibiting somewhat erratic behaviour. While recording the "Fire" sequence of "Mrs O'Leary's Cow" (getting the orchestra to wear fireman's helmets!) he believed that the vibes had started a major conflagration nearby. Now irreparably fragile and convinced he could never better the Beatles, he took to his bed for years, releasing tantalising snippets of his symphony on subsequent albums and leaving fans to try and assemble their own versions from advance press release track listings. Ironically Brian's own website claims that: "To this day, few have heard this lost masterpiece". 
What's immediately apparent is that this project, once dubbed 'unwieldy', is perfectly suited to modern ears. The complexity of the segmented arrangements, the recurring themes ("Roll Plymouth Rock", "Heroes and Villains" etc.) and the lush orchestration and vocal harmonies actually improve under modern recording techniques, making what once seem muddled now a startlingly clear vision of American history - albeit a baroque and impressionistic one. Parks' lyrics defy categorisation and still convey a concise sense of the weight of 200 years. One instinctively knows what he means by 'Bicycle rider, just look what you've done to the church of the American Indian' or 'Colonnaded ruins domino' ("Surf's Up"). 
The music manages even more. Every second is packed with a thorough trawling of popular forms, from lounge jazz ("I Wanna Be Around") to barbershop ("Heroes and Villains"). A capella opener "Our Prayer" provides the missing link between the Four Freshmen and gospel music(!) and "Wonderful" manages to be both sensual and holy. Only during the final suite, containing oddities such as "Vega-tables" and the aforementioned "Mrs O'Leary's Cow", do you start to wonder if Brian's muse is unravelling before your ears. 
Aficionados will argue for decades over the differences between these newly recorded versions and the sacred originals, yet the Wondermints, Brian's backing band on recent live outings, are so steeped in Beach Boys lore that you'd be hard pushed to tell them from the originals. Only Brian's older, worn vocals really give the game away. Anyone fearing that finally finishing Smile would diminish its status can now rest easy. This is a work of genius that transcends time. Is it time to rewrite those lists again?
Chris Jones / BBC Review

Jeremy Underground ‎– Beauty: A Journey Through Jeremy Underground's Collection (2016)

Genre: Jazz, Latin, Funk / Soul
Format: Vinyl
Label: Spacetalk Records

A1.   Ron Rinaldi - Mexican Summer
A2.   Leila Pinheiro - Tudo Em Cima
A3.   Christer Norden - Lay Back
A4.   N C C U - Superstar
B1.   Shades Of Love - Do Your Own Dance
B2.   Sonya Spence - Let Love Flow On
B3.   Nu-Cleus - Needing A Woman
C1.   Al (Alonzo) Wilson - Love You Girl
C2.   Richardi Mac - Told You So
C3.   Maureen Bailey - Takin' My Time With You
C4.   Fein - Stonedage
D1.   June Evans - Hardly Need To Say
D2.   Starcrost - Quicksand
D3.   Creative Arts Ensemble - Unity

Mastered By – Peter Beckmann
Compiled By – Jeremy Underground
Coordinator – Danny McLewin, Paul 'Mudd' Murphy, Simon Purnell

