Friday, 16 October 2020

Robert Wyatt ‎– Cuckooland (2003)

Style: Fusion, Contemporary Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Hannibal Records, Rykodisc

Tracklist:
01.   Just A Bit
02.   Old Europe
03.   Tom Hay's Fox
04.   Forest
05.   Beware
06.   Cuckoo Madame
07.   Raining In My Heart
08.   Lullaby For Hamza
09.   Trickle Down
10.   Insensatez
11.   Mister E
12.   Lullaloop
13.   Life Is Sheep
14.   Foreign Accents
15.   Brian The Fox
16.   La Ahada Yalam (No-One Knows)

Credits:
Producer – Robert Wyatt

It may be six years since Robert Wyatt's last album (Shleep), and he may admit to a one song a year work rate, but the the end results contain a spontaneity and charm that remains peerless. Wyatt exists in a hermetic world where working methods remain unhurried by market forces and he regularly performs the seemingly impossible alchemical marriage of enchanting melody and politically charged lyrical content. It's some balancing act; until you realise that he's not even on the high wire. He's wryly observing the bedlam we inhabit from the bottom of his garden. Listening to Cuckooland is akin to having a cup of tea with a very, very intelligent friend. It soothes as it pricks the conscience.

Since Rock Bottom, his solo debut proper (he himself regards earlier effort End Of An Ear asjuvenilia), Wyatt has, along with partner Alfreda Benge and a host of eminent and multi-talented friends, made albums that run parallel to modern recorded art. By now we all know what he likes. Jazz (preferably with free or bop roots), charmingly spare arrangements and a plethora of interesting (read: slightly wonky) instrumentation. ''Cuckoo Madame'' finds Robert even employing the same cheap keyboard sounds that he used on Rock Bottom. And why not? It suits his voice down to the ground.

Of course since his earliest days with the Soft Machine he's claimed to be more jazzer than avant gardener. With Cuckooland the influences are more evident than ever. Take ''Trickle Down'' with its rising and descending bassline. Like so much on Cuckooland, it swings with aplomb. And it's hardly surprising when you consider input from luminaries such as Gilad Atzmon, Annie Whitehead and, most importantly, Karen Mantler. (The daughter of Carla Bley; she provides vocals, songs and even harmonica on a host of tracks). ''Old Europe'' even takes as its text the legendary Paris jazz scene of the late 50s. Yet you never feel that Robert's wallowing in nostalgia, but painting an impressionistic world where Miles and Juliette Greco still romance each other in monochrome streets.

Politically he's as perplexed (and as pointed) as ever. The key title here is ''Forest''. A scorching indictment of British immigration policy that, nevertheless, manages to be utterly lovely (only Wyatt could get old mate David Gilmour to deliver lines as fluid as he did back in the day). ''Cuckoo Madame'' just may be about Margaret Thatcher and ''La Ahada Yalam'' proves that there's still something pertinent to be said about the atom bomb.

This is classic Wyatt. Brian Eno adds his tell-tale fairy dust and Benge's lyrics should now be recognized as the perfect match for one of England's most enduring and endearing voices (special mention here for ''Lullaloop''). Wyatt shows himself to be no slouch on the cornet (''Old Europe'' conjures up a veritable big band sound from two players), yet it's the voice that remains his primary instrument. He modestly refers to it as 'now reduced to a wino's mutter', but no other artist has yet to approach the abstractions, humbleness and, let's be honest, cuteness that marks him as instantly recognisable. Time for England to listen to its conscience again: over a nice cup of tea...
Chris Jones / BBC Review

Jimmy Smith ‎– Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1964)

Style: Soul-Jazz, Hard Bop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Verve Records

Tracklist:
A1.   Slaughter On Tenth Avenue
A2.   Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Part 1)
A3.   Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Part 2)
B1.   John Brown's Body
B2.   Wives And Lovers
B3.   Women Of The World
B4.   Bluesette

