THE BRAXTON BROTHERS; Higher (Braxton Productions)

Friday, 02 November 2018 18:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Braxton Brothers (bassist Nelson and sax man Wayne) have been crafting great smooth jazz together for longer than I'm sure they'd care to remember. A regular and consistent flow of albums has kept the siblings' name out there and this new 12 track set won't harm that trajectory. It'll be sure to please their followers who have come to love the unique bass/sax dialogue they have perfected.

Hear that very special, sound on the album opener, 'The Only Woman In The World'. This is a classic smooth jazz groove.... tight and soulful. Little wonder that the boys have chosen this as the set's lead single. There's more of the same on 'You Care About Me' while on the set's title track they crank up the pace....nothing smooth about this 'Higher'.

Opposing that one the album offers a trio, of pleasing quiet storm moments... of which 'Something In My Heart' is the easiest on the ear. 'Beauty' offers something quite different. This light romp is caressed in Caribbean flavours and there is a minimal vocal from Joelibeck Neisler-Lebron. He also features on the gentle 'What Would I Do' – another classic smooth groove. It's hardly a full-on vocal; the album, would, I think benefit from a more focused vocal cut and that there isn't one is odd given that the Braxtons say that when they write their tunes they start with lyrics to create the mood and image; then they jettison the words for the tune they've crafted to accompany them. C'mon boys, give us a proper vocal! Likewise maybe they could throw a little caution to the wind and attempt an imaginative cover. As it is 'Higher' is a fine, undemanding smooth jazz set, but it just doesn't quite ignite. Maybe it wasn't supposed to. As we opined up top, this new set will keep the faithful happy but it probably won't make many new converts.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 November 2018 18:59


VARIOUS; Mod Jazz Rides Again (Kent)

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 20:16 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altOver the past several years, Ace/Kent have curated a wonderful series with the titling "mod jazz". The idea was to present a selection of late 50s/early 60s jazz, soul-jazz and blues that first generation mods could have grooved to in their smoky 60s cellar clubs and chic Italian style coffee bars. We use the term "could have" rather than "did", because most of the tunes that the Kent compilers selected for these albums never ever saw release in the UK and with imports few and far between (and very expensive), it was unlikely that any 60s mods ever shimmied/walked the dog/ boogalooed to the music on the albums. That's not the point though. The music on the albums was exactly what the mods would have enjoyed had they the opportunity to get hold of it. Whatever, as you can see from this review's title, Kent has resurrected "mod jazz" and here they offer another fine selection of foot-tapping, head-nodding, sophisticated 50s/60s modernist club sounds.

As with previous mod jazz albums, the big names rub shoulders with lesser know performers. So, for instance, Nina Simone sits cheek by jowl with people like Billy Graham and the Escalators. Little is known about Billy except that his soul-jazz groove,  'East 24th Avenue' was released on US Atlantic in 1966. The Nina Simone cut by the way is 'Come On Back Jack' – her answer to Ray Charles' 'Hit The Road Jack'. Like that one, there are plenty of other well-known tunes here - all given interesting new treatments like Johnny "Hammond" Smith's version of another Charles' tune – 'Sticks And Stones'. Here the highlight is Freddie McCoy's vibes rather than Smith's mighty organ!

Another album highlight is a swinging version of Tony Hatch's 'I Know A Place' from Sammy Davies Jr (backed by the Buddy Rich band, by the way!) while Harold Better's 'Hot Tamale Man' is just the kind of tune that Georgie Fame would have covered at the Flamingo (if he'd known about it back then!)

'Mod Jazz Rides Again' also offers plenty of classy blues from people like Otis Span and T Bone Walker while the blues classic 'Spoonful' is here too in a Booker T style makeover from the Playboy Five.

'Mod Jazz Rides Again' is out now

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2018 20:41


ANTHONY DAVID; Hello Like Before (Shanachie)

Friday, 26 October 2018 13:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in the summer new age soul man Anthony David announced that he was working on a tribute album to one of his musical heroes and seminal influences – the wonderful Bill Withers. Anthony made the announcement with the release of a single –a cover of Withers' subtle yet powerful anti-war song, 'I Can't Write Left-Handed'. Interestingly that single and the announcement were both scheduled on July 4... the birthday of both Bill Withers and, of course, the USA!

Now Anthony completes his present to Bill with the release of the full 10 track album... and what a lovely present it makes – not just for Bill Withers but for anyone who loves well crafted songs beautifully presented... proper soul music, if you would.

The aforementioned single 'I Can't Write Left-Handed' isn't one of Bill Withers' best known songs. If I remember rightly it was initially only ever released on Bill's 'Live At Carnegie Hall' album. But on release Anthony explained that though not that well known it was one of his favourite songs – and one that had personal resonance because of his time in the military during the US Desert Storm mission and a good number of the rest of the album songs come from the lesser known areas of Withers' extensive back catalogue.

