Reviews

TRISTAN; Full Power (Isolde)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 19:40 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

TRISTAN_albumartTristan is a Dutch soul band and they've been in business since 2003 yet 'Full Power' is only their second full album. The years between releases have clearly helped the group to hone and polish their sound because what they offer on 'Full Power' is a sophisticated cocktail of soul based flavours that has hints of Incognito, the Brand New Heavies, Swing Out Sister and even Tower of Power.

The current line up is: Lead & Backing Vocals: Evelyn Kallansee, Drums: Sebastiaan Cornelissen, Bass; Frans Vollink, Keys: Coen Molenaar, Guitars: Thomas Bekhuis, Percussion: Martin Gort and between them they cook up a quite beguiling soulful/jazzy sound at its best on the LP's two opening cuts – the catchy builder that is 'Keep On' and the busy, bustling 'Moontune'... foot tappers and head nodders both. 'Step Into The Bright Light' and 'Odds To Win' are two more great soul grooves – worth checking out by the more sophisticated and more discerning of the modern soul crew.

Don't think though that 'Full Power' is all about fuel for the feet. Tristan offer much more than that. On the album's title cut, for instance, the band really stretch out on a loose, jazzy ramble, while on the instrumental 'Skip This' they dip their brushes into a Caribbean palette.

The album boasts a brace of great ballads too – 'Butterfly' and 'New Beginning'. The former in particular impressed and reminded me of the sunshine pop/soul peddled in the 60s by groups like the Fifth Dimension and The Friends of Distinction with maybe a side order of Rotary Connection. Clearly Tristan know their soul heritage – but they're not precious with it. They make a 21st century music with a European flavour – but a music that has its roots in soul's rich and varied heritage. .. little wonder that Jazz FM made 'Full Power' album of the week.

Watch out for an in-depth interview with Tristan very soon.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 19:47

 

ESTHER PHILLIPS: ‘From A Whisper To A Scream’ (Soul Music Records)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 16:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Esther_WhisperEsther Phillips scored her biggest hits when she was a teenage R&B sensation known as 'Little Esther' in the early 1950s but in truth she didn't make her most meaningful and personal music until she was much older. A stint at Atlantic in the 1960s yielded an R&B chart-topper (Phillips' uniquely plaintive interpretation of the country song, 'Release Me,' which Engelbert Humperdinck later purloined) but it wasn't until the Galveston singer arrived at Creed Taylor's C.T.I. label in 1971 that she hit her richest vein of form. C.T.I. was ostensibly established as a jazz label but Taylor set up a subsidiary imprint called Kudu to cater for more R&B-tinged music and signed Phillips to it along with saxophonists Hank Crawford and Grover Washington Jr. Phillips, who'd had her fair share of travails by then (she had been a drug addict for many years) was only 36 at the time but her distinctive voice was shaded by sorrow and a heavy-hearted, world-weary tinge. It's that quality that invests her work with such a haunting poignancy and powerful emotional honesty - and it can be found in abundance on her Kudu debut, 'From A Whisper To A Scream,'  which is now reissued with four bonus tracks by Soul Music Records.

Deemed a soul-jazz-blues classic, 'From A Whisper To A Scream,' is considered by many (this writer included) to represent Esther Phillips' most satisfying and cohesive work. With Creed Taylor at the helm plus arrangements by Don Sebesky and Pee Wee Ellis as well as featuring the cream of the early '70s New York session mafia (Eric Gale, Cornell Dupree, Gordon Edwards, Bernard Purdie, Richard Tee et al), the album kicks off with Phillips' inimitable take on Gil Scott-Heron's junkie confessional, 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is.' David Nathan's insightful liner notes reveal that the singer was initially reluctant to perform the tune because it reflected her own battle with drug addiction and she felt that "singing the song was just like being interviewed in public." Luckily for us, Phillips acquiesced and delivered what is arguably the definitive performance of her career. It's harrowing to listen to but vivid and compelling.  The rest of the album is just as strong and standouts include a soulful reconfiguration of Allen Toussaint's 'From A Whisper To A Scream,' the piquant blues-funk of ''Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone,' and great version of Marvin Gaye's 'Baby, I'm For Real,' which was a hit for Motown group, The Originals, in 1969.

Appended to the original album is a quartet of bonus cuts that were outtakes from the original sessions. 'How Blue Can You Get' is a slow, sensual blues while the jaunty Carole King-penned 'Brother, Brother' is sweetly soulful. Phillips' consummate expertise as a ballad singer is spotlighted on the slow, mournful 'Don't Run To Him' and the dreamy 'A Beautiful Friendship.'

They cap off what is a CD of extraordinary performances from one of the most unique voices in soul and jazz.