Jeremy Underground first gained attention through My Love Is Underground. His vinyl-only label, launched in 2010, helped revive a particular style of pneumatic, '90s-inspired house. He slowly gained a reputation as a major house nerd, a man with encyclopedic knowledge of Kerri Chandler B-sides and little-known American record labels. He also displayed a broader love of music. On his YouTube channel, he shared an array of obscure jazz, soul and disco from around the world. He also dropped fantastic home-listening mixes. In 2013, I saw him play at Plastic People, spinning an amazing set of mysterious rare grooves alongside Floating Points and Red Greg. I was left with the distinct impression that Jeremy was an excellent house DJ but perhaps an even better soul and funk DJ.
Beauty is Jeremy's first downtempo compilation. His credentials to curate such a release are matched by Claremont, whose Originals compilation series was one of the decade's best. Beauty is the second release from the Claremont sub-label Spacetalk, which is run by Psychemagik's Danny McLewin. The pair met after Jeremy's soul and funk set in Maceo's, a crew bar run by Block 9. Danny was impressed, a friendship was born and the decision to make the compilation was solidified there and then. 
Beauty features some of the best records Jeremy has discovered so far. The music is often pleasingly difficult to categorise. There's Sonya Spence's "Let Love Flow On," a soul track that features Jamaican musicians who usually perform in ska and reggae bands. There's Starcrost's "Quicksand," which has a folksy, soul-jazz vibe, Leila Pinheiro's bossa nova-rooted disco and Christer Norden's funky library music. The pick of Beauty might be "Hardly Need To Say." This mind-blowing smoky soul cut would have been a huge hit had it been released on a big label, as opposed to a tiny company from Glassboro, New Jersey. 
Reissue culture has arguably never been more vibrant. The likes of BBE, Music From Memory and Numero Group unearth a seemingly never-ending stash of vinyl gold. But in a crowded marketplace Beauty stands out. The laid-back vibe and sparkling musicianship on the album makes it a pleasure from start to finish. In my 2014 review of Jeremy's previous house compilation, My Love Is Underground, I said, "If you're at all interested in playing old-school house music on vinyl, then this is an essential purchase." By that logic, if you're into soul and jazz records, you need Beauty in your life.
Stephen Titmus / Resident Advisor

Marcos Valle ‎– Estática (2010)

Genre: Electronic, Jazz, Latin
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Far Out Recordings

01.   Vamos Sambar
02.   Prefixo
03.   Papo De Maluco
04.   Arranca Toco
05.   Baião Maracatú
06.   Novo Acorde (Reprise)
07.   Novo Acorde
08.   1995
09.   Estática
10.   Na Pista
11.   1985
12.   Esphera
13.   Eu Vou
14.   1975
15.   Vamos Sambar (Instrumental)

Vocals – Patricia Alvi
Bass – Mazinho Ventura
Drums – Renato Massa
Electric Guitar – Marcelo Camelo
Executive-Producer – Joe Davis
Percussion – Julio Diniz, Robertinho Silva
Trombone – Aldivas Ayres
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Jesse Sadoc
Flute, Saxophone – Marcelo Martins, Renato Paulo Franco
Cello – Marcus Ribeiro, Martina Stroeher, Mateus Ceccato
Viola – Deborah Cheyne, Nayran Pessanha, Rubia Siqueira
Violin – Andre Cunha, Denise Pedrassoli, Leo Ortiz, Marco Catto, Mauro Rufino Martins, Pancho Roa
Vocals, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Acoustic Guitar – Marcos Valle
Producer – Daniel Maunick

