Reviews

FRANK McCOMB: Soulmate: Another Love Story (Boobeescoot Music)

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 20:00 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

S.A.L.S._FINAL_COVERFrank McComb is the soul mans' soul man. Over the years he's built himself a loyal coterie of fans who revere his sincere, smooth, sophisticated take on modern soul. Sadly, he's little known in the mainstream and, again, sadly, I don't think this new generous 17 tracker will change that situation. The sound of 'Soulmate: Another Love Story' is the signature McComb soul sound. It's music that's to be savoured for its intimacy, craft and emotion, a music that's created to last and linger, rather than the quick-fix, wham-bam-thank-you-mam sounds that the mainstream seem to crave. Well that's their loss! McComb connoisseurs, you see, will find lots to cherish here as their favourite troubadour peddles sounds that will still remind you of Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder but are uniquely Frank McComb.

Here the Hathaway connection is most apparent on the ultra gentle 'We're Gonna Be On Our Own' (gorgeous muted horn solo here, by the way) while the Wonder comparison is most obvious on two particular cuts... 'Soulmate' itself and 'She Needs True Love Too'. I've never really learned what Frank himself makes of the endless comparisons; I'm guessing he's not that bothered, 'cos here he goes the whole hog and offers a cover of a Stevie Wonder song... 'Superstition'. Hard to believe but, honestly, Frank's eight and a half minute workout outfunks the original; like all the best covers, the familiar is reconstructed as Mr Mc showcases both his keyboard dexterity (deep into Herbie Hancock territory) and those soulful baritone vocals.

Cherry picking on such a consistent long player is difficult, but one tune that does stand out is 'Labelled As Love' which features the ever-reliable Maysa. Clearly Ms Leak and Mr McComb are absolutely on the same wavelength and revel in this luscious, laid-back groove. This is one of the year's best soul tunes... quite lovely. 'This Love Of Ours' is another immediate grabber. It's a chunky, little beater with superb brass input and (like the version of 'Superstition') might surprise those who think of Frank McComb as a balladeer.

Aside from Maysa, other album guests include Najee and Avery Sunshine who joins Frank on what was the album's first single, 'Feelin' Some KInda Way' (one of, I think, four tracks that may be familiar via Frank's 2015 Valentines day EP).

By my calculations, Frank McComb's been making quality modern soul for something like 16 years and I think 'Soulmate: Another Love Story' is his ninth album. His legion of fans, me included, hope he can give us at least another 16 years and more albums like this one!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 20:12

 

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY QUINTET: 'The Price You Got To Pay To Be Free' and 'Music, You All' (Dusty Groove/Real Gone)

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 11:35 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Cannon_FreeCannon_Music_YallIn 1970, this quintet - with a pre-Weather Report Joe Zawinul on keys, who was also moonlighting on Miles Davis studio sessions during the same timeframe - was catching the ear of both jazz and rock audiences with their spontaneous plugged-in grooves and charismatic stage presence of their leader, Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley. Originally a sprawling double live album produced by David Axelrod and released on Capitol, 'The Price You Got To Pay To Be Free' with its collision of styles (hard bop, soul-jazz, folk-blues and funky fusion) perfectly encapsulates Cannonball's freewheeling eclecticism during this fertile period.

The set was recorded at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (a portion of their performance was also filmed by director/actor Clint Eastwood and appeared in his 1971 thriller, Play Misty For Me) and features twenty songs, the best of which are three examples of cutting-edge avant-fusion penned by Joe Zawinul: namely, 'Rumplestiltskin,' 'Painted Desert,' and a short rendition of his seminal tune, 'Directions,' a song that Miles Davis frequently opened his live shows with in the late '60s and early '70s. In acute contrast, the title song is a gospel-influenced protest song featuring Cannonball's nephew, Nat Adderley Jr (his father and Cannonball's younger brother, Nat Adderley Sr, also plays cornet in the band) and stylistically it's reminiscent of Gene McDaniels' work from the same period. There are also some quieter pieces (like the lovely 'Some Time Ago') spotlighting Cannonball's saxophone work as well as vocal ballads ('Lonesome Stranger'), rootsy guitar-led R&B grooves with vocals ('Down In Black Bottom') and exploratory, almost avant-garde excursions ('1-2-3-Go-O-O-O!'). Uniting these seemingly disparate musical threads is Cannonball, himself, whose charisma, erudition and droll humour comes across in his spoken introductions. There's a lot to digest and it's a bit patchy but it captures the saxophonist's band at a fascinating juncture in its evolution.

