Reviews

JAMISON ROSS; Jamison (Concord)

Thursday, 30 July 2015 18:51 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

jrAn alumnus of Florida State University, Jamison Ross' name should be well known to jazz buffs. You see, in 2012 he won the much-publicised, highly-coveted Thelonius Monk Jazz drummer award. Yet when he came to record this, his first album, he decided that the set wouldn't just feature his drumming. The Jazz Master (Ross has just been awarded an MA in jazz studies by New Orleans University) took the decision to sing too. He says it was no snap decision, adding that he'd always been a singer as well as a drummer. Indeed, growing up in Jacksonville, he was a key member of the gospel choir in his grandfather's church and he's regularly cited singing drummer Grady Tate as one of his big influences. However, maybe, the recent runaway success of Gregory Porter played a part too because the soundscape on this debut isn't a million miles away from the sonics that Porter and his team capture. That's not to say that Jamison Ross sings like Gregory Porter. On the contrary, his voice is texturally very different.... lighter and a little more flexible but it possesses the same emotive and soulful qualities and the tunes on which he chooses to display his vocal talent have similar soul/jazz credentials to Porter's music.

Hear that sonic similarity from the start. The opener, a cover of, Muddy Water's 'Deep Down In Florida' has the same musical density as Porter's work and the bumpy, funky cut is a great way to introduce yourself to the record buying public. Much more delicate is Ross' treatment of Carmen Lundy's 'These Things You Are To Me' (Ross was, for some years, the drummer in the diva's road band) while 'Sack Full Of Dreams' is Ross' homage to the aforementioned Grady Tate. Another of the vocal highlights is the two part version of the jazz standard 'Bye Bye Blues'. This was actually the tune that won Ross his 2012 award and here the first part features the bluesy piano of Jonathan Batiste while the second part develops into a New Orleans funerary march enlivened by Rick Lollar's wailing guitar.

The album's instrumental highlight is a cover of Cedar Walton's 'Martha's Prize'. Here the piano part comes courtesy of Chris Pattishall but the big attraction is the horn playing; Dayve Stewart's tenor and Alphonso Horne's trumpet. Being a drummer Ross offers a drum solo – a big part of an interlude intriguingly title 'Jazz' but it's going to be the vocal cuts that provoke the interest in this intriguing debut.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 18:57

 

TRACY HAMLIN: No Limits (Expansion)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 14:39 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

no_limits'No Limits' is Baltimore soulstress, Tracy Hamlin's fourth long player as a soloist. She previously worked, of course, with the Jasper Street Co. and Pieces of a Dream. 'No Limits' was heralded by the soul chart topping single 'Standby'. Avid soul followers will know (and love) the tune by now. With a big production, it rides a great finger, clicking old school soul groove and though it's good, it not the only goodie on the 14 tracker.

For starters try the LP's title track. It possesses an insistent, contemporary groove but when you get to the hook you know that (like most of the album) Ms Hamlin's roots are firmly in old school. I'm guessing though that inveterate sleeve/credit readers will go straight to the two tunes on the album which feature connoisseurs' hero Frank McComb. Mr. Mc first crops up on the sensual 'Plans For Two'. Here he adds his signature Fender Rhodes to his own lazy, laid back song on which there's a definite Anita Baker/jazz undertow. On 'My Good Day' Frank goes one further and adds his distinctive vocal to what is a real album standout. The LP's other biggie is the driven 'I Love Soul Music'. It's a sentiment that we all agree with of course but Tracy's delivery shows why we do. The song obliquely references 'Dancing In The Street' while one of the lines sums up Tracy's mission statement as presented on the album: "just a little bit of old and a little bit of new"!

Elsewhere there's a great cover of Webster Lewis's 'Emotion', a tender ballad, 'One Day In Your Life' (not the Jacko song) and a loose n' funky 'Same Song'. Die hard soul fans might feel that 'Forever With You' veers just a little too much to the middle of the road (one of those big Whitney style ballads) while the less adventurous may baulk at 'Cover Me' in both offered versions. They may prove minor irritations and they're more than made up for by the rest of the set. Like the lady said: "just a little bit of old and a little bit of new"!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 July 2015 14:50

 

VARIOUS: Groove With A Feeling (BGP)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015 18:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

groove-with--feelingUK reissue specialist Ace Records has, over the years, done sterling work supplying lovers of Southern soul music with plenty of rare, archive material. Their latest compilation in that area is this 19 tracker on their BGP imprint which focuses on the output of Memphis studio, Sounds Of Memphis. The studio was built by entrepreneur Gene Lucchesi with the profits of his novelty hit 'Woolly Bully' by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs. At first Lucchesi leased out most of his productions but in 1970 MGM (who'd issued 'Woolly Bully') suggested that there be a Sounds Of Memphis label in its own right. In time the label issued some great soul sides on people like Spencer Wiggins and The Ovations and Ace/Kent/BGP have reissued much of that material.

