Wednesday, 21 May 2008 15:05 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


After eight years with Jive Records, SYLEENA JOHNSON is about to launch her own label - Aneelys Records (Syleena backwards, get it?). First product on the label will be the soulful lady's newest album - 'Chapter 4: Labour Pains' . Pencilled in for release on September 2nd , 2008 - SYLEENA'S birthday, by the way, the album celebrates the fact that she's become a wife and mother. "My husband is an excellent man, I couldn't ask for a better one and my son is my best work yet," Syleena says. Naturally, this experience lent a hand in Syleena writing 'Chapter 4: Labour Pains', as she describes the pain of having a baby as the worst pain in life, but rewarding in the end. Syleena's life principle is that you reap what you sow: "Nothing good comes easy. All the struggle, strife, work and pain we go through, that's the price you have to pay to reap the benefits in the end." First single from the set is the deeply soulful 'It Is True.' The cut's a heavenly love ballad about new found, true love with her husband and the product of that love. Enthusiastic SYLEENA adds : "It is everything I felt about my husband when we first met, and now the love of my son follows suit." 'Is it True' and 'Chapter 4: Labour Pains' will be available on Aneelys Records (via Federal/Universal Music Group) from September. For more information go to



Tuesday, 20 May 2008 11:52 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Four mouth-watering themed jazz compilations from Blue Note Records are about to the hit the shops. Each 2-CD set in the 'BLUE NOTE EXPLOSION' series was compiled by renowned DJ and groove spotter, Dean Rudland, who digs deep into the vaults of the Big Apple-based label that German-Jewish émigrés Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff established in 1939.
The first set in the series, 'AFRICAN RHYTHMS,' explores Blue Note jazz influenced by the 'motherland' - featured artists include the redoubtable Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter and Jackie McLean. By contrast, 'NEW YORK IS OUR HOME' focuses on the practitioners of '50s and '60s Big Apple hard bop while 'THE FUNK JAZZ BROTHERS' is devoted to funkafied soul-jazz grooves from the likes of Jack McDuff, Ronnie Foster, Grant Green and Lou Donaldson. The final set in this commendable series is 'ON THE CORNER,' a 2-CD snapshot of Blue Note's fusion exponents with tracks from Bobby Hutcherson (his jazz take on The Stylistics' 'People Make The World Go Round'), Alphonse Mouzon, Donald Byrd, Bobby Humphrey and Eddie Henderson. Whatever your favourite tipple is jazz-wise, one of these collections is bound to satisfy your needs. Release date is June 2nd.

That's not all from Blue Note. Preceding the above compilations is a set of five limited edition titles in the label's ongoing Connoisseur series, released on May 26th. Perhaps the rarest and most coveted is a CD containing two obscure big band albums by trumpeter ART FARMER, entitled 'Brass Shout' and 'Aztec Suite,' which were originally released on United Artists in 1959. Also available is 'Return Of The Prodigal Son' by tenor titan, STANLEY TURRENTINE; 'Head On,' an abstract, exploratory 1971 session by vibraphonist, BOBBY HUTCHERSON; 'Smithville,' a sterling hard bop session from horn man, LOUIS SMITH; and a self-titled set from GIL GULLER and the MONTEREY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA featuring DIZZY GILLESPIE & JAMES MOODY.

Looking to the future, another raft of RVG reissues is expected in September from Blue Note, among them two sought-after HANK MOBLEY titles.



Sunday, 18 May 2008 14:55 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


As part of an ongoing and enduring soul tradition indie soulstress AVIS HARRELL has just released a new single dedicated to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'I'll Be Here When You Return' is a smooth mid-tempo ballad that originally surfaced as 'Wish You Were Here With Me' which Avis recorded back in the Vietnam era as part of THE FAWNS. The song tells the story of a young woman's devotion to her lover who is fighting overseas and it's already winning airplay Stateside. Now a well-respected artist in the Los Angeles area, AVIS is maybe best remembered for her two and half year stint as a member of RAY CHARLES' RAELETS. The single is currently available at , along with the lady's self-produced debut solo album 'Self Contained'. For more details go to


Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2008 - An Overview

Tuesday, 13 May 2008 13:28 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2008 - An Overview