Also making its debut on CD and available separately is another live Cannonball album, 'Music, You All,' which was released posthumously, a year after the saxophonist's death, in 1976. It was recorded back in 1971 at LA's Troubadour venue and is actually comprised of leftovers from that year's 'Black Messiah' LP, which was reissued for the first time by Dusty Groove/Real Gone in 2014. By that time, Joe Zawinul, who had been such a crucial component of Cannon's band for almost ten years, had left to form Weather Report. He was replaced by another keyboard wizard, George Duke, who appears on 'Music, You All,' playing Fender Rhodes. But Zawinul's legacy to the band is heard on the wonderful version of the soul-jazz tune he co-wrote, 'Walk Tall,' arguably the highlight of a more concise and better-focused album than 'The Price...'  Nevertheless, these two reissue are great news for Cannonball fans.

(CW) 4/5

 

THE DELLS: We Got To Get Our Thing Together/No Way Back (SoulMusic)

Sunday, 24 July 2016 14:53 Bill b E-mailPrintPDF

1dellsThe latest release from the collaboration between SoulMusic Records and Caroline International pairs two great but often overlooked albums from the mighty, mighty Dells – 1975's 'We Got To Get Our Thing Together' and 'No Way Back from '76. The time span is important as it covers a transitionary period in the Chicago group's career. You see, 'We Got To Get Our Thing Together' was the Dells' final album for Chess/Cadet... a label they'd been with (off and on) since 1951. By the mid 70s Chess was in an economic decline and in the throes of a takeover. Owners GRT (who'd bought the imprint form the Chess family) were negotiating to sell it on again and the ten tracker that is 'We Got To Get Our Thing Together' sounds very much like an end of term affair in as much as a couple of the cuts have already been on previous albums.

The two recycled cuts are 'Love Is Missing From Our Lives' (the collaboration with the Dramatics that was much later sampled by John Legend) and 'You Don't Care' which had appeared on their 1973 'Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation' album. Both bear all the classic Dells' qualities...searing lead vocal from Marvin Junior, the seraphic falsetto of Johnny Carter and the on-point, jazz-tinged harmonic support of Chuck Barksdale, Mickey McGill and Verne Allison. Other highlights on the album include the title cut and 'The Power Of Love'. Perhaps the most interesting track, though, is the group's cover of the show tune 'Strike Up The Band'. Prefaced with the fanfare from 'Jesus Christ Superstar', the treatment recalls the Dell's early jazz combo roots.

'We Got To Get Our Thing Together' was originally issued on Cadet, but after Chess was sold to Mercury, it was reissued on that label. 'No Way Back' was the official Mercury-issued follow up and it was originally conceived as the soundtrack to a Fred Williamson blaxploitation movie called 'No Way Back'. In the end three of the cuts made it into the movie while the cover art showed the group resplendent in gangster style outfits!

Musically the bill of fare is a little funkier that their Chess/Cadet output but the vocal interplay remains unquestionably and uniquely the Dells. Indeed the ballads ''I'll Make You My Girl', 'Too Late For Love' and 'Slow Motion' are right up there with the very best in their canon.

'We Got To Get Our Thing Together' has never had a CD reissue before, while 'No Way Back' was only ever available in Japan in a limited edition, making this release indispensable for lovers of real soul music and as the sleeve notes come via SJF's own Charles Waring you'll know that you'll get to know everything you need to know!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 July 2016 15:25

 

LIVE REVIEW: Jacob Collier @ North Sea Jazz Festival July 2016

Saturday, 23 July 2016 11:56 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

JacobThe stage was set. A double bass on the right, a full drum kit to the left, while an electronic keyboard occupied the centre stage. To the side was a grand piano, and at the back stood an electric bass and acoustic guitar with assorted percussion instruments littering the floor. But those in the audience unfamiliar with tonight's star turn won't see a full band walk on but just one, rather unique, individual - Jacob Collier. The truth is that this 21-year-old precociously-talented musical polymath from London doesn't need a band - he is a band.

On stage, Collier is a musical conjuror whose box of tricks comes in the shape of an advanced sampling keyboard (a one-off co-created by a boffin friend of his at M.I.T.) which allows him to record his voice or any instrument that he chooses in real time and then loop those notes to create a textured groove. The keyboard's 'brain' also controls motion-capture cameras that project images of Collier playing and singing onto a large screen at the back of the stage. As an audio-visual experience it is unparalleled in popular music. Indeed, this performance emphasised that his debut album, In My Room, doesn't really do justice to Collier's unique performance aesthetic. He has to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.

His one-hour set ranges from dreamy, almost folk-tinged ballads to full-on funk and includes some outrageous, covers, including a mindboggling deconstruction of Steve Wonder's Don't You Worry Bout A Thing, whose opulent acapella jazz harmonies channel The Beach Boys and gospel-jazz group Take Six. Then Collier loops those harmonies and plays a keyboard part, looping that and moving on to other instruments to loop their parts too, all the time embellishing a constantly-evolving rhythm track. In this sense, he's a true jazz musician because he's creating music spontaneously in the moment. What's remarkable, too, is the way he's been able to harness the latest technology and create something that is jaw-droppingly sensational. But that's not to say that technology does all the work because Collier is a virtuoso of all the instruments that he lays his hands on.