So if you're not that familiar with them, here you can enjoy tunes like 'Hope You'll Be Happier', 'Kiss My Love' and 'I Don't Know'. Of course the album also features many of Withers' really big songs 'Use Me', 'Grandma's Hands' and 'Lovely Day' amongst them. Given Anthony David's reverence for Bill Withers, you won't be surprised to know that his "new" versions are respectful – never straying too far from the classic Withers' templates. There are some subtle nuances though – like the Jobim-esque intro to 'Hello Like Before' – a tad more Brazilian that the original and just as lovely. And therein lies this album's appeal. Bill Withers has long been retired (good on him, we say!) and good on Anthony David for reminding us of his special talent and artistry!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 26 October 2018 14:11


THE DOGGETT BROTHERS: Get High (Ashwood/P Vine)

Monday, 22 October 2018 14:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWe've been tracking the career of East Anglia's Doggett Brothers (Greg and Carl) since 2010 when they were featured on one of the 'Soul Unsigned' albums. That exposure gave the sibling writing/musician/production partnership the confidence to issue a full LP - 'Daylight' which became Jazz FM's "album of the week"! A few bits and bobs followed; then their acclaimed 'Colours' long player in 2016. Now the boys are delighted to launch their latest long player – the ten tracker that is 'Get High'.

Anticipation for the album has been high amongst the soul cognoscenti since the set has been prefaced by two wonderful singles. First everyone enjoyed the album's title track....'Get High'. Guest vocalist was/is the too long neglected Nate James and he nails the song which rides on an edgy, electronic but still soulful groove. Then came 'Don't You Know' –a totally different proposition... a gorgeous ballad with soulful vocals from Jarrod Lawson and a caress of sweet strings. The Doggetts had done ballads before but 'Don't You Know' is the work of properly mature soul producers; it's haunting and emotion-tugging and full of painful tenderness.

In truth, it is the album highlight but let's be clear. 'Get High' (the album) is no one trick (or bearing in mind what we've just said "two") trick pony! 'Stumbling' is another hit the spot slow groove with a lazy neo soul vocal from Hannah Tobias while 'You Give Me Something' (vocals from B Thompson) will please soul dancers. Interestingly both these tunes have the same electro edge that is apparent on the LP title cut.

The remaining vocals are handled by UK singer Coco Malone and she does a great job on tunes like 'California Sunshine' and 'In The Flow' and I'm guessing that she's the voice on the LP closer 'Gonna Wait' –a semi-instrumental that allows the Doggetts to show their instrumental skill and their jazzy predilections (their dad Alan was a noted jazz drummer). It's a satisfying end to the ten tracker; and you know, ten tracks is just about right for a soul album. Quantity rarely means consistent quality. Here we have ten perfectly crafted soul cuts – clearly put together with love and respect for the genre.

The album is out now on Ashwood Records but on P Vine in Japan.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 22 October 2018 14:58


VARIOUS: Essential Motown Northern Soul (Universal/Spectrum)

Wednesday, 17 October 2018 12:44 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThere are any number of Motown compilations out there but most tread the safe and predicable path of "classics" and "greatest hits" sets. From time to time though the label custodians come up with something a little different and therefore a little more exciting... and this new 3 CD, 66 track collection is just that. Here we have a plethora of the venerable old label's best tunes that were espoused and championed by the Northern soul scene... and, yes, that title is right.... "essential" is bob on.

The pack kicks off with a cut that says everything about the connection between Motown and the Northern scene...Frank Wilson's 'Do I Love You'. This ticks all the boxes implicit in the collection's title and yes, at one time (reportedly) 'Do I Love You' was one of the world's rarest records. And yes, the first pressing 45s might be as rare as a Jose Mourinho smile but the tune is now mighty familiar and readily available in all kinds of formats. I remember it was recently used as a main theme in a BBC drama series. But that familiarity doesn't diminish its magic and pizzazz! It's still a masterpiece. And this set boasts plenty more that's just as familiar and magical.... The Velvelettes 'Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I', Edwin Starr's 'I Have Faith In You' and Earl Van Dyke's '6 By 6'amongst them. Other big names and big tunes rub shoulders with Motown second stringers (people like Debbie Dean and Frances Nero) and that only adds to this sets attraction.

Another attraction –for me at least – is that not all the cuts are frantic and frenetic four on the floor beaters. There's plenty of subtly mellower moments and my guess is that as the original Northern crew age (disgracefully or whatever) they'll really enjoy stuff like Marvin's version of 'Sweet Thing', the Supremes' cover of 'Stormy' and Barbara McNair's delicious 'It Happens Every Time'. Essential? I'd say.... and retailing at something like £4.99 even more so!!!

(BB) 5/5


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