Thursday, 30 May 2019 15:17 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altKim Cypher is one of a growing breed of lady sax players but the talented Ms C doesn't just play horn; she's a dab hand at jazz vocals too as this, her latest, LP attests. You see the immediate grabber here is a lovely, slowed down treatment of the Zutons/Amy Winehouse song 'Valerie'. Kim sets it firmly in the late night jazz lounge and it's quite transformed.... no sax solo either; indeed, no sax input at all. A vocal version of Hoagy Carmichael's 'The Nearness Of You' gives Kim another opportunity to show off her vocal prowess. It's a respectful cover and rather than take the sax part herself, she leaves it to someone called Pee Wee Ellis!

There are three more vocals on the 11 tracker – the self-penned, Latino swayer 'Maybe', 'Rising From The Dust' – another original, rather sombre and Sam Stept's old Broadway show tune 'Comes Love' which also allows Kim to showcase her sax playing.

Best of the instrumentals is a new look at Bobby Womack's "Breezin'' . Running out at over 7 minutes, it's an album highlight and wisely Ms Cypher gets right away from the well-known George Benson version though Lee Jones' guitar is beautifully sonorous throughout. It's just such a great tune, though!

There are two other big covers - a look at 'Baker Street' and a take on 'People Get Ready' . On 'Baker Street' Kim embraces the big sax intro before launching into the familiar melody. It works. Sadly 'People Get Ready' doesn't work so well. After a traditional start, the sax solo soars away at breakneck pace while if you factor in the rocky guitar, I'll contend that you're moving away from the retrospection and inner peace that dear old Curtis was searching for in the song.

KIM CYPHER'S 'Love Kim X' is out now

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 May 2019 15:27


JR WALKER and the ALL STARS; Walk In The Night (SoulMusic Records)

Monday, 27 May 2019 15:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough he was a consistent hit maker at Motown, Jr Walker never really fitted the label's image. Born Oscar G Mixon or Autry DeWalt Mixon (depending on what sources you use), the rasping sax man came to Motown via kinks with Harvey Fuqua. You see, in 1962 Walker and his All Stars signed to Fuqua's Harvey/Tri Phi label and when the ex Moonglow turned record company boss sold his labels to Berry Gordy, Walker came as part of the package. At first Gordy wasn't quite sure what to do with the band; we're told that he laughed when he first heard them! They sounded rough and raw – unsophisticated even... hardly the sound of Young America! However, Gordy was laughing on the other side of his face when Walker's gutbucket, raunchy 'Shotgun' scaled the charts in 1965. More hits followed and the Arkansas-born sax man and reluctant singer was soon ensconced in the Motown pantheon.

There are any number of Jr Walker compilations out there chronicling the hits like 'Shotgun', 'Shake And Fingerpop' and the ever-gorgeous 'What Does It take'. A number of the man's key LPs have won reissue but oddly much of his later work at Motown has been sorely neglected ... till now. Here, David Nathan's SoulMusic Records offer 6 of Jr Walker's 70s albums in one neat little box set. The albums are 1970's 'A Gassss', '71's 'Rainbow Funk', 'Moody Jr' from 1972, 1973's'Peace And Understanding Is Hard To Find', 1974's UK only-issue 'Jr Walker And The All Stars' and 'Hot Shot' from '76. All are appearing on CD for the first time!

Across the set's 58 tracks there are plenty of hits – stuff like 'Walk In The Night' and 'Take Me Girl I'm Ready' – alongside lots and lots of covers of both Motown songs and pop/rock hits. Of note are the two Stevie Wonder tunes, 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life' and 'All In Love Is Fair' both of which feature the great man on harmonica. And though the sound of each album is dictated by the different producers – for instance the Clarence Paul produced 'Jr Walker And The All Stars' has a distinct jazz feel – the sound is still uniquely Junior Walker. Nobody quite attacked the sax like he did and his gruff, rough vocal was a real one off! Those unique qualities marked him out as a real star in the soul firmament. Little wonder Berry Gordy placed him on Motown's Soul imprint!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 27 May 2019 16:05


BT ALC BIG BAND: The Search For Peace (Ropeadope)

Friday, 24 May 2019 18:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Bt ALC Big Band is a BIG band. Formed in 2011 by trombonist Brian Thomas and trumpeter Alex Lee-Clark, the current line up features three horns sections – fives saxes, four trumpets and four trombonists! In total the band numbers 19 players and the creators mission statement was all about dynamically re-presenting the big band sounds of the 60s and early 70s while also educating music students in how they can create their own, fresh, relevant big band sounds. You see Thomas and Lee-Clark believe there's little point in merely offering "tributes" to the past by working on familiar standards and their classic arrangements; rather, they want to use the big band format to create a new, accessible and culturally relevant music.

Recorded "live", using an omni-directional microphone in front of the horn sections, BT ALC have three albums under their belt ... 2013's 'Superhero Dance Party' and 2016's two volumes of 'The Herd Sessions' and commentators noted that on 'em their sound merged the sound of Basie and Ellington with the feel of Clinton (George, that is) and JB! "Big Band Funk" is how one eminent critic described it!