As the set progresses the sense of wonderment initially stimulated by Collier's modus operandi gradually diminishes and it flags up a concern for how he moves forward as an artist. There's already a heavy burden of expectation placed on his shoulders (he was introduced by the Dutch compere as the "New Messiah of Jazz") and there are many questions that this concert left unanswered. Has he shown all he's got or is there more to come? What does he do next and how can he sustain his audience's interest? These are serious questions for Jacob Collier to ponder, perhaps. But for now he should just enjoy his moment in the spotlight. He deserves it.

(CW) 

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 July 2016 12:01

 

BETTY DAVIS: 'The Columbia Years 1968-1969' (Light In The Attic/Sony Music)

Saturday, 23 July 2016 11:51 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Betty_Davis_ColumbiaThe femme fatale of funk, Afro-topped singer/songwriter Betty Davis made her mark in the early '70s with two impressive albums for the Just Sunshine label before moving to Island Records in 1975, where she recorded her classic and perhaps career-defining magnum opus, 'Nasty Girl.' But as true funk disciples will know, she had a recording history that predated her '70s discography. Born as Betty Mabry in North Carolina and raised in Pittsburgh before moving to New York where she became a model and singer, she recorded her first 45 ('Get Ready For Betty') as far back as 1964 when she was nineteen for Sinatra arranger Don Costa's DCP International label. The record didn't see any chart action  and nor did her duet with Roy Arlington called 'I'll Be There' for the indie label Sacrifice around the same timeframe. But her fortunes started to improve when one of her songs was recorded by the Chambers Brothers in 1967, which is a period when Betty first came into her own as a counterculture figure and as part of Jimi Hendrix's entourage.

This CD takes us back to that epoch: back to 1969, by which time, Betty Mabry had become Betty Davis by marrying jazz legend, Miles Davis. She was eighteen years Miles's junior but had a profound influence on the horn blower's sense of fashion and listening tastes. She had recorded a single for Columbia Records in 1968, 'Live, Love, Learn,'  in tandem with Hugh Masekela and members of the Crusaders but it wasn't a success  and she had her contract terminated. But that wasn't the end of Betty's brief Columbia story, as this new compilation attests, for in May 1969,  she went back in the studio with her husband, Miles Davis, at the helm. Never heard by the public, the singer's Columbia sessions with the 'Dark Magus' have been the stuff of myth and legend over the past forty-eight years but now, sensationally, receive an official release for the first time.

Though the session took place in a day, it yielded six tracks, which appear alongside three takes from the singer's earlier, 1968, studio visit for Columbia. Miles had assembled an impressive lineup of musicians to accompany the singer: comprising his jazz buddies Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Larry Young and Harvey Brooks  (who would all appear on 'Bitches Brew,' which Miles would cut a month later) plus Jimi Hendrix associates, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Despite a heavy jazz lineup, the music - original material by Betty plus a couple of covers - is pop-funk with shards of rock guitar thrown in. The whole thing has a live, demo feel but it's a fascinating listen. The opener, the infectious 'Hangin' Out,' has Mitch Mitchell pounding out a Motown-like backbeat while 'Down Home Girl' is more atmospheric with a sultry country-funk feel that has a hint of James Brown in its DNA. Rock group Cream's 'Politician Man' is given a good, distinctive workout and Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Down On The Bayou,' also gets covered. There are also a couple of alternative takes of Betty's song, the old school-style R&B tune, 'I'm Ready, Willing & Able.' The first version breaks down and allows us to hear Betty directing in the studio and then Miles talking to her via the control booth mic with his raspy voice. The second version (a later take) is faster and more together.

More polished and produced are the set's final three cuts (all written by Betty, who proved to be an able songwriter) helmed by Hugh Masekela in Hollywood in 1968. The strident, brassy 'It's My Life' and stomping 'My Soul Is Tired' (which boasts a Northern Soul style backbeat) have never been released before unlike the single, the lovely ballad, 'Live, Love, Learn.'

On the downside, you don't get much music for your money - just nine tracks running to a parsimonious thirty minutes - but as a historical record of both Miles and Betty Davis' joint exploits in the studio, it's a priceless artifact. The CD is wonderfully presented with superb artwork and the liner note booklet features interviews with Betty, Harvey Brooks, and Hugh Masekela, whose enduring affection for the singer (who he hasn't seen since the early '70s) is genuinely touching. Hats off, then, to the folks at Light In The Attic for making these extraordinary sessions available for the first time.

(CW) 4/5

 

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