Credits:
Arranged By – Claus Ogerman, Oliver Nelson
Producer – Creed Taylor

The combination of organist Jimmy Smith teamed with Oliver Nelson's big band featuring Nelson and Claus Ogerman's arrangements has arguably yielded mixed results. "Walk on the Wild Side" is probably the most acclaimed and potent of the pairings, while "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" produces more questions than answers. The music tends to be corny and overly dramatic, based in soul-jazz and boogaloo; it's dated even for this time period (1964) and a bit bland. Disparate elements clash rather than meld, the title track and "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" being perfect examples. If you can get beyond the hokey 007 theatrics, patriotic splashes, and sleigh bells, you do hear Smith jamming. Typical repeated two-note accents heard from the big band behind Smith do not urge him upwards -- during "Pts. 1 & 2" of the title track, this specific element identifies and bogs down the piece -- but the quicker second segment is a better, carefree, post-bop boogaloo. Smith is left behind on the melody of "Women of the World," and is submerged on "Slaughter." Of the more substantive material, Smith leads on the breezy waltz "Wives & Lovers," and thankfully gets to strut his stuff for "John Brown's Body," with the big band in the background. The very best is left for last on a classic take of "Bluesette," another waltz where the horns accent and chatter, flutes soar, and Smith flies. A curiosity in his discography, for some an "experiment" that never worked, and for others an interesting aside, one wonders what Smith really thought of this project after the fact, considering his far greater works.
Michael G. Nastos / AllMusic

Lindstrøm ‎– It's Alright Between Us As It Is (2017)

Genre: Electronic, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Smalltown Supersound, Feedelity

Tracklist:
1.   It’s Alright Between Us As It Is
2.   Spire
3.   Tensions
4.   But Isn't It
5.   Versatile Dreams (Interlude)
6.   Shinin
7.   Drift
8.   Bungl / Like A Ghost
9.   Under Trees

Credits:
Mastered By – Graeme Durham
Produced By – Hans-Peter Lindstrøm

It may seem odd to UK/US audiences, but Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is a legit star in his native Norway. A four-time Spellemannsprisen (Norwegian Grammys, three as a solo act, one collaboration) winner in the Electronica category, Lindstrøm's disco-indebted style has entertained and worked with practically every Scandinavian DJ there is to work with, including, notably, Olsen Records label-mate and recent breakout star Todd Terje. In a post-It's Album Time world too, it would be hard for Terje fans to not hear the clear parallels between two, however, it is Lindstrøm that has very much been leading the way for dance music in Norway for the past decade.

Part of Lindstrøm's appeal, however, is that, while he has a fairly defined sound, he as interested in diverting from it as much as he promotes it. Lindstrøm makes a crowd-pleasing sound across his records, generally presenting them as one continuous piece, which makes it no small wonder how he has achieved such success. However, his records generally feel like a long journey into the clubbing night, of which his latest It's Alright Between Us As It Is is consistent.

While the night starts off jaunty on opening couplet 'Spire' and the especially Terje-reminiscent 'Tensions', things soon descend into darkness. Lindstrøm has an excellent knack for choosing perfect guests and collaborators. Here, his three vocally indebted tracks feature Frida Sundemo, Grace Hall, Jenny Hval, all of who provide a similar thread on each of their tracks while also giving distinct performances. Sundemo's 'But Isn't It' starts off like a classic ode to Seventies disco, before being submerged into a wave of ambience that hits one with a cold shock, rather than the "chilled out" feel ambience usually provides. This segues into the much darker 'Versatile Dreams' which sends the listener into the darker half of the record.

Grace Hall's soulful vocals are a clear statement of a much more downbeat, later section of the night. Hall has been an excellent collaborator to Lindstrøm before on 2015 single 'Home Tonight', so it's not surprising to find her here, but she is a beacon of light in an otherwise moody and atmospheric track. Later on Hval, a recent Norwegian break-out artist herself, delivers her trademark spoken word poetry over the most sinister and disorientating track of the record, before ceding into finale 'Under Trees' which sounds rather like a warped remix of Radiohead's 'Everything in its Right Place'.

Overall, It's Alright Between Us As It Is is yet another solid entry into Lindstrøm's discography. It doesn't re-invent the wheel in terms of genre or what we expect of the Norwegian producer, but it just keeps things ticking along with exciting and unexpected flourishes at every turn, something he has continuously managed throughout his career. His ability to keep a coherent sound over what are often essentially 50-plus minute pieces and not be monotonous is fairly astounding, knowing exactly when to pull the trigger in terms of building tension and release in his material. Given this success, there's every chance Lindstrøm will join his countrymen in Terje and Hval in getting a much wider audience here.
Adam Turner-Heffer / Drowned In Sound