BILLY COBHAM: 'The Atlantic Years 1973-1978' (Rhino)

Thursday, 08 October 2015 15:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Billy_coverBorn in Panama and raised in the Big Apple, William E. Cobham Jr started out as a young jazz drummer in pianist Horace Silver's band before being caught up in the jazz-rock explosion of the early '70s. After the acrimonious disintegration of the first incarnation of the groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cobham left to launch his solo career in 1973 for Atlantic Records. His five-year tenure with the label is represented by this superb chronologically-sequenced 8-CD box set, comprising five studio albums ('Spectrum,' 'Crosswinds,' 'Total Eclipse,' 'A Funky Thide Of Sings' and 'Inner Conflicts') and two live sets ('Shabazz' and 'Live On Tour In Europe,' the latter a collaboration with keyboard maven George Duke).

'Spectrum' put Cobham on the map as a band leader and also, more importantly perhaps, showed that he was a serious contender in the jazz-rock/fusion arena. From his stint with Miles Davis in 1970, Cobham learned the value of surrounding himself with good musicians and on 'Spectrum' he had Czech-born Jan Hammer on keys (the two had played together in Mahavishnu) and rising guitar star, Tommy Bolin, plus saxophonist Joe Farrell. 'Stratus' - whose juggernaut drum and bass groove was later sampled by Massive Attack for their hit 'Safe From Harm' - is the killer cut but there are other highlights too, including 'Red Baron' and the blithely flowing Le Lis. Cobham found a substantial, eager audience with 'Spectrum' - it topped the US jazz charts and made #26 in the US pop albums chart - and its follow-ups, '74's 'Crosswinds' (which showcased a new band with George Duke on keys, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Alec Blake, and the Brecker brothers on horns) and '75's 'Total Ecipse,' both packed with fusion-fuelled grooves, crossed over into the R&B charts. In a live context, the power of Cobham's volcanic, virtuoso drumming was even more apparent and it was no surprise that Atlantic issued an in-concert LP, 'Shabazz,' recorded on tour in England and Switzerland in '74.

It was back in the studio for 'A Funky Thide Of Sings,' which spotlighted a new, young guitarist, John Scofield, and showed Cobham going in a funkier direction (with 'Thinking Of You' being its standout cut). 1976's 'Life And Times' was even better, another solid set blending turbo-charged funky jazz-rock tropes with sedate ballads.The same year 'Live On Tour In Europe' documented the drummer's European sojourn with George Duke but a year later, when Cobham unleashed 'Inner Conflicts,' by that time his music - and fusion in general - was experiencing the law of diminishing returns combined with a shrinking audience. Despite that, 'Inner Conflicts' is a decent set, packed with funky grooves (with Alphonso Johnson providing bass) though its opener is radically different: a filmic, futuristic 10-minute-long interface between drums and raspy, bubbling synthesisers (both played by Cobham).

In addition to eight full albums - all presented in mini-replica LP sleeves -  there are twelve bonus tracks in the box set, including studio outtakes, single edits and the A and B-side of a 1976 Atlantic single ('Do What Cha Wanna' and 'Hip Pockets') by the funk/soul band, Natural Essence that Cobham produced. To satisfy the anoraks, all of the musician credits can be found in a thick accompanying booklet, which also includes a liner note essay.

(CW) 4/5


Read SJF's Billy Cobham interview here

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 16:02


HERBIE HANCOCK: 'Herbie Hancock Box' (Columbia)

Thursday, 08 October 2015 09:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Herbie_boxOriginally released in 2002 in a slightly pretentious and frustrating perspex cube that was notoriously difficult to open, this 4-CD retrospective of the keyboard maestro's Columbia tenure (1972-1988) has been reconfigured into a much more compact, user-friendly book-style package that's available for a tempting £12.99 on some websites. For those who are unfamiliar with the broad sweep of the Chicago-born pianist's oeuvre, this 34-track assemblage is well-worth investigating. The first two discs focus on Hancock's acoustic, straight-ahead jazz work and include many tracks taken from his collaborations with his fellow Miles Davis Quintet alumni (saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams) in the '70s group, V.S.O.P. That particular band's trajectory - a nostalgic nod to Hancock's past and association with Miles Davis (whose place in the quintet is taken by fellow trumpeter Freddie Hubbard) - ran parallel with the pianist's own experimental forays into jazz-funk and pop in the same decade, which is covered by discs three and four.

