Reviews

SHAKATAK: On The Corner (Secret Records)

Friday, 22 August 2014 19:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

shakatak_otc_jkUK smooth jazzers Shakatak have enjoyed a remarkable longevity. They debuted in the early 80s and have over 50 releases to their credit – all with an easily identifiable sound that is "uniquely Shakatak". For many years now the band's core players (Bill Sharpe, keys; Roger Odell, drums; George Anderson, bass and Jill Saward, vocals) have honed that sound and they enjoy huge international popularity – witnessed by the strong worldwide sales for their last album, 'Once Upon A Time', a collection of their greatest hits presented in new acoustic arrangements.

The legions of fans who bought that last long player will surely buy into this brand new collection which offers 14 brand new tracks all stamped with Shakatak's unique musical trademark. The album's title cut, which opens proceedings, is classic Shakatak – sharp, bright and brimming with optimism. Bill Sharpe's crystalline keys sparkle between Jill Saward's ever precise vocal lines while in the engine room Roger Odell and George Anderson keep it all together seamlessly. There's more of the same on 'The Greatest Gift', 'Deeper' and 'Jazz And Romance' while on 'No Clouds' things are just a touch gentler. 'Sao Paulo Sunshine', as you might well have guessed, is the album's big Latin moment and the set's big ballad is 'To Be In Love'.

'Good Times' is the album's densest cut. It's about as funky as Shakatak will ever get. It's a very polite funk but driven along nicely with some tasty sax from Derek Nash, moonlighting from duties with the Jools Holland Band. Nash is on hand for the dreamy instrumental, 'She's Not Here' which brings the album proper to an end. There are, though, two added "bonus" cuts – a Latin mix of 'On The Corner' and an energized "dance" mix of 'The Greatest Gift' which really does move briskly... it's another classic Shakatak moment amongst many here.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 22 August 2014 19:50

 

ALPHONSE MOUZON: ‘The Man Incognito’ (Soul Brother)

Friday, 22 August 2014 15:41 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Alphonse_sbThis fine reissue slipped through our review net when it was first issued in 2012 but if you're not aware of it, it's well worth investigating. Ex-Weather Report drummer, Mouzon, signed a solo deal with Blue Note in '72 and issued some interesting and varied stuff. Released in '76, this was his fourth and final LP for the label and it reflects the South Carolina musician's shift from jazz-rock (of which he was an early proponent) to a smoother kind of fusion. Mouzon plays a selection of synthesisers as well as drums/percussion and is joined by a stellar line-up of supporting players; George Duke (masquerading as Dawilli Gonga because of record company politics), Tom Scott, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Victor Feldman and David Benoit to name a few. The high calibre of the musicianship really elevates this from other smooth fusion sets from the same timeframe. The opening 'Take Your Troubles Away' is a killer groove with a hint of disco in its DNA and features some blinding sax work from Tom Scott as well as an addictive vocal chorus that's more infectious than Ebola virus. 'Snake Walk' is a scintillating slice of brassy funk as is the strutting, clavinet-driven 'New York City,' the breezy, syncopated 'Without A Reason' and disco-fied 'Mouzon Moves On.' There are some good slower tunes too, including the brilliantly dramatic closer, 'Behind Your Mind.' It's a more exploratory cut with contrasting mood-changes and an epic prog-rock-like chord sequence that allows Mouzon to attack his kit with venom on the track's long fadeout. Brilliant!

(CW) 4/5

 

ESTHER PHILLIPS - ‘Black-Eyed Blues’ and ‘Capricorn Princess’ (Soul Brother)

Friday, 22 August 2014 15:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Esther_sb_2Galveston gal, Esther Phillips, was a teenage R&B sensation in the 1950s (when she went under the name 'Little Esther') but reinvented herself as a raspy-voiced blues/jazz song stylist in the '70s when she joined producer Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint in 1971. The UK's Soul Brother label issued a fine overview of Esther's '70s and '80s years in 2003(titled 'Anthology,' which is still in print) and have now reissued as a 'twofer' the singer's third and seventh albums for Kudu, 'Black-Eyed Blues' and 'Capricorn Princess.'

The former album was first issued in 1973 and opens with a sassy take on Bill Withers' 'Justified' with slick horn charts by Pee Wee Ellis and string arrangements from Bob James. The supporting cast includes jazz stars Ron Carter and Pepper Adams, who bring an element of class and sophistication to the proceedings. The title track is another highlight, Esther's stunning take on a tune that Joe Cocker co-wrote, which rides on a slow-burning funk groove. There are some fine ballads, too, including a passionate rendering of the Carolyn Franklin-composed 'Too Many Roads,' and a sweetly soulful take on Duke Ellington's 'I Got It bad And That Ain't Good.' A non-album bonus track from the same sessions, 'Tangle In Your Lifeline,' is included.