The main thought running through my head as I listened to Estática, the new album by Marcos Valle, was why had he never recorded this before. It’s as if he’s taken all the best bits from his previous albums, the daring of Garra, the pure pop of Samba ’68, the funk of Previsao of Tempo and given it wings through the orchestral arrangements that give it a depth and vibrance that I’ve never heard before from his work. It has been dubbed a “Brazilian masterpiece” and while that is understandable due to its grandiosity and intentions, it does stop a little short of such hyperbole – not by much though. 
This is his fourth album for Far Out Recordings (excluding the 2008 The Best of compilation), with whom he has recorded since the early 90s, and who are largely responsible for his comeback, and it is the first one where he feels truly comfortably. Which shouldn’t be read as any criticism of the other albums, it’s just a feeling that with those he did try and push the acid-jazz (massively popular in the 90s) and electronic and drum ‘n’ bass elements as it was a way back into the industry, to reconnect with the youth. This album feels more personal because it doesn’t identify with a particular movement; there are experiments here that could be deemed cheesy or genius depending on your perspective. The beautiful thing is that he has pushed himself and with that creative drive has come an abundance of killer melodies. 
“Vamos Sambar” is the perfect track to open the album, a lush, wide-screen plea for us all to ‘samba.’ It showcases the ambition of the album with its intricate string and horn arrangements as well as a classic Valle pop melody, the first of many on the first half of the album. “Prefixo” slows it down slightly with a Serge Gainsbourg vocal piece before Joyce joins in for “Papo de Maluco” (an insistent “Crickets Sing for Anamaria” melody) and “Baiao Maracatú”, one of the highlights of the album. It’s this latter song which shows Valle perfecting the jazz-inflected pop song. It’s almost a deadringer for Steely Dan, partly down to the similarities with Donald Fagen’s voice. 
Whether intentional or not there is a strong 70s vibe to this album. At times some of the guitar work resembles the Isley Brothers (circa “That Lady”) and the synthesisers either Sly and the Family Stone (as on “Novo Acorde (Reprise)”) or Stevie Wonder. It’d be interesting to know whether Valle was at all infuenced by the recent re-assessment of Arthur Verocai, who’s sole self-titled 70s record has recently been elevated to masterpiece status in the US, and with whom Valle definitely shares some similarity on the album. 
The second half of the album is heavier with shorter, instrumental tracks that generally display more of a willingness to experiment and offer a pyschedelic vibe. It also contains the title track Estática, the centrepiece of the album. A rattling, jazz odyssey so dense it feels like a manifesto yet with this Weather Report-ish, disco sheen that lifts it up, scrapping around for air. I feel like I want to come up with some kind of plant metaphor, reaching for the light, etc., but I’m gonna stop myself, we don’t need to be that corny. 
It’s a shame that this latter half of the album contains some of the weaker melodies; “Esphera” and “Eu Vou” are perfectly serviceable songs but lack the spark of some of the earlier efforts. The album even finishes on an instrumental versions of “Vamos Sambar” which I believe is better that the vocal version. Valle does not possess the strongest of voices and it does not suit every song perfectly, as is the case on this one. It’s these two criticisms that stop this album from being a masterpiece in my eyes, although they don’t stop it from being one of the most listenable collection of original samba-derived songs in quite some time. 
There was one more thing missing too though and I wasn’t to find that out until England’s erratic weather decided to give us one last flash of summer in the last week of August. Sat outside on a sun lounger, with this music pumping in my ears it all suddenly made sense. I felt I was on Copacabana beach or at the MTV Summer Jam (if those things still exist). In short, it suddenly took on a new level I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s just a shame it’s being released the wrong side of the summer otherwise this would have been one of the staple albums over the summer months
Russ Slater / Sounds and Colours

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet ‎– Live In Madison (2013)

Genre: Free Jazz
Format: CDFLAC
Label: Ayler Records

1.   Bush Baby
2.   Jungle Gymnastics
3.   Long March For Frida Kahlo
4.   Big Love
5.   Two Girls
6.   Dehumanization Blues

Double Bass – Aaron González
Drums – Stefan González
Electric Guitar – Luís Lopes
Recorded By – Anna Weisling
Tenor Saxophone – Rodrigo Amado

Respectively, Portuguese artists Luis Lopes (guitar) and Rodrigo Amado (saxophone) are known for aggressive tactics and forward motion at almost any tempo. There's nothing sheepish about this live date, recorded in Madison, WI. And there's no looking back as the band seemingly loaded up on energy drinks for this high-impact set. Lopes' variable use of distortion techniques—among other factors—provide a razor-sharp and stinging soundstage, coupled with Amado's rip-roaring solos. They use space as an equalizer amid snaking time changes and vibrant pulses laid out by the rhythm section. Hence, this performance must have given the audience an adrenalin rush. 
The quartet gels to a smacking funk-rock groove on "Two Girls." Amado's heavily serrated lines, abetted with screeching plaintive cries and torrential downpours underscore the ferocity of the overall vibe. They punch out a firm pulse as the frontline renders bop- like unison choruses to state the primary theme. Lopes often counters and circles Amado's phrasings as they build tension and mix it up with a touch of skronk during the bridge. Here, the musicians throw caution to the wind, amped by the rhythm section's punchy outline. Hence, the diverse track mix serves them well. But it's the performers' collective tenacity and unrelenting force-field that catapult this outing to towering heights, equating to a decidedly entertaining form-factor.
Glenn Astarita / All About Jazz

