Reviews

BRIAN BROMBERG; Thicker Than Water (Artistry)

Monday, 27 August 2018 12:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrian Bromberg is an American jazz bassist with an enviable CV. He started off way back working with Stan Getz, and has since gone on to play alongside some of the biggest names in jazz and soul. As a leader, Brian's recorded over 20 albums and 'Thicker Than Water' is the latest in his catalogue. His status is such that when he goes into the studio he can call on plenty of big names to help him craft his musical ideas. So, on this 13 tracker you can enjoy the artistry of people like Randy Brecker, Marion Meadows, Najee, Everette Harp, Lenny Castro, Paul Jackson Jr, Brandon Fields and Gary Meek. In a poignant moment, there's also a cameo from George Duke. The keyboard maestro features on 'Uh, Uh' – a mid-tempo jazzy/soul groove that also has input from Randy Brecker, Bromberg believes that the track is one of the last performances from Duke. His sparkling electric piano solo is as you'd expect.

Amongst the other album highlights is the opener, 'Is That The Best You Can Do' – a funky, deep rumble that recalls those classic collaborations between Marcus Miller and David Sanborn. Everette Harp is the featured soloist on this one. Ballad highlight is the gentle 'Your Eyes' (sweet keys from Brian Zink) while Brian pays homage to Japan on 'Land Of Rising Sun'; Bromberg (like many smooth jazzers, is "big in Japan"). The track is led by Hiroshima's June Kuramoto on koto and also features bamboo flute fills courtesy of Mark Hollingsworth. 'Minneapolis 1987' is another tribute piece; this time to people like Prince and Jam and Lewis.

This is, though, a Brian Bromberg album and he allows himself plenty of scope to highlight his own musicianship via number of solos – the intros to 'Coup De Ville' and 'It's Called Life' and the closing 'A Familia' – a 2 minute plus upright bass master class.

For those who like to know these things, 'Thicker Than Water's' 13 tracks are all originals and there are no vocals. It's out now on Artistry.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 27 August 2018 12:44

 

PAUL CARRACK: These Days (Carrack)

Friday, 24 August 2018 18:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'These Days' is Paul Carrack's 17th solo album and though the 11 tracker is unmistakably the "sound of Carrack" that sound is a wee bit different. The first difference that long-time followers will notice is that there are no covers here. Unlike Paul's more recent album outings which featured fab versions of stuff like 'When My Little Girl Is Smiling', 'I'm Losing You' (the Brenda Lee song, not the Temptations), 'If Loving You Is Wrong', 'You Don't Know Me' and 'Share Your Love With Me', everything on 'These Days' is original. Secondly, for five of those originals, Paul has collaborated with Chris Difford. The pair, of course, have history. They worked together in prime time Squeeze an on a number of the tunes here there's a definite Squeezy flavour – most notably on 'Life In A Bubble' – a reflective piece that wonders why so many of us become preoccupied with our trivial "first world" problems while the "second" and "third" worlds face monumental issues and problems.

'In The Cold Light Of Day' is a little different too. Here the soundscape is country-rock... more Nashville than the cities (Chicago, Detroit?) that spawned Paul's early influences. On the LP title track the musical mood has a gentle Caribbean flavour... not quite reggae, but going in that direction. The musical message here, by the way, is to appreciate what we have while we have it. Mr C is becoming more and more philosophical in old age! (Whisper it – he's 67!)

'You Make Me Feel Good' takes us back to what Paul's best-known for - "blue-eyed" soul – the southern variety on this one. Brash and bold, the track features top flight brass, marshalled by no less a horn man that Pee Wee Ellis. Ellis' brass arrangements are a highlight throughout the album. They grace the opening, 'Amazing'... a classic slice of Paul Carrack; melodic, harmonic, polished, thoughtful, proper grown-up music. The gentler 'Dig Deep', 'The Best I Could' (Celtic echoes on this?) and 'Where Does The Time Go' merit the same adjectives as too does the swinging, Steely Dan-flavoured 'Perfect Storm'. Maybe it's a coincidence but the drummer on this one (and throughout the album) is Becker/Fagen alumnus, Steve Gadd.