If Hancock's straight ahead repertoire is too cerebral for some listeners, then the earthy grooves of the second half of this enterprising compilation offers generous compensation. The classic jazz-funk gem, 'Chameleon,' from Hancock's pathfinding 1973 album, 'Head Hunters' (which became the biggest selling jazz album of all time in the '70s and elevated Hancock into a superstar), appears in its full, unedited 15-minute form alongside other gems such as the delicate ballad, 'Butterfly,'  the shimmering 'Sun Touch' and the vocoder-led 'Come Running To Me.' The latter track came from Hancock's 1978 LP, 'Sunlight,' which also yielded his second biggest British hit, 'I Thought It Was You' - unfortunately, that particular cut is absent from this set, due, quite probably to the fact that it didn't enjoy the same acclaim in the USA. It is, nevertheless, a glaring omission (at least in the eyes of Herbie's UK fans). Hancock's immersion into hip-hop influenced future-funk is represented by the truly groundbreaking 'Rockit,' and similar tracks from his '80s LPs. It all adds up to a vivid musical portrait of one of jazz's most innovative and forward-thinking musicians.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 15:59


THE HAGGIS HORNS: What Comes To Mind (Haggis Records)

Monday, 05 October 2015 18:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

hagThe Haggis Horns were formed way back in 1999 in Leeds and since then they've become one of the UK's top soul bands – performing sell-out concerts, headlining festivals, playing countless sessions and backing numerous visiting soul stars who know they'll provide a proper soulful backdrop to their shows.

'What Comes To Mind' is the band's third album in their own right and it's a tight, soulful and funky package that pays homage to their heroes and influences ... people like Donald Byrd, The Mizells, EWF and, their original inspiration, The Average White Band.

Hear that AWB influence right from the start with the funky, exuberant, riff-laden 'Return Of The Haggis'. The brass wok is bob and you'd easily be forgiven for thinking that here you've dropped on some long lost 70's soul artefact. There's more of the same on 'You Got To Keep On Bumping' and the self-explanatory 'Keep It Tight', garnished with fiery vocal chanting.

Fans of funk vocals will find plenty here too. John McCullum fronts the excellent old school soul tune 'Give Me Something Better' (shades of EWF), while Lucinda Slim slinks her way through the loose 'I Can't Stop The Feeling'. John Turrell (from Smoove and...) is in the mix too. He leads on 'It Ain't What You Got'... another big funk bash and like the whole LP, a throwback to another time, another place!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 05 October 2015 18:12


BETTYE SWANN: 'The Very Best Of Bettye Swann 1964-1975' (Ace/Kent)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 09:57 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Bettye_SwannRevered by soul music connoisseurs around the globe, cult Shreveport-born songstress, Bettye Swann, is one of the genre's great unsung heroines. She may not have achieved the fame and notoriety of some of her contemporaries (think Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Candi Staton) but she patented an uniquely mellow, understated approach to singing soul music that was the complete antithesis to the fiery, gospel-inflected pyrotechnics favoured by most of her peers. Her voice, with its beautiful, tremulous vibrato, was plaintive but gentle and as such was able to project both vulnerability and stoicism. But her time in the limelight was too short - just eleven years - after which time she retired into the shadows, leaving the topsy-turvy music business behind for the solace of her unshakeable religious faith.

Back in the summer of 1967, 22-year-old Bettye Swann was sitting on top of the US R&B charts with her immortal self-penned song, 'Make Me Yours,' recorded for the Los Angeles-based indie label, Money. Unsurprisingly, it's the lead off song on this superbly-curated 24-track retrospective, the first ever to cover every label that Bettye recorded for during her short career. Her work for Money got Bettye noticed (there are nine cuts from her tenure with Ruth Dolphin's indie label) and in 1968, she signed with major label, Capitol, where her musical direction under producer Wayne Shuler embraced the country-soul aesthetic that Ray Charles and Solomon Burke had helped to establish in the early '60s. Highlights from this period (which produced two complete studio albums) include 'Angel In The Morning,' '(My Heart Is) Closed For The Season,' and 'Touch Me.'

