Reviews

PIECES OF A MAN; Made In Pieces (Tru Thoughts)

Wednesday, 26 June 2019 15:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPieces of a Man (named, of course, for Gil Scott-Heron's first studio album) is an acclaimed six piece collective from Manchester and the Zed Bias produced 'Made In Pieces' is their debut album. The 11 tracker is already winning support from some of soul and jazz's edgier tastemakers – people like Laurent Garnier, Supernova, Robert Elms and Mike Chadwick. Easy to hear why; 'Made In Pieces' is an envelope-pushing adventure in real "modern" soul music – not the 80s retro flavoured soul that is often called "modern". The collective experiment with and manipulate their sonics to create unusual textured soundscapes that pay homage to hip-hop, funk, gospel and jazz. To show where they're coming from, may we point you to the album's only cover – a respectful treatment of – yes – a Gil Scott-Heron song - 'Lady Day and John Coltrane'. Here the tricky vocal is handled by Detroit's Amp Fiddler who brings just the right amount of elasticity to the lyric. We're not saying that Pieces of a Man's music is what Heron would be making today but like their obvious hero the band are prepared to challenge sonically and lyrically.

Mr F's out front too on 'Nothing To Lose (part 1)' (couldn't see a part 2, by the way). It's a lazy, neo-soul meander with a gospel undertow and some sweet brass parts towards the hypnotic end. The brass figures are excellent throughout the album – most notably on 'Listen'. 'Grits' offer something a little different – a melding of scat and funk while the mix of vocoder and alto sax on 'Drifting' offers another interesting cocktail.

The tone of 'Made In Pieces' is set from the opening track – 'Walk Out'. Lazy, shifty, laid back and with a gospel chorus behind the brief vocal, it tells you to expect the unexpected. Producer Zed Bias (Maddslinky) tells us that 'Made In Pieces' "is one of the best records I've been part of in 20 odd years". You'd say he probably would say that; but he's probably right.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2019 16:01

 

REZA KHAN; Next Train Home (rezakhanmusic)

Friday, 21 June 2019 19:28 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPlenty of releases have great back stories but none, I'd say, as interesting as 'Next Train Home' from New York based jazz guitarist Reza Khan. For starters Bangladesh born Reza is (no disrespect) a part time jazzer. He has a very important "day job" that puts music into perspective. You see he works for the United Nations as a programme manager – working world-wide in conflict zones trying to broker peace and reconciliation. It was during his last tour for the UN that the idea for 'Next Train Home' crystallised. Whilst away, in his down time, he sketched out 12 tunes on his lap top and, we're told, a folding guitar! Sadly he was then hospitalised – he was suffering severe dehydration but defied doctors, to leave his hospital to recuperate in a hotel room while polishing the music sketches he'd made earlier on his trip.

Then back in NYC, Reza got down to work and despite being that "part time jazz man" that I've just described, his standing in the East coast jazz milieu is such that he can call on some big names to help him create his music and here, amongst the side men, are guitarist Nils, pianist Mark King, bassist Mark Egan, saxophonist David Mann and drummer Graham Hawthorne. Maybe the biggest names though are sax player Jeff Kashiwa and ace keyboardist Philippe Saisse. Those two join Reza on one of the LP's big tunes... 'Gathering'. This easy paced smooth jazz romp (flavours of the Rippingtons and Special EFX) sums up the album's feel.... classy and cool with a soul undertow. Saisse plays keyboard vibes on this one while he takes to the marimba on the exotic 'Club 368' which offers flautist David Mann the opportunity to shine. The lazy Latin shuffle 'Beyond The Trees' is another album highlight as is the LP title track – the Earl Klugh flavoured 'Next Train Home' is the more poignant given the context in which it was written. And, says, Reza, it's the key to his current sound "I feel The title represents a destination where I'm totally comfortable and at ease surrounded by familiar sounds, emotions and convictions as an artist".

REZA KHAN; Next Train Home is out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 June 2019 11:02

 

PHILIP BAILEY: Love Will Find A Way (Verve)

Monday, 17 June 2019 13:59 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn the soul history books and encyclopaedias, Philip Bailey will be forever known as the singer in Earth Wind and Fire. And rightly so, his distinctive, sometimes fragile falsetto fronted many of EWF's best tunes. Phil still works with the current line up of the band. He calls that his "day job" but what many casual music lovers don't realize is that Bailey has also had a long and impressive solo career. Indeed, his Phil Collins- produced 'Chinese Wall' was a platinum seller back in 1984. Hard to believe but he has in fact 11 solo collections under his belt – some blending pop/soul like 'Chinese Wall', others in the gospel idiom and a handful of jazz sets. Jazz is one of Bailey's real passions and it was during a jazz concert a year or two back that he had the genesis of an idea to record another jazz-inflected collection and with a few tweaks to the original concept – here it is – a lovely, concise ten tracker, 'Love Will Find Away'.