This new collection brings together 19 Sounds Of Memphis recordings from the 1975-1985 period – an era in which it was becoming more and more difficult for indie labels to survive. Sounds of Memphis kept going by tapping into the pool of talent that Memphis seemed to effortlessly produce and to focus on the kind of music that they knew they could do best. Disco and rock weren't for them; rather, label bosses kept things simple – soulful and funky and to describe the music here we could add to those adjectives, "basic" and "rustic". Cleverer writers than this reviewer would probably use "boogie funk" as the catch all for what's on offer here.

Little known artists like Erma Shaw, Donald O'Connor and Freedom Express work on items that are earthy and down home. Heavy bass lines and punchy brass help deliver the message in the music and it's clear that Sounds Of Memphis (like many indies) had its own distinct sound. That said there are a number of oddities. First up a great cover of the Spinner's 'I'll Be Around' which is heavier and "different" to the very special original. Then there's a version of Isaac Hayes' 'Do Your Thing' from an artist who even the Ace/BGP detectives couldn't indentify from label archives. Whoever the "unknown artist" is he does a great job. Oddest of the odd though is a bizarre version of 'Auld Lang Syne'. Here it's called 'New Lang Syne' and it's as good/bad as that title suggests! What it also does though (like everything here) is to show that there was plenty of musical life in Memphis after the demise of Stax.

(BB) 3/5

 

KENYON CARTER; Game On (Curve Point)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015 18:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

GameOnCover_SQ-e1436993308900Kenyon Carter is a US smooth jazz sax man and 'Game On' is his third full album. That he's created three long players at all is a measure of the man's tenacity and determination to succeed in a career that he loves. You see, several years back Carter was involved in a serious car crash. His right arm was severely damaged but through eight months therapy, which involved the use of a special bionic glove, the saxophonist found the ability to play again. At first he found it hard to face the public and choose to teach instead but slowly he found the strength to perform and record and two successful long players ('Right By My Side' and 'Songs For My Father') brought him renewed confidence.

That confidence is clearly evident in this new album which is named for the up-tempo, buoyant title track. 'Game On' is a pacey, soul groove enhanced by spirited guitar courtesy of special guest Chuck Loeb. Readers of a certain vintage may well be reminded of prime time Crusaders. That Crusaders feel is also evident on the looser, almost funky 'Jammin' On Juniper'.

Elsewhere on the self-produced album there are plenty of mellow summer grooves. Tunes like 'Wine On Eight' and 'Just A Smile' create a vibe that's perfect for those lazy summer days (let's hope we get some to enjoy!) Quiet Storm fans will delight in 'Lights Down Low' and 'In This Moment' and, yes, they will be categorised "smooth", but like the rest of the album they're never bland. Carter's determination to win through sees to that.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 18:52

 

TAVARES: Check It Out (Caroline)

Monday, 27 July 2015 11:01 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

tavTavares began their pro music odyssey as "Chubby and the Turnpikes" and under that moniker the New England brothers cut a couple of singles for Juggy Murray's Sue/Crackerjack label. The singles were eventually licensed to Capitol. In 1973 Capitol renewed their interest in the group (now sensibly using the family surname) after guitarist Robert Bowles took the tune he'd recorded with the boys to the major. Said tune was a reworking of the Friends of Distinction's 'Check It Out' and when Capitol released it, it quickly climbed both the R&B and pop charts.

On the strength of the hit Capitol needed a Tavares album and Motown veteran Johnny Bristol was brought in to produce. The subsequent album, named for that debut hit, has just won reissue via Caroline/Soul Music and the 11 tracker (the reissue offers one bonus cut) is a master class in sweet soul harmony.

'Check It Out' still sounds superb and like all good covers is different to the original. Interestingly lead vocal on the cut comes from Victor Tavares – not a regular group member. He came to the recording to replace Chubby who was hospitalised at the time of recording and though Victor does a great job he doesn't even get a name check on the original album credits!

Amongst the other album highlights are a great version of Lambert and Potter's 'Mama's Little Girl' (originally recorded by dear old Dusty Springfield) and Johnny Bristol's own 'Strangers In Dark Corners'.

Capitol spared no expense for the album allowing Bristol to use an A team of session players – James Gadson, Dean Parks, Wahwah Ragin, Joe Sample, Wilton Felder and a certain James Jamerson amongst them. Little wonder everything's slick and polished and smooth and sophisticated but the brothers' vocals keep everything rooted in soulsville.

Tavares, of course, went on to become consistent hit makers and they still tour today. Indeed your reviewer caught 'em a few years back on the same bill as the 4Tops and the Temptations, and for energy and enjoyment they put the Tops and the Tempts in the shade.... and they even sang 'Check It Out'!

(BB) 4/5

 

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