A brief stopover at Rick Hall's Fame label in 1971 yielded a solitary single, 'I'm Just Living A Lie,' before she inked a deal with Atlantic. The major label didn't do right by Bettye, though, issuing just a handful of singles in a disappointing four-year tenure that saw her recording both in Southern and Philly soul styles. Examples of both can be found on this compilation. 'Today I Started Loving You Again' is a soulful yet urbane deconstruction of Merle Haggard's country hit, while the bittersweet 'Kiss My Love Goodbye' (a Modern Soul scene favourite) finds Bettye's voice in the hands of Philly production trio, The Young Professionals, who frame it with lush symphonic strings and a slick dance pulse. There are many more Atlantic-era gems featured here (among them the deliciously imploring 'I Want Sunday Back Again' and a poignant valediction called 'Time To Say Goodbye'), which confirm for this writer that the singer delivered her best performances for Ahmet Ertegun's label even though the company didn't appear to support her music properly.

After parting company with Atlantic in '76, Bettye continued to perform until 1980, when her husband (who was also her manager) died, and then dropped off the radar completely, preferring to live quietly away from the limelight. Reissues of her work in the past decade or so combined with the interest that they generated eventually culminated with her being persuaded to appear at Cleethorpes Rare Soul Weekender in June 2013. Instrumental in bringing Bettye over to the UK for that memorable one-off concert was Ace's Ady Croasdell, who compiled and wrote the liner notes for this stupendous collection, which is undoubtedly a superlative chronicle of her work.

(CW) 5/5


RUMER: B Sides & Rarities (Warner/Rhino)

Tuesday, 29 September 2015 20:33 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

rbBack in 2010 Rumer came, saw and conquered almost everyone with her charming album 'Seasons Of My Soul' and with singles like 'Aretha' she was all over the airwaves. It seemed that the sky was the limit for the young Sarah Joyce. Two more albums followed – 'Boys Don't Cry' and 'Into Colour' but though critically-acclaimed they didn't quite take the Pakistan-born singer to that all important next level. Rumer herself, though, doesn't seem that bothered. With husband,  Rob Shirakbari, (her producer and musical director) she's moved from Los Angeles to live in a small, town somewhere in darkest Northwest Arkansas. In a recent exclusive interview with SJF Rumer revealed that the decision to move there was to get away from the glare of the spotlight, the perpetual grind of the music business and relentless scrutiny of the press. Good on her!

However to keep things simmering she's just officially released this lovely 17 tracker - a selection of recordings that have, till now, been hard to find – outtakes, demos, rarities and B sides. They had all originally been available via her web site but Rumer and Rob think the time is right for everyone to have easy access to them... and for what could so easily have been a rag-bag affair the album is hugely coherent and assured. There are two obvious reasons for this. First is Rumer's lovely voice – sure there's the Karen Carpenter similarity but nothing wrong with that – and second there's the quality of the songs.... amongst the material here are songs written by some of the very best – including people like Henry Mancini, Paul Simon, George Harrison, Randy Newman and Bacharach and David!

There's a trio of Bacharach songs – 'Arthur's Theme', 'Alfie' and 'Hasbrook Heights' and the combination of Rumer's voice and the melodies of Mr B is spot on and as an extra bonus, a certain Dionne Warwick joins Rumer on 'Hasbrook Heights'. It's an album highlight. Other goodies include Rumer's version of the Beach Boys' 'The Warmth Of The Sun' and 'That's All' – a tune recorded with pianist Michael Feinstein on which the Karen Carpenter similarity is remarkable!

Add to those a great bossa nova mix of Rumer's own 'Dangerous' and a couple of songs with the underrated Stephen Bishop and you have a great album that adds more garlands to Rumer's current small but perfectly formed catalogue.

Check out more about this album via our exclusive interview with Rumer.... access it through our "Interviews" tag!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 20:44


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