So yes, 'These Days' has plenty of what you'd expect from a Paul Carrack album yet also offers some subtle surprises. As ever, what holds it all together is the Carrack voice (little wonder he's dubbed "the man with the Golden Voice") and the obvious joy and love with which Paul works. Share that joy and love when he takes to the road again in the new year. His annual tour begins on 18th January in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall, and ends on 24th March at The Lowry in Salford. 'These Days' is released on 7th September on Carrack-UK.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 August 2018 18:52

 

WILLIE HIGHTOWER: Out Of The Blue (Ace)

Thursday, 16 August 2018 13:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWillie Hightower is a real soul veteran. Well, he is 77! Born down in Gadsden, Mississippi he came to soul music via the oft-trod gospel route and in a lengthy career he's recorded for labels like Fire, Fury, Capitol, Fame and Mercury. All the singles he recorded for those labels are revered by serious Southern soul collectors; some of Willie's singles even became reasonable hits – 45s like 'It's A Miracle' and Willie's version of 'Walk A Mile In My Shoes'. However, even Mr H's devoted fans would admit that he never (sadly) became a soul major leaguer. But the man's still working – playing the clubs and bars in and around his hometown. He's also in demand at soul festivals and it was on the festival circuit that he hooked up with veteran producer Quinton Claunch (yep, the Goldwax man). Big Q (he's a sprightly 96, by the way) is still working the business and he had a hunch that it was time Willie Hightower got back to making records. The pair decamped to Muscle Shoals' Wishbone Studios and with top notch musicians like Billy Lawson, Clayton Ivey and Travis Wammack they set to work cutting tracks and the finished long player is set to be released at the end of this month by Ace Records and without wanting to sound too hyperbolic I can tell you there won't be a better, proper, authentic soul record released all year. In short, this is classic, good-time, old school soul – the stuff that young shavers like James Hunter and Van Morrison (sometimes) try to create. But the original is still the greatest and here, enjoy some great music.

The album opens with a gorgeous 'I Found You' – brassy, melodic, sweet Southern soul and ends with 'Who Who Who' – more sombre but every bit as "authentic". In between there's plenty more excellence – try 'Raining All The Time' and 'Somewhere Dry' – two classic, heartbreaking Southern "story songs" in the 'Rainy Night In Georgia' vein. Then there's 'Everybody Wants My Girl' and 'You Can't Love Me (Better Than You're Loving Me Now)' – standouts on any album. Willie and the team even make a remarkable job of Andy Kim's pop hit 'Rock Me Gently'.

Despite the years, Willie's voice has lost none of its attraction and charm and each track just grooves along effortlessly; here there's nothing forced or gimmicky... just sweet soul music as it was and as it should be and 'Out Of The Blue' is such an apt title. The album has come, it seems, from out of nowhere. Till hooking up with Claunch and Ace, Willie had just about given up hope on ever recording again! Remarkably, despite a six decade career, 'Out Of The Blue' is only Hightower's second long player! Fingers crossed it's not his last.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 August 2018 13:53

 

DAVID GARFIELD: Jammin’ Outside The Box (OTB)

Monday, 13 August 2018 13:37 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLooking for a rather special soul and soul/jazz album... one with a stellar line up? Then look no further that David Garfield's 'Jammin' Outside The Box'. Assiduous sleeve readers will recognize Garfield's name straight away... well he's been in the business for 50 years! The keyboardist, you see, began way back working with jazz icon Freddie Hubbard; he then worked on numerous projects that took him deep into other musical genres. More recently he's been the faithful MD for George Benson while he's also collaborated with Smokey Robinson. Clearly jazz and soul has always been where David's most comfortable and earlier this year we spotlighted his 'Jazz Outside The Box' album. He now follows that up with this 'Jammin' Outside The Box'... a soul, soul/jazz set which brings us to that stellar line up. For the 14 tracker Mr G has drafted in, wait for it.... amongst others – Kirk Whalum, George Benson, Smokey Robinson, Michael McDonald, Eric Marienthal, Marcus Miller, Oleta Adams, Phil Perry, Rick Braun, John Klemmer, Kenya Hathaway, Bill Champlin, David Sanborn, Ray Parker Jr and Tower of Power's Doc Kupka!

With such a line up, it's difficult to know where to start. Maybe we should begin with something that might be familiar – a version of Rufus' 'Stay'. This new take, which features sometime Rufus drummer and the song's writer, Moon Calhoun on vocals, won