Reviews

LIVE: Brad Mehldau Trio @ Bath Assembly Rooms 20/5/2017

Sunday, 21 May 2017 12:05 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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There are those who view Brad Mehldau as the direct musical descendent of fellow pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. That's not surprising, perhaps, and totally understandable, given that both of those illustrious musicians, like Mehldau, were profoundly influenced by classical music, favoured a densely harmonic, lyrical style and played a major role in plotting the trajectory of the piano trio in the post-bop era. What makes Mehldau different is not solely his propensity to include pop and rock songs in his repertoire - in terms of cover versions, his set list is just as likely to include Radiohead, Oasis and Beatles' tunes as traditional jazz standards - but also his unique contrapuntal approach. Mehldau has developed a technique where he uses his left hand almost as much as his right to craft melodies, motifs, and solos. An orthodox jazz pianist will mostly use his or her left hand to play supporting chords and harmonies while the right takes the lead role but for Mehldau, both hands have an equal say in creating the music and often a ornate, almost quasi-baroque, tapestry of sounds and tone colours results.

The best way to appreciate Brad Mehldau's technical brilliance is in a live setting and so this concert as part of the 2017 Bath Festival with his celebrated trio - the long-serving and peerless Larry Grenadier on bass and swashbuckling Jeff Ballard on drums - offered an ideal opportunity to witness the man in action. But to focus solely on Mehldau's technical accomplishments is to blind yourself to another of his gifts - his sensitivity. Indeed, he achieves the perfect equilibrium between 'chops' and feeling; between his virtuosic manual dexterity and keen emotional intelligence. To have one of these gifts is  to be armed with a potent weapon but to possess both, as Mehldau does, is very special indeed. But singling out Mehldau is to miss the point of the trio - it is, after all, three people playing and each makes his own singular contribution. In the 1960s, Bill Evans introduced a piano trio where a more democratic approach was taken, allowing the bassist and drummer to be regarded as more than mere accompanists and contribute to music in pro-actively creative way. Mehldau has always adhered to the same principle and allows Grenadier and Ballard to express themselves fully within the music. Indeed, the three have achieved a telepathic level of understanding in the way they interact and communicate with each other on stage.

They began with two new and unfamiliar numbers. The first, 'Gentle John,' is a homage to guitarist, John Scofield, with whom Mehldau worked last summer, and the second, as yet untitled, was more pugnacious and built upon a dynamic Jeff Ballard drum groove. Those two tunes showed the trio in full-throttle mode but the next one, 'Wolfgang's Waltz,' was a delicate ballad in 3/4 time that the pianist had originally recorded with Austrian guitarist, Wolfgang Muthspiel, on last year's ECM album, 'Rising Grace.' That particular song highlighted the symbiotic nature of the trio's interaction, which reached an even higher peak of expression on a superlative rendering of Lennon & McCartney's 'And I Love Her,' one of the highlights of their recent 'Blues & Ballads' LP on Nonesuch. It showed that while Grenadier and Ballard function as a reliable rhythmic engine room, their contributions also evince subtlety as well as power, allowing Mehldau the freedom to roam and sculpt elaborate melodic filigrees with an ingeniousness that provoked wonder.

But ultimately, the concert wasn't just about one man - rather, it emphasized the 'all-for-one, one-for-all' ethos of the American pianist's trio. It was a vivid demonstration of what happens when three super-talented jazz musicians unite in thought and purpose, producing music of an extraordinarily high, transcendent, quality.  This was, then, a concert to savour.

(Charles Waring)

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 12:10

 

FREDDIE NORTH: What Are You Doing To Me (Kent)

Friday, 19 May 2017 13:46 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFreddie North (born Frederick Carpenter in Nashville in 1939) was a fine Southern soul singer who never quite made it into the genre's major leagues. Nevertheless, blessed with a mellifluous Jerry Butler style baritone he found regular work in and around Nashville. In his time he recorded for labels like University, Capitol, East West, Philips and Nashboro where, apart from making records, he was also head of promotion. At Nashboro, Freddie cut many fine soul sides for their Mankind imprint. Most were produced by Jerry Williams Jr. and his 1970 'Magnetic North' long player is rightly regarded as a southern soul masterpiece. Most of North's Mankind output has been reissued, chiefly by Ace/Kent and now they make available the best of Freddie North's earlier recordings (cut for the A- Bet subsidiary) alongside several more Mankind releases – in all, a generous 23 cuts, four of which are seeing the light of day for the very first time!