Mulatu Astatke / The Heliocentrics ‎– Inspiration Information (2009)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul, Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Strut

01.   Masenqo
02.   Cha Cha
03.   Addis Black Widow
04.   Mulatu
05.   Blue Nile
06.   Esketa Dance
07.   Chik Chikka
08.   Live From Tigre Lounge
09.   Chinese New Year
10.   Phantom Of The Panther
11.   Dewel
12.   Fire In The Zoo
13.   An Epic Story
14.   Anglo Ethio Suite

Producer, Engineer, Mixed By – Jake Ferguson, Malcolm Catto

The third in Strut Records' Inspiration Information collaborative series pairs Mulatu Astatke, 66-year-old father of Ethio-jazz, with London-based astral funk collective the Heliocentrics. The collaboration began with an appearance at London club Cargo in 2008, and has finally borne recorded fruit in the form of an intriguing album that's equal parts sweaty funk and blissfully meditative jams. 
Astatke has come to be appreciated outside specialist circles in recent years. His music featured heavily in Jim Jarmusch's 2005 film Broken Flowers, and before that, in 1998, an entire edition of the Ethiopiques album series was devoted to his work. His sound intertwines funk and jazz elements with traditional Ethiopian folk melodies and echoes of Coptic Church music. Astatke's compositions frequently combine his own vibraphone and conga playing with the distinctive sound of the lyre-like krar, which works with five tones instead of the seven-note scale typical of western music. These disparate elements combine to create a heady blend that feels both sacred and profane. 
That paradoxical effect holds sway here, with the Heliocentrics adding a glitchy sheen. Their most noticeable contribution at first is the sheer power of the drumming, which on sleazy jam Addis Black Widow and the funky sax-led Fire in the Zoo have an almost breakbeat-like heaviness. Elsewhere, however, they conspire with Astatke to far subtler effect. The electronic effects flecked between the meandering bass, spiralling strings and washint (an Ethiopian flute) passages on An Epic Story are no less compelling for being down in the mix. 
There are times when the partnership falters. Blue Nile dips its toes into forgettable downtempo territory, and the closing ten-minute sprawl of Anglo Ethio Suite doesn't build much beyond a promising opening. The good outweighs the bad, however, especially on the woozy stagger of Chik Chikka and the Alice Coltrane-style oddness of Phantom of the Panther. Best of all is Live From Tigre Lounge, where metallic beats combine with a sinister organ and distant howled vocals above a bassline that sounds like its wandered in from an early-1990s hardcore record. At times such as these this project makes perfect, unexpected sense.
Chris Power / BBC Review

Mr Fingers ‎– Ammnesia (1989)

Style: House, Deep House, Acid House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Jack Trax, P-Vine Records

01.   Can You Feel It
02.   Washing Machine
03.   Beyond The Clouds
04.   Slam Dance
05.   Stars
06.   Waterfalls
07.   Let's Dance All Night
08.   Bye Bye
09.   For So Long
10.   Ammnesia
11.   The Juice
12.   Mystery Of Love

Producer, Written-By, Arranged By – Larry Heard

The first Mr. Fingers LP out of the gates, though of dubious origins, is a classic compilation of the earliest, and most inspired, recordings by Larry Heard. Liberally sprinkled with seminal tracks like "Can You Feel It?," "Washing Machine," "Slam Dance," and "Bye Bye," Ammnesia became virtually impossible to find several years after its release and remains one of the most sought-after documents of Chicago house. Though perhaps not worth the high price from collectors, it remains a brilliant Larry Heard collection.
John Bush / AllMusic