Come 1976 - when the underrated 'Capricorn Princess' was released - Esther Phillips had morphed into a disco queen with her mirrorball retooling of the Dorsey Brothers' '30s tune, 'What A Diff'rence A Day Makes,' which was a US pop and R&B hit in '75. Understandably, perhaps, the album finds Esther mining a disco groove, especially on the pumping, clavinet-driven 'Boy, I Really Tied One On' - a Janis Ian song - 'Magic's In The Air' and a turbo-charged version of Johnny Mercer's 'Dream.' Etta James' 'All The Way Down' is given an atmospheric funk makeover but it's on the ballads ('I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do' and 'Candy') where Esther really excels, her tart delivery injecting a real poignancy to the lyrics. Though Esther Phillips' nasal delivery isn't to everyone's taste she was a supremely soulful singer and these two albums, remastered and issued on CD together for the first time, contain some of her finest performances.

(CW) 4/5

 

BLACK HEAT: ‘Black Heat’ / ‘No Time To Burn’ (Atlantic/Warner Japan)

Thursday, 21 August 2014 16:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

 

Black_Heat_1Black_Heat_2These two classic yet long-out-of-print funk albums from '70s sextet, Black Heat, are now available again. The group's Joel Dorn-helmed eponymous debut from 1972 features ten sizzling cuts - a mixture of vocal cuts and instrumentals - and finds the band augmented by saxophone legend David 'Fathead' Newman and percussionist, Ralph McDonald. The opener, 'The Jungle,' is a jaunty uptempo track that epitomises the group's rough and tumble, brass-saturated funk sound while the ballad 'Street Of Tears' is a haunting slow-jam that illustrates their soulfulness as well as their versatility. There are some ace slow instrumentals, too, such as 'Chicken Heads' - with David Newman featuring prominently - and organ-drenched Stax-like mid-tempo groove, 'Barbara's Mood' (which sounds like something hat Isaac Hayes recorded on the 'Shaft 'soundtrack). But it's laying down greasy instrumental funk grooves that are the band's forte and they don't disappoint with 'Chip's Funk' and the guitar-driven 'Wanoah,' which is garnished by David Newman's dancing flute lines.

Two years after their debut - which didn't see any chart action - the group returned to the studio with producers Joel Dorn and Jimmy Douglass and cut 'No Time To Burn,' their sophomore set for Atlantic. The group had expanded to a septet (thanks to reed man and flautist Raymond Thompson who took over from session man David Newman) but their ability to churn out infectious dance grooves hadn't diminished. The album's title track is an incendiary slab of brassy street funk fronted by keyboardist Johnnell Gray's testifying lead vocals and it's no surprise that it shot into the US R&B Top 40 - it was their only chart entry by the way - and helped put the parent album in the US R&B albums charts. Another punchy chunk of vocal funk, 'You Should've Listened,' and the propulsive, percussion-driven 'M&M's' stand out as does the churning, socio-political-themed slow-burner 'Check It All Out' and the slightly oblique but arresting rock-influenced 'Super Cool.' The group turn in a great cover of Kool & The Gang's 'Love The Life You Live' as well, which helps to make the album superior to the group's debut. If you're a funk fanatic and haven't got these two titles, I'd recommend you to grab them post haste before they slip into obscurity again.

(CW) 4/5

 

BOBBY WOMACK - MY STORY 1944-2014 (John Blake, £8.99)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 13:34 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Bobby_bookBobby Womack's autobiography is very much like the music he made - raw, unbridled, and unflinchingly honest. With the help of ghost-writer, Robert Ashton, the late singer/songwriter/guitarist etches a vivid chronicle of his life, which begins with a gripping prologue that flashes back to when Womack's wife Barbara found in him bed with her daughter, Linda, and chases him with a gun while he's trying to pull his pants up. Though initially humorous and seemingly farcical, the upshot is that a terrified Womack has his hair parted by a bullet and luckily, only just evades the scythe of the Grim Reaper. It's one of several close shaves and a scene that encapsulates an enduring theme in the book - living on the edge and coping with extreme situations.

Robert Dwayne Womack grew up living a hard knock life in a Cleveland ghetto but found a way out of it via singing in a gospel group with his brothers. Under the tutelage of Sam Cooke - a former church singer who had morphed into a pop heartthrob - the Womack Brothers became The Valentinos and crossed over into secular music. Womack got to play guitar for Cooke and he paints a fascinating portrait of the singer who is painted a serial adulterer and eventually died tragically when he was shot by the proprietor of a cheap motel. There are plenty of other tasty anecdotes - about Jimi Hendrix, for example, when he was a sideman for hire and James Brown, whose military zeal and dictatorial attention to detail whipped the Valentinos into shape; and tales about working with Wilson Pickett and Elvis. The book's candour is refreshing - Womack doesn't pull any punches about his own demons (especially his drugs problems) and there's plenty of humour as well as penetrating insights into his own life and the lives of other musicians. It all adds up to an addictive read that every soul music fan will find hard to put down.

(CW) 4/5

 

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