The album was heralded by the single 'Billy Jack', a West-African-tinged version of the Curtis Mayfield classic. Helmed by Robert Glasper, its "difference" sets the tone for much of the rest of the long player. Another Mayfield song, 'We're A Winner' gets a delicious new subtle treatment. On it Bailey is joined on vocals by Bilal. He takes the Fred Cash and Sam Gooden parts. Wait for the quite beautiful ending. Other album guests/collaborators include new jazz poster boy Kamasi Washington who's on 'Sacred Sounds'. It's has a strong 70s feel to it – an uncredited homage to Pharoah Sanders? For a credited homage however look no further than the LP's title cut – here Casey Benjamin's sax takes the Sander's role. For a vocal album, Bailey is happy to let his sidemen take plenty of the limelight – no more so than on the almost instrumental 'Stairway To The Stars'... tribal beats by Will I Am and horn parts from Christian Scott a Tunde Adujah.

But let's remember that the name of this particular marquee is Philip Bailey's and to hear that beautiful voice at its very best, try the cover of Marvin's 'Just To Keep You Satisfied' or the sweet and lovely version of Chick Corea's 'You're Everything'. That was the track that got the ball rolling for this album and it's probably the most straightforward cut amongst the ten... like we said Phil changed tack plenty of times during the recording process here.

Find out more about those changes and the whole ethos behind the album by accessing our Philip Bailey interview.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2019 15:39

 

SAMI LINNA QUARTET: 'Sami Linna Quartet' (Timmion)

Sunday, 16 June 2019 08:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altGiven that he's a lecturer at Helsinki's prestigious Sibelius Academy and is halfway through writing a doctoral thesis, 45-year-old Sami Linna is undoubtedly a serious student of music. But aside from his academic pursuits, Linna is also a bona fide jazz musician: a guitarist, in fact, who's been  active since the 1990s. Here, his superb quartet (with saxophonist Jussi Kannaste, organist Mikko Heleva, and veteran US drummer, Dana Hall, who's worked with jazz greats Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson) makes its debut with a self-titled album comprising five extended cuts.

Seamlessly fusing post-bop with modal jazz, the group's material ranges from  authentic-sounding hard-swinging soul jazz (like the propulsive 'Umoya,' written by drummer, Hall) to more explorative works in the shape of the haunting 'Mode For Tomorrow,' which channels the spirit of jazz organ pioneer Larry Young during his late '60s Blue Note phase.

Young's DNA is detectible, too, on the set's impressive opener, the Dana Hall-penned 'Black Mountain.' It's an open-ended piece where sax and guitar entwine on the main theme before Linna breaks off for a guitar solo that highlights not only his fleet-of-finger dexterity but also his impeccable good taste. The only cover is a blissful take on Hank Mancini's 'Dreamsville' (originally penned in 1958 for the US TV detective show Peter Gunn) which brings to mind the work of Grant Green when he recorded with Hammond B3 organists like 'Baby Face Willette' in the early '60s. The album's closer is the Linna-penned 'Clowns,' a funkafied soul-jazz groove peppered with ace solos from all the main protagonists.   

Though there's a palpable retro aura to the music, there's also a cool contemporary feel, which makes this album seem fresh and vital. Toe-tappingly good. 

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2019 11:58

 

BARBARA BROWN: 'Got To Be Somebody' (Ace/Kent)

Thursday, 13 June 2019 08:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                             altThe history of soul music and rhythm and blues is littered with forgotten singers that possessed real talent, made some great singles but never got the breaks they deserved and subsequently faded into obscurity. Cult soul heroine Memphis-born Barbara Brown falls into this category. In the 1960s and early '70s she recorded a clutch of fine, mostly indie label, 45s both as a solo artist and with her siblings (as Barbara & The Browns) but she never made an LP and after a few years trying to make it, her once promising recording career petered out. Now, though, we get an idea of how a Brown album from 1968 might have sounded, thanks to compiler, Dean Rudland, who brings together thirteen sides from different labels to create Brown's first ever vinyl LP,  'Got To Be Somebody.'

For connoisseurs of southern soul, this album is mandatory listening. It omits Brown's early '60s singles for Wil-mo and Stax and focuses on the Charles Chalmers-helmed recordings she made for Gene Lucchesi's XL label, some of which ended up on the Cadet, Atco, and Tower imprints (a number of other songs were left in the can, but were exhumed for the 2007 Kent collection, 'Can't Find Happiness' and several of them also appear here).  

Blessed with a declamatory but richly expressive voice, Brown was raised on gospel hymns and unsurprisingly, the DNA of African-America church music can felt in everything she recorded. Many of her songs tackle the classic southern soul themes of  heartbreak, being cheated on, and facing loss. Highlights include the strident, brassy, Stax-like  'Plenty Of Room' (one of four Barbara & The Browns' tracks on the LP);  the funereal and haunting 'Can't Find Happiness' (an Atco single from '68); and a plaintive paean of desire called 'I Don't Want To Have To Wait,' where Brown's passionate but nuanced delivery is framed by sweetly-harmonised background vocals and euphonious horns. Though slow songs were her undoubted forte, on the sassy 'I'm Gonna Start A War,' Aretha-esque 'Man About The House,' and stomping 'You Don't Love Me,' Brown shows that she can handle uptempo material just as well as aching, storytelling ballads.   

Sadly, Barbara Brown died in 2010 but the release of superlative, respectfully-compiled  collections like this mean that her music will never be forgotten. On this evidence, she certainly was somebody.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Friday, 14 June 2019 14:47

 

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