Enjoy more of the same (or simply introduce yourself to it) via their latest 7 tracker which offers the aforementioned flavours but also adds a garnish of Afrobeat and the magic of the Caribbean. Hear all that to best effect on what is essentially the album opener, 'Dance'. It comes right after a brief intro that is mostly traditional big band; 'Dance' is not "traditional".... big, brash and percussive, it weighs in at five and a half minutes and manages to get almost everything into the music mix. 'Tune For Lou' is another good 'un.... shades of soul-jazz and 60s movies (think 'The Odd Couple' or 'Charade') but in its six minutes plus it manages to push way behind those confines. And that evolutionary sound is there across all 7 tracks – using a traditional chassis, the BT ALC Big Band customize things in their own special way.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:38


MAVIS STAPLES: 'We Get By' (Anti-)

Thursday, 23 May 2019 10:38 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altMavis Staples just seems to get better with time. She'll be 80 in July but in the last decade she's recorded some of her best work as a solo artist. Though some singers inevitably lose their voices as they get older, Mavis's, like a vintage wine, has undoubtedly improved with time, gaining deeper textural nuances and a weathered sense of gravitas that makes everything she sings sound holy and profound. Her pairing up with alt-blues maven-turned-producer Ben Harper is an inspired alliance and together, the two have created a memorable sequence of songs that will resonate deeply with those who are acutely sensitive to the polarised world of haves and have nots that we continue to live in.

As a Civil Rights activist in the 50s and 60s, Mavis Staples knows all about division and prejudice and listening to this 11-song collection, it's as if the Trump era has taken us back to year zero and that all the victories she fought so hard for alongside Martin Luther King have been consigned to history's forgotten backpages. But the album is not just a bleak indictment of the current troubles that continue to besiege this planet but also pays testament to the spirit of simple human decency and offers a scintilla of hope in what seems a forlorn, hopeless world. From the robust and tense opener, a fuzz-toned blues shuffle called 'Change,' you know that Mavis is doing some serious preaching. "What good is freedom if we haven't learned to be free," she hollers and it's a sentiment that will resonate with many. The urgency of this call to action contrasts with the uplifting stoicism of the title track, the Staples Singers-like storytelling philosophising of 'Anytime'  and the simmering funk of 'Brothers And Sisters,' a message about the value of a togetherness in a fractured world.

The power of love is the inspiration behind the Bible-referencing 'Stronger' while 'Heavy On My Mind' is a pensive ballad where Mavis's voice is accompanied by a lone shimmering electric guitar a la Pops Staples. More rousing is 'Sometime,' which hitches a ride on a simple gospel-soul backbeat accentuated by handclaps. 'Chance On Me' is attractive with its jaunty rhythmic gait, while 'One More Change,' the closing track, is a sombre epilogue about faith, resolve and determination.  

This is not so much a collection of songs but rather a compendium of heartfelt pleas, prayers and parables whose theme is hope for a better future: a future that unlike the cover picture of the album isn't defined by barriers, discrimination and segregation. Mavis Staples has made many fine solo albums over the years but this one is arguably her best yet: it's powerful yet sensitive, nakedly honest yet uplifting and hopeful. In these benighted times, it shines like a much-needed beacon of light.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2019 18:28


RAHSAAN PATTERSON: Heroes And God (Shanachie)

Wednesday, 22 May 2019 12:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGood things come to those who wait.... it's been seven long years since we've enjoyed new music from smooth soul man Rahsaan Patterson – but with (at last) the release of this new long player he proves (again) that quality will always trump quantity!

We were told about this album a month or two back when Mr P issued the single 'Sent From Heaven'. Gorgeous, lazy, smooth and buttery, the track won instant favour particularly amongst the Quiet Stomers who likened it (a little) to his groundbreaking 1997 'Don't Wanna Loose It'. It was a proper teaser for the album and to whet our appetites even more that lovely ballad was followed with the more up-tempo 'Catch Me When I Fall'. The 13 track album offers plenty more goodies – both "up" and "down" moments.

The best beater (after the aforementioned 'Catch Me When I Fall') is 'Silly, Love Fool' – but maybe it's just a tad too electro for the modern soul dancers. Best of the slowies/mid tempo moments are the lovely, lithe ''Wonderful Star' which features clever interplay between Patterson and the femme chorus, 'Rock and Roll' which isn't R&R at all – rather an insidious soul groove that really takes off and 'Break It Down' – a throwback to the days of 'Don't Wanna Loose It'. For extra interest, Mr P also offers a respectful cover of Luther's 'Don't You KNow That'.

Towards the end of the album there's a suite of more experimental tracks complete with electro effects and the like. The conservative soul crowd will probably pass on them but the mesmeric 'Sweet Memories' does manage (via the effects) to conjure up a dreamy, memory-seeking soundscape. And what carries all these tunes is Patterson's memorably, unusual but very appealing voice.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:40


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