There's no doubt about it - the annual jazz festival at Cheltenham Spa (which is in its twelfth year) is undoubtedly one of the best the UK has to offer. In previous years, the festival has always achieved the right balance between commercial, mainstream acts and practitioners of the avant-garde and cutting-edge jazz. This year was no exception, with the likes of singers Van Morrison and Ruby Turner rubbing shoulders with innovative instrumentalists such as Bill Frisell, Ralph Alessi and Ravi Coltrane. Indeed, it was the festival's sense of variety that made it such an enjoyable and rewarding event.
A rare UK performance by chanteuse-cum-purring-sex-kitten, EARTHA KITT, opened the festival at the Centaur venue on Cheltenham's racecourse. Sadly, prior commitments prevented from witnessing it, though from all accounts, the 81-year-old diva's performance sizzled with feline sensuality. We did get to see, however, that redoubtable purveyor of Celtic soul, the great VAN MORRISON, whose superb, two-hour-long set was jazzier than his usual fare. Indeed, the Belfast-born R&B troubadour played alto sax on several numbers and regaled the audience with a selection of new tracks (from his current album 'Keep It Simple') and old favourites. Among the latter was a tremendously vibrant, finger-clicking version of the classic 'Moondance,' a wistful reading of' Tupelo Honey' and a rousing rendering of the old Them '60s number, 'Gloria,' which brought the show to a combustible climax. Backed by a fine 10-piece band and sporting his trademark trilby and opaque shades, Morrison was in fine form vocally - surprisingly, perhaps, he was in a self-deprecating mood and even cracked a few jokes at his own expense, though they were largely lost on an audience who had probably bought into the rock press myth of Morrison being a humourless curmudgeon. While Van The Man's unique amalgam of R&B, jazz, rock and folk enthralled The Centaur audience, down the road at the Town Hall, saxophonist COURTNEY PINE wowed onlookers with his homage to the soprano saxophone pioneer, Sidney Bechet.
The next night, Thursday, ex-James Brown sideman and P-Funk alumnus, MACEO PARKER, tore the roof off the Town Hall with an incendiary mix of sax-led get-down party funk and soul. His band included British trombone player, Dennis Rollins - whose slippery solos were uncannily reminiscent of Fred Wesley - and ex-James Brown singer, Martha High. Maceo's set included elongated versions of the old JB's classics 'Pass The Peas' and 'Gimme Some More.'
The following day - Friday - witnessed a performance at the Everyman Theatre by former Specials' keyboard player, JERRY DAMMERS, and his Spatial AKA Orchestra. Not far away at the Park Bar, in the University of Gloucestershire, DJ and jazz guru, Gilles Peterson, hosted a night devoted to his Brownswood label. The excellent young American jazz singer, JOSÉ JAMES, was showcased along with pianist, ELAN MEHLER, and soul singer, TAWIAH.
The weekend was packed with many mouth-watering events. The highlight of Saturday night was SOWETO KINCH'S BASEMENT FABLES, where the young British saxophonist fused jazz with hip-hop to stunning effect. Sunday was even better. Legendary drummer JACK DEJOHNETTE - who played on Miles Davis' epochal fusion album, 'Bitches Brew' - did a solo one-hour show at the Everyman Theatre. He started with a mesmeric 20-minute drum solo that began with oriental cymbals being struck in slow succession - after each hit, DeJohnette held a microphone close to each reverberating cymbal to generate eerie harmonic effects. Avant-garde saxophonist RAVI COLTRANE - son of John and Alice Coltrane - joined the drummer as a surprise guest half-way through the show and the two then proceeded to kick up a storm of mind-boggling improvisation.
Over in the Town Hall Pillar Room, another highly-regarded sticks man, BOBBY PREVITE, and his band New Bump (Brad Jones on bass, saxophonist, Ellery Eskelin and vibraphonist, Bill Ware) laid down some searing, edgy grooves that drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.
Shortly afterwards, it was a brisk walk back to the Everyman to catch trumpeter, RALPH ALESSI and his band THIS AGAINST THAT. They were joined by RAVI COLTRANE, and together played a fascinating set of exploratory, cutting-edge jazz. Two hours later, in the same venue, guitar wizard, BILL FRISELL, took to the stage leading an excellent quintet that included two horn players and renowned double bassist, LARRY GRENADIER. Frisell mostly played music from his enterprising new double album, 'History, Mystery,' including a soulful rendering of Sam Cooke's plangent Civil Rights ballad, 'A Change Is Gonna Come.' Pianist ROBERTO FONSECA - who rose to fame playing with the Buena Vista Social Club - and his quintet followed Frisell. The ivory tickler's sultry Cuban grooves took the Cheltenham Jazz Festival deep into the midnight hour.
The next day, Bank Holiday Monday, witnessed the festival closing on an exultant high note thanks to a truly memorable performance from veteran singer CLEO LAINE and her husband, saxophonist, JOHN DANKWORTH. The first half of the concert was devoted to Dankworth and his band, who interspersed fine solo and ensemble playing with humorous spoken asides and anecdotes. Cleo Laine came out to dominate the second half of the show - amazingly, at 80 years old, her voice is still a remarkable instrument and has not yet succumbed to the ravages of time. Indeed, her top notes were flawless in tone and timbre while her scatting was consummately executed. The octogenarian duo left the stage to a standing ovation, bringing down the curtain on what was a satisfying - and at times thrilling - jazz festival. Roll on 2009.




Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Attention all Motown fans! As previously reported, beginning on the 12th of May, London's Victoria & Albert Museum will be hosting an exhibition of costumes that the iconic Motor City trio, The Supremes, wore during the group's heyday in the 1960s. It's entitled 'The Story Of The Supremes From The Mary Wilson Collection' and admission is £5.00.
The clothes on display go right back to the groundbreaking group's early days when they were known as The Primettes. There are plenty of examples, too, of what the group wore once they became famous - there are several dresses designed by the so-called 'Sultan Of Sequins,' Hollywood designer Bob Mackie, as well as the memorable gold, bronze and yellow 'butterfly' outfits the group donned for the cover to their 1969 'Cream Of The Crop' album.
The group's remarkable rise to fame as well as its striking stage imagery is also contextualised in the exhibition, with photos and TV footage relating how The Supremes and the Motown sound helped to change perceptions and dissolve racial barriers during arguably one of the most turbulent times in US history. The group's influence on other girl groups that followed in their wake also comes under the microscope.
All the costumes in the exhibition belong to former Supreme, Mary Wilson, who recently talked to's Charles Waring about the display.

How did that the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition come about?

Well, the Mary Wilson and The Supremes' gown collection is an exhibit that has actually been touring here in the United States for about three years. It started out in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. The Supremes were conducted in 1988 and I started a relationship with them: we just started talking and pretty soon we got the idea that it would be great if they started showing some of my gowns at their museum. So they curated it for me and since that time I've had it at several places here in the States like the L.B.J. Library and Museum (in Texas), the Albany Museum and the Metropolitan Arts Museum in New York. The V&A exhibition is a much more extensive one though. I think we have over 50 gowns in London.

What prompted you to keep and collect the dresses?

Well, because everyone left and I was the last girl left standing! So everything was left to me. I just kept everything and paid the legal and storage fees. I've had all that stuff for years in my garage but I always knew that they were fabulous and that something could be done with them. I just decided when the time was right I would do it. It was such a huge undertaking that it probably took longer to get started than it should have done. If I had the finance earlier, I would have done it years ago. It's very beautiful - some of the gowns we wore on the Ed Sullivan Show, and over there in England when we did the Royal Command Performance. We met the Queen Mother, or the 'Pink Pearls,' as we called her. One of those gowns will be in the exhibit.

What do you think the group's legacy has been?

Well, I certainly think it's far more than singing…it's more a social sort of thing but it's difficult for me to say because it's like asking me to pat myself on the back. I've had friends like Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey who told me that The Supremes inspired them, so that's quite an accomplishment.

Do you think the group helped to break down racial barriers in the United States?

Well, I think we were one of the few, I certainly do. There were far more pioneers out there before us - Sammy Davis Jr and Josephine Baker and people like that - but I do think The Supremes in the '60s helped to change things. We were at that pivotal point when all issues seemed to melt away or became something that we could get beyond. We were definitely one of the visual things of what was a positive and beautiful movement. Someone recently said to me 'perhaps you guys were ambassadors through your music to help bring people together.' So, you know, that could be true, too.

The exhibition runs from 13th May to 15th October. After London, the exhibition goes north to Blackpool (November to March 2009), then back down to Birmingham's Museum & Art Gallery (March to June 2009) before concluding its UK journey at Bristol's The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (July to August 2009).
To coincide with the launch of the exhibition, Universal is releasing a 2-CD tie-in set 'The Story Of The Supremes' on May 12th (look out for a review of it soon at


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