The music reveals a fine soul stylist, with an uncanny similarity in tone and approach to the great Jerry Butler. Indeed this collection kicks off with Freddie's version of Butler's 'Gotta Go Get Your Mommy To Come Back Home Again' while covers of 'Rainy Night In Georgia', 'Oh Lord What Are You Doing To Me' , 'Remember What I Told You To Forget' and 'My Whole World Ended' could be outtakes from a prime time Ice Man album. Superb stuff!

Of the previously unissued tracks, soul buffs will recognize 'Til I Get It Right'. Originally recorded by Tammy Wynette, Bettye Swann cut the defining soul version. Freddie almost matches it with a sound maybe more like Joe Simon than Jerry Butler.

Freddie North stayed with the Nashboro set up till 1977. Reverting to his birth name, he joined the Christian ministry and is now the pastor at Nashville's Bethel Church. We're told that he politely rebuffs all request for interviews and information about his secular music career... so all we have is the music... sweet southern soul at its best!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 19 May 2017 13:52

 

KASHIF: 'Help Yourself To My Love - The Arista Anthology' (SoulMusic Records)

Monday, 15 May 2017 19:35 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                    altProducer and singer/songwriter Kashif Saleem was a pioneering trendsetter in the early 1980s, spearheading a new kind of keyboard-dominated R&B that was defined by an electro minimalism reliant on fat synth bass lines and lean drum machine grooves. As a solo artist, he enjoyed a particularly fertile spell at music mogul Clive Davis's Arista Records between the years 1983 and 1989 and it is that fecund period that falls under the spotlight of this superb 2-CD/30-track retrospective.

Originally born Michael Jones, Kashif endured an unfeasibly tough upbringing - his mother was a drug addict and he was placed in the care of a foster family who cruelly abused him - but he discovered joy and salvation in music at school. Initially, the flute was his only instrument but he quickly gained proficiency at other instruments and at the age of twelve he was playing professionally.  Fast forward a few years and he was playing keys for disco-funk band, B.T. Express, where he also began to flex his muscles as a composer. He outgrew the band and then played keys for Stephanie Mills before joining Morrie Brown's Mighty M Productions in 1981 where he wrote 'I'm In Love' for Evelyn 'Champagne' King, which would get him noticed by Clive Davis at Arista who hired to work with the Average White Band and then saxophonist, Kenny G.

It wasn't long before Kashif was cutting his own album for Arista, 1983's eponymous LP, which yielded his debut hit single, 'I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On),' which is the opening cut on this compilation featuring singles, B-sides, choice album cuts and noteworthy extended mixes (and remixes). Its sparse instrumentation comprised of syncopated Moog bass, a staccato rhythm guitar mostly playing single notes, and shimmering keys, came to set a stylistic paradigm for urban music in the early '80s and was much imitated. The vocals, too, were striking, particularly the sweetly harmonized background voices that counterpointed Kashif's plaintive lead vocals. Other gems from this period include the fabulous dancers, 'Help Yourself To My Love,' 'Stone Love' and 'Rumors.'

But Kashif just wasn't a master of the romantic dance groove, he was also a great balladeer, exemplified by the gorgeous mid-tempo 'Say Somethin'' Love,'  'Are You The Woman' and the pleading 'Send Me Your Love.'  His 1987 duet with Meli'sa Morgan on a passionate retread of Mother's Finest's 'Love Changes' is another highpoint here (the 'A Capella' mix of the same track is also included as a bonus). It's the first of several collaborations featured on the romantic-themed second CD, including duets with Dionne Warwick ('Reservation For Two') and Kenny G ('Love On The Rise').