(CW) 4/5

 

GWEN McCRAE: ‘Funky Sensation’ (bbr)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Gwen_McCrae_1Gospel-reared Florida singer Gwen McCrae first came to the attention of the wider US public with her Columbia R&B hit, 'Lead Me On,' in 1970 but it was at Henry Stone's Miami-based Cat imprint (a subsidiary of his TK label) a few years later that she made an even bigger impact with a clutch of memorable singles that included the anthemic R&B chart-topper and Grammy nominated 'Rockin' Chair' in 1975. When the '80s began McCrae was experiencing hard times - she was in the throes of an acrimonious divorce from husband and fellow hit-maker, George, and she'd broken ties, too, with her Floridian record company. Furthermore, she hadn't scored a hit since '76 but after joining forces with Atlantic Records in '81, she was back in the charts again with 'Funky Sensation,' lifted from her eponymous debut LP for Ahmet Ertegun's label. While McCrae's recordings for Cat epitomised the earthiness of Miami soul, her first Atlantic LP had a more urbane aura - thanks to the input of Kenton Nix, an aspiring young producer/songwriter who had experienced some success with artists on the Big Apple disco label, Westside.

With Nix at the helm, McCrae changed musical direction and delivered something fresh and funky that was in sync with the early '80s zeitgeist. The hit single, 'Funky Sensation,' a prime slab of post-disco boogie, is the album's keystone with its addictive beat, muscular bass line, and infectious chorus. The sensational 'Poyson' digs into an even deeper funk groove and gives the sensual McCrae free rein to deliver some terrific gospel riffing. 'Feels So Good' is also a strong dancer while the latter half of the album (side two of the original vinyl LP) finds the Pensacola-born singer demonstrating what an expressive and soulful balladeer she is on bluesy slow jams such as 'All My Love,' 'Stood The Test' and the truly haunting 'Do You Wanna Be Mine.' The cod-reggae tropical vibe of 'No Deposit/No Return' doesn't quite hit the spot but 'Have A Good Time' is a dancer with a churchy feel that allows McCrae to indulge in some testifying vocals. The chanteuse is conspicuous by her absence on the album's short coda, the percussion-laden 'Movement,' which functions as a slightly indulgent vehicle for Kenton Mix's production prowess.

This expanded bbr reissue includes the 7-inch single mixes of 'Funky Sensation' and 'Poyson' but best of all it features a stupendous, previously unreleased, extended remix of 'Funky Sensation' which highlights the track's driving bass line. To sum up, this is a must-have for connoisseurs of rare groove - and let's hope the label will reissue Ms. McCrae's second and final Atlantic, 'On My Way,' as well.

(CW) 4/5

 

VARIOUS: Strange Breaks And Mr Thing III (bbe)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 15:21 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

thingThe small UK-based bbe label (barely breaking even) does a great job. Not only does the label unearth new and quirky talent, it also issues plenty of rare and vintage soul, jazz and funk – either by single artists sets of via some inspired compilations put together by some of the world's best crate diggers and 'Strange Breaks And Mr Thing III' is one such collection.

The Mr Thing in the title is one of the country's top hip-hop DJs and producers. He's been at the job since 1987 and knows a thing or two about his craft. Therefore the bbe boys have tasked him to compile a collection that brings together some rare old tunes that, over the years, have been sampled, rifled and plundered by the hip-hop brigade. Mr T has delivered a 2 CD set which has a continuous mix on disc 1; while the second CD has the cuts unmixed.... take your pick.

Not too many well-known names on the set. Most familiar to me was Chuck Jackson who weighs in with the catchy 'Candy', guitarist David T Walker who offers his version of 'Lay lady Lay' and ex Faith Hope and Charity vocalist, Zulema who contributes a discofied but still tortured cover of 'Giving Up'.

As we often say, though, it's the really obscure tracks that bring the pleasure on albums like this. None more obscure on this compilation that the main title theme to the TV cop show 'The Sweeney' - here in a version by (wait for it) The Woolwich Polytechnic School Concert Band. Mr Thing mixes it into a sweeping soul dancer from the Capprells, 'Close Your Eyes' which then morphs into 'Nature Boy' from Sharon Cash. ... and though you know it shouldn't, it actually works. Yep, odd and quirky but strangely affecting, like the whole set in fact. Find out more @ www.bbemusic.com

(BB) 3/5

 

THE KUTI MANGOES; Afro Fire (Tramp Records)

Monday, 21 April 2014 18:17 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

kutiThe oddly named Kuti Mangoes are a mixed race sextet operating out of Germany. Their music – led by Michael Blicher's baritone sax – is a swinging mix of jazz and afro beat, typified by the album's big opener, 'Fire'. It's totally infectious and enhanced by shouts, scat and chants from Burkina Faso vocalist Patrick Kabre. There's also a crazy trombone that has the magical timbre of the late Wayne Henderson. I defy you to keep your feet still. The tune is offered again at the end in a remix version which if anything is even more of a foot tapper. There's more heat for thee feet on 'Something Yellow' and the flute-led 'Song For Fela'.

'Feeling Good' is a great jazz groove too – but a whole lot cooler while 'Pass It On' is the set's catchiest moment, featuring an insidious little brass fill. Another highlight is a funky cover of Charles Mingus' 'Moanin' and if you're looking for a 60's style jazz ballad try 'Slowly'... totally captivating.

Throughout, it's hard to accept that the Kuti Mangoes are a six piece. Their music is so big, bold and bright you'd be forgiven for thinking that there was full afro-orchestra in the studio. If afro-centric jazz does it for you, the Mangoes deserve checking out. Do so @ www.tramprecords.com

(BB) 3/5

 

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