Reviews

THE RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO: In Person 1965-67 (Label: Rev-o-La)

Thursday, 13 March 2008 06:41 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO: In Person 1965-67

Though some short-sighted jazz purists enjoy taking pot shots at Ramsey Lewis, there can be no argument about the sterling work he did in the mid-sixties to popularize jazz with a series of swinging albums and chart-riding singles which he cut for the Chess organization. There's any number of Ramsey Lewis compilations out there and, rightly, they're stuffed with the big hits and the well-known tunes. This new Rev-o-la set, however, is different. It contains two full albums back to back - '65's 'Hang On Ramsey' and '67's 'Dancing In The Street'. Both were recorded live - the former at the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse Club and the latter and San Francisco's Basin Street West - and both have that lovely live, organic swing that marked out Lewis's hits like 'Hang On Sloopy'… and indeed that foot-tapping rework of the Vibrations/ McCoy's hit is at the heart of this collection. But the great thing about having the full albums (as opposed to just the hits) is that it's patently clear that Lewis was - indeed still is - a great and true jazz stylist. On stuff like 'Satin Doll' and 'What Now My Love' the playing is as dextrous, as sensitive and as soulful as anything the "proper" jazz heavyweights were laying down at the time. Maybe, just maybe, the purists we alluded to up top felt that scoring hits wasn't quite right; maybe they wanted to keep the great music to themselves. Thank goodness then for Ramsey Lewis. He turned many onto jazz and plenty of that many - me included - went on to investigate and discover a whole new world of exciting music. Great to have these two fabulous LPs back on the racks and for the anoraks Eldee Young and Red Holt are bassist and drummer on 'Hang On…' while Cleveland Eaton and a young Maurice White take the roles on 'Dancing In The Street'.
(BB) 4/5

 

CLARE TEAL: Get Happy (Label: W14 Music)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008 10:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

CLARE TEAL: Get Happy

Clare Teal isn't everybody's idea of a jazz singer but she has a legion of devoted fans who'll simply point doubters to the numerous jazz awards she's won in recent years and those fans will delight in this new album - chiefly because it follows the recipe of her previous best sellers. That's to say it contains a good mix of standards, original songs and Clare's unique take on classic pop tunes. That latter category provides a couple of the album's high spots in 'Love Hurts' and 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do'. On the old Everly Brothers' hit, her vocal brings out the poignant beauty of Boudleaux Bryant's melody while the Neil Sedaka '62 teen angst anthem is beautifully slowed down. The lady treats Van Morrison's 'Moondance' with more respect , while versions of standards like 'Love For Sale', 'Cheek To Cheek' and 'The Very Thought Of You' aren't too different from the way their venerable writers would have envisaged them. Of the originals, 'All For Love' is an almost 50s kitsch throwback, 'Get On It Sam' has a lovely Bacharach-Swingle Singers feel to it, while 'High Love' is a lovely lounge ballad. By using the same five piece band throughout, 'Get Happy' achieves a real coherence despite the variety of the material and that unity is reinforced by Teal's convincing vocals and her enthusiasm. She sounds happy doing what she's doing and my guess is that she doesn't give a toss for the doubters. She's having fun getting happy and you can too.
(BB) 4/5

 

NAYO: 'African Girl' (Label: Fyro Music)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008 08:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

NAYO: 'African Girl'

Soul purists - a blinkered, myopic breed at the best of times - will probably turn their noses up at this soul-infused 10-track collection by Nigerian singer/songwriter, Nayo Abidoye. If so, they're denying themselves a deeply delicious and eminently memorable musical experience - sure, 'African Girl' is pop-tinged and peppered with catchy hook lines but behind the gleaming radio-friendly production values you'll some truly fabulous songs and alluring vocal performances. Although she cites Astrud Gilberto, Bob Marley, Sade and Fela Kuti as her four main influences, Nayo's music bears no resemblance to anything issued by that illustrious quartet. In fact, her sound isn't easily definable and transcends categorization - what is unequivocal, though, is that the resulting album is as refreshing, exotic and colourful as a thirst-quenching tropical cocktail. Some readers may be familiar with a couple of tracks - the excellent 'African Girl' and 'Desert Storm' - which were issued as singles in 2007. The title track is a beautiful song - a gently undulating, hypnotic groove laced with subtle tinctures of keyboard and guitar over which Nayo delivers a plaintive and infectious vocal melody. The soft, bossa nova-style ambience of 'Overdose On Love' is also seductive to the ear, as are the poignant 'Harder Than Rock,' 'Fool For You' and the sensuous, Latin-flavoured 'Mr. So & So,' which features atmospheric touches of Spanish guitar. To tell the truth, there are no duff moments on this attractive album - the fact that I've been playing 'African Girl' more than any other album during the last month or so tells its own story. A shining example of well-crafted, noughties pop-soul.
(CW) 4/5