Kashif, who passed away last year aged 59, was an important figure in the evolution of R&B music in the 1980s but his contribution has often been overlooked. Now, though, his talent and music finally get commemorated by lovingly-curated  compilation that they truly deserve.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 May 2017 10:18

 

SOIL AND PIMP: Black Track (BFD/Sony Red)

Monday, 15 May 2017 15:35 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoil and Pimp are a six piece Japanese jazz outfit, though they themselves prefer to label their sound "Death jazz"... defined they say as "a melange of careering and screaming jazz rhythms, club banging hip-hop beats, retro and neo soul grooves and rampaging punk rock and roll jams!". They've been in business since 2006 and have been championed by tastemakers like Gilles Peterson. The band has played the Glastonbury, Monteeux and North Sea festivals and they're hoping that with 'Black Track' (their tenth long player) they'll gain more mainstream acceptance.

Having taken the 13 tracker for a few spins I'd suggest that achieving that goal is going to be hard work. Not that there's anything wrong with the music here, it's just that there's little that's easily accessible – the kind of stuff craved for by the mainstream; moreover there are so many flavours on offer that it's hard to work out who would enjoy the entire work. For instance those who'll love the neo soul sound of 'In2 My Soul' (great vocal from Xavier Boyer by the way) might struggle with the hard bop of the album's title track. Jazz purists will love that one but they then may take exception to the rapping on 'By You Side' in the same way that years ago they railed against Guru's 'Jazzmatazz' albums.

So maybe 'Black Track' is one for listeners to dip into – a bit like Forest Gump's box of chocolates! Take and enjoy the track that appeals. Top of that list for most should be the slowed down cover of Herbie Hancock's' 'Cantaloupe Island'.... accessible to all. 'Papaya Pai Pai' will appeal to those who like their jazz to be fun. This could be the soundtrack to a forties or fifties cartoon ... think Popeye going toe to toe with Bluto! Different again is the slinky, smooth jazz unnamed introduction, but by now you should be getting the point. "Death Jazz"? ... Who knows....? "A melange of careering and screaming jazz rhythms, club banging hip-hop beats, retro and neo soul grooves and rampaging punk rock and roll jams!".... That's probably more accurate!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 15 May 2017 15:42

 

VARIOUS: Bob Holmes’ Nashville Soul (Kent)

Thursday, 11 May 2017 15:53 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altNashville is the capital of country music but the city also supports (and always has) a thriving soul scene. Nashville's soul legacy has been explored several times by Ace/Kent and they continue here with a 24 tracker that focuses on one particular aspect of the Nashville soul story... the work of Bob Holmes.

Holmes grew up in Memphis – the son of righteous parents who brought young Robert up in the gospel tradition; their son soon becoming musical director at their local church. Bob eventually attended Tennessee State University in Nashville and though he continued to play in church he began to branch out into secular music too. Landing a job as a music teacher, Bob went on to found the Cremona Strings and he soon became a "name" on the Nashville circuit.... in demand as a session player and arranger. By the mid 60s he was writing and producing too and this compilation offers a cross section of his work as either writer, producer or arranger (sometimes all three) for labels like A-Bet, Ref-o-Ree, Bell, De-Luxe, Excello... even Stax/Volt. The Volt track, by the way, is Roger Hatcher's 'I Dedicate My Life To You' – a typically Southern sounding outing that Holmes co-wrote and arranged. It was produced by Don Davis' Groovesville outfit and some might remember the Dramatics' version of the song.

Other Southern fried flavours come courtesy of cuts like 'You Must Leave Her Because You Love Her' from the Paramount Four, Eddie Frierson's 'Don't Make Me Look So Bad' and 'Right In The Palm Of Your Hand' from the wonderfully-named Jimmy Church. Surprisingly, maybe, many of the cuts have a real uptown flavour... try The Hytones' previously unissued 'Runaway Girl' or Sandra King's 'Leave It Up To The Boys' which has a real Brill Building feel to it.

Amongst the other highlights include Joe Tex's wonderful 'Under Your Powerful Love'. Complete with a typically Tex monologue, you'll hear Holmes' skill as a string arranger. Then there's the smooth supper club soul of 'Let's Try Love Again' from Ruthie. Recorded as late as 1980, it shows Holmes could move with the times. From 1969, The Golden Bond's 'I Know (It's All Over) is a wonderful harmony ballad in the Philly style while the catchy instrumental 'Girl Watching On Broadway' from session band, the Little Rock Brotherhood saw action on the Northern soul scene.

Bob Holmes died of heart problems in 2000; but he left a wonderful, proper soul legacy. Enjoy the best of it here.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 May 2017 16:11

 

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