Monday, 19 October 2020

VA ‎– Blue Note Re:imagined 2020 (Deluxe Editon) (2020)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Blue Note

01.   Jorja Smith - Rose Rouge 
02.   Ezra Collective - Footprints 
03.   Poppy Ajudha - Watermelon Man (Under The Sun) 
04.   Jordan Rakei - Wind Parade 
05.   Skinny Pelembe - Illusion (Silly Apparition) 
06.   Alfa Mist - Galaxy 
07.   Ishmael Ensemble - Search For Peace 
08.   Nubya Garcia - A Shade Of Jade 
09.   Steam Down;Afronaut Zu - Etcetera (feat. Afronaut Zu)
10.   Blue Lab Beats - Montara 
11.   Yazmin Lacey - I'll Never Stop Loving You 
12.   Fieh - Armageddon
13.   Mr Jukes - Maiden Voyage
14.   Shabaka Hutchings - Prints Tie
15.   Melt Yourself Down - Caribbean Fire Dance
16.   Emma-Jean Thackray - Speak No Evil (Night Dreamer)
Bonus track:
17.   Kan Sano - Think Twice

Ah, Blue Note – hallowed home of hard bop, trove of smokin’ classics by Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver… But, of course, some 21st-century music fans know different: it’s also the label of St Germain’s four million-selling, sample-packed Tourist or the hip-hop and cut-ups of Us 3’s Hand on the Torch (2.5 million sales).

It is at these listeners that Blue Note Re:Imagined is aimed, just like the often weird, occasionally wonderful Verve Remixed series or Madlib’s Shades of Blue. Purists look away now.

The opener is a soulful take on St Germain’s Rose Rouge (“I want you to get together, put your hands together one time”) by the Walsall-born Jorja Smith. All the artists here are young-ish British talents – a recognition and celebration of the new UK jazz generation. Smith loses some of the spooky urgency of the original but creates something that’s more a song, less a disembodied bunch of samples.

There is though vintage Blue Note too – some pretty faithfully interpreted, others close to unrecognisable, where a hook or a phrase becomes a launch pad for an altogether different story. The artists here have absorbed grime, afro-swing, hip-hop and broken beats and have myriad studio tools at their disposal unknown to their analogue elders.

Ezra Collective stay close to Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. The tune sounds a little more relaxed, as if its feet are up on the porch, drink in hand, as sundown comes. The piano solo from Joe Armon-Jones doesn’t sound at all shabby compared with Herbie Hancock’s eloquent original. Likewise, Nubya Garcia opts for a funk backbeat but doesn’t tinker with Joe Henderson’s A Shade of Jade. Playing clarinet, Shabaka Hutchings fashions a typically ear-catching solo as he retains the singular character of Bobby Hutcherson’s Prints Tie – the closest Blue Note ever came to the sound of Seventies krautrock.

Of the re-inventors, Skinny Pelembe takes Andrew Hill’s Illusion into an electro hall of mirrors. Watermelon Man becomes a polished but very different R&B song from Poppy Ajudha. Its new lyrics belie the sunny feel of Hancock’s original and address historic American racism. Emma-Jean Thackray neatly melds two Shorter classics – Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer – though with its boom-tish beats and long mellow keyboard outing it begins to sound more like a Bugge Wesseltoft tribute.

For some heritage-loving jazzers and Wynton Marsalis sympathisers, this whole vault-raiding exercise will be sacrilege. By contrast, some young R&B fans will just hear a bunch of clubbable tunes unaware who wrote the chords. Some of Blue Note Re:Imagined‘s supposed updates will vanish long before the originals fade and the results often aren’t “jazz” – but the spirit of adventure and imagination in a good number most definitely is.
John Bungey / London Jazz News

SEED ENSEMBLE‎– Driftglass (2019)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Jazz Re:freshed 

1.   The Darkies
2.   Afronaut
3.   Stargaze #1: KATIN
4.   The Dream Keeper
5.   WAKE (For Grenfell)
6.   Stargaze #2: LAU
7.   Mirrors
8.   Interplanetary Migration

Producer – Jason Yarde
Lyrics By – Langston Hughes
Double Bass – Rio Kai
Drums – Patrick Boyle
Guitar – Shirley Tetteh
Trombone – Joe Bristow
Tuba – Theon Cross
Trumpet – Miguel Gorodi, Sheila Maurice-Grey
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Chelsea Carmichael
Piano, Electric Piano – Joe Armon-Jones, Sarah Tandy
Alto Saxophone, Composed By, Sleeve Notes – Cassie Kinoshi 

From altoist and sometime Nerija frontliner Kinoshi comes this big, joyous project featuring a host of luminaries from the  hipper end of  the young London scene. Kinoshi favours big brass fanfares over hypnotic bass ostinatos, beats drawn from club culture as much as from jazz, and an energetic, freewheeling approach to collective improvisation  occasionally reminiscent of the Mingus bands. Opener ‘The Darkies’ sets out the stall - powerful chords from the massed horns, a pumping groove from the excellent Patrick Boyle, spirited solos from Miguel Gorodi’s trumpet and Theon Cross’ tuba, interspersed with comments from the lushly arranged woodwinds, all presented with a title that highlight’s Kinoshi’s engagement with contemporary political issues.

Elsewhere titles like ‘Stargaze#1’ and ‘Interplanetary Migration’ evoke images of afro-futurism, but the overall sound is closer to Gil Evans’ hip modernism as filtered through the soundtracks of 70s cinema than Sun Ra;  ‘Afronaut’ matches the retro vibes of wah-wah guitar and reverb-heavy rhodes  (from the virtuosic Sarah Tandy) with poetess Xana’s thoroughly contemporary London voice recounting tower-block tales of being “the only Afronaut brought up on Desmond’s”.  ‘Wake’ comments on the shameful tragedy of the Grenfell fire, expressed via a group chant of a Langston Hughes quote and a soulful vocal from Cherise Adams-Burnett, ‘The Dream Keeper’ has a standout conversation between Boyle and pianist Joe Armon-Jones; ‘Mirrors’ has a typically flowing and inventive solo from guitarist Tetteh and a beautifully structured contribution from Chelsea Carmicheal;  trombonist Joe Bristow has plenty to say on ‘Interplanetary Migration’.

Throughout Kinoshi deploys the array of talent at her disposal effectively; a mix of  creative arrangements and heartfelt jazz blowing  is tempered with the distinctly downhome South London voices of Xana and Mr Eskow so that this album feels like a showcase for her contemporaries’ talent as well as a distinctive statement of identity in its own right. This is a powerfully coherent document of an important strand of UK contemporary jazz that’s also a lot of fun to listen to.  Highly recommended. 
Eddie Myer / Jazz News

Robert Wyatt ‎– Dondestan (1991)

Style: Art Rock, Jazz-Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Hannibal Records, Rough Trade

01.   Costa
02.   The Sight Of The Wind
03.   Catholic Architecture
04.   Worship
05.   Shrinkrap
06.   CP Jeebies
07.   Left On Man
08.   Lisp Service
09.   N.I.O. (New Information Service)
10.   Dondestan

Lyrics By – Alfreda Benge , Robert W
Acoustic Guitar, Melodica, Vocals, Keyboards, Piano, Percussion – Robert Wyatt

By the early 90's, Wyatt had become a fixture of the underground, pilling up the albums of equal quality and political caliber since Rock Bottom. With Dondestan (Wher'ryou?), he seems to be a tad more inspired and a little subtler in his political rants (here, penned by wifie Alfie). With a very static drawing gracing the cover (a bit reminiscent of RISTR), this is very obviously the couple at a seaside resort in Spain, where they resided for a few years. Music-wise, Wyatt still hasn't changed his style, the songs being depressive and full of KB layers that would be dronal if they weren't binary (two notes). The song themes seem to be axed onto religion, more than actual politics, and if the accordion has disappeared, harmonica (or a melodica? Difficult to say) pops in for an odd solo (Jeebies), but early on in the album, there is not that much to rejoice upon, as it sounds more of the same, but slightly updated.

However, unlike the previous albums, there are some experiments like the weird Shrinkrap, with a highly synthetic beat and a weird oddball piano (in its bass register) providing some humor and entertainment. Some of the latter tracks in the album are combined, like Left On Man and Lisp Service (the latter in collab with Hugh Hopper) and make for an interesting moment and even a slight nod at Matching Mole or Rock Bottom. The next combo is the 11-min+ NIO/Dondestan, where Robert upheaves the UK's order over a low Canterbury-esque organ, before going nutty with an absurd piano and crazy percussions in the title track, in a very burlesque almost Daevid-ian way, before the organ comes back for a slow death. .

While Dondestan is in the rough average of Wyatt albums and an improvement on recent history of his, due to a much stronger second half of the album, but it's definitely not enough to raise the album above the floating line. Prefer this one over OR, but certainly not over Shleep.
Sean Trane / Jazz Music Archives

Little Dragon ‎– Season High (2017)

Genre: Electronic, Funk / Soul, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Because Music, Loma Vista

01.   Celebrate
02.   High
03.   The Pop Life
04.   Sweet
05.   Butterflies
06.   Should I
07.   Don't Cry
08.   Strobe Light
09.   Push
10.   Gravity

Vocals – Yukimi Nagano
Keyboards – Håkan Wirenstrand
Keyboards, Bass – Fred Wallin
Keyboards, Drums – Erik Bodin
Producer, Written-By, Photography By – Little Dragon

You could be forgiven for expecting Little Dragon’s fifth album to sound kind of strained. When the Swedish electro crew announced ‘Season High’, their follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated ‘Nabuma Rubberband’, they didn’t exactly gush about the creative process. “We’re four strong wills who find it really frustrating to co mpromise,” singer Yukimi Nagano said. “We’ve gotten better at that, but it’s still a real battle. It gets harder and harder for us to make records, but we still love it.”

So it’s a pleasant surprise to report that ‘Season High’ actually feels pretty effortless. Produced by the Gothenburg four-piece with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, this is a fresh and inventive electropop record with a healthy disregard for current chart trends. There are no painful attempts to incorporate tropical house, and when you expect a chorus, you always get a chorus – not a trendy, Major Lazer-style drop.

Fittingly for an album that contains a song called ‘The Pop Life’, Little Dragon really bring the hooks here. With its refrain of “let love drip”, ‘Celebrate’ is a sexy blend of Prince and ’80s Janet Jackson. ‘Should I’, a midtempo electro rush, comes off like a freaky Pet Shop Boys-Neneh Cherry mash-up. And the breathy dance-pop of ‘Sweet’ is so cute and catchy, it could almost be a more experimental Kylie Minogue hit.

In fact, Little Dragon only really falter when their songwriting loses its pop focus. The offbeat electronica of ‘Butterflies’ spreads its musical ideas a little too thin, while final track ‘Gravity’ meanders towards the end of its seven-minute runtime. Yet those self-indulgent moments don’t kill the vibe.

This is an album that delivers both mood and melody, thanks in no small part to Nagano. Whether she’s whispering “it’s your birthday” suggestively on ‘Celebrate’, or asking a lover to “roll another one for me” on ‘High’, she’s a compelling presence who really sells her band’s sleek and sophisticated tunes.
Nick Levine / NME