 

NATALIE GARDINER: California (Label: Ramjac)

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 10:30 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

NATALIE GARDINER: California

Despite this album's title, Natalie Gardiner hails from Uppsala in deepest darkest Sweden where in the long cold winters she immersed herself in her mother's extensive jazz and soul collection. 'California' is her second full album and repeated listens betray those influences. Ms. Gardiner has her own very particular vocal style. It's laid back and cool and you'll hear traces of people like Minnie Riperton, Sade and even Jill Scott and Norah Jones. Her laid back, almost laconic approach is matched by the music which is supplied by some of Sweden's top session players. However, their instrumentation is largely electronic and therein lies the problem. It all sounds too sterile to be truly soulful and though Natalie offers passion the players sound too detached from her particular commitment to the lyric. Occasionally it does come together - as on 'Summer Rain' and 'On The Low'. That first one boasts a decent if wistful melody line and creates its own tension; the other cut offers precise clipped beats and could almost encourage dancers … note - I say "almost". There, you see, is another of the album's drawbacks. The eleven tracks are all very serious - some would even say po-faced. There is nothing here that could be called optimistic. Even the deepest soul album usually offers a degree of lightness or maybe a hint of joy or the prospect of better times to come. Here Natalie and cohorts wallow in doom and gloom… maybe it's that Scandinavian winter… I don't know. I just feel that 'California' should have a little brightness.
(BB) 3/5

 

DORIS DUKE: Woman (Label: Shout)

Monday, 10 March 2008 10:45 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DORIS DUKE: Woman

The redoubtable Doris Duke is real underground soul heroine. Her reputation rests chiefly on her wondrous 1969 album 'I'm A Loser' - often cited as the definitive deep soul LP - though real anoraks will also recall the singles she cut as Doris Willingham. Her cult status brought her to England in 1974 where she recorded an album for John Abbey's Contempo label. Abbey, of course, was the founder and editor of Blues and Soul magazine and his label was a spin off from the magazine's then huge popularity. Using the cream of British session players dubbed "Ultrafunk and the Armada Orchestra", Duke and Abbey cut nine tracks which were issued as the 'Woman' album in 1975. The LP wasn't particularly well-received - possibly because it was heavy on cover versions - and till now it's lain in the vault - neglected and dusty. This welcome Shout reissue shows that the original indifference to the set was misplaced and though purists will say it doesn't match the heights of 'Loser' it does have many fine moments and even on fairly pedestrian material like Bunny Sigler's 'Grasshopper' and Gamble and Huff's 'A Little Bit Of Your Love', Duke's majestically world-weary and truly soulful voice carries the day. Amongst the real highlights are a cover of Carla Thomas' 'Pick Up The Pieces' and a slowed-down version of the Supremes' 'Love Is Here And Now You're Gone'. On that one the obvious influence was Margie Joseph's famous take on 'Stop In the Name Of Love' and like Margie, Doris quite transforms what is essentially a pop hit into a soul stunner. There's more not-to-be-missed deep soul in the covers of Harlan Howard's country song 'To Chicago With Love' and Irma Thomas' 'Full Time Woman' and listening to those it's hard to figure why the set was cold-shouldered in its day. Doris piles plenty of soul conviction into every cut and though the CD is short - running in at just over 40 minutes, investigation is recommended for anyone who cares about real soul and the unique stylists who craft it.
(BB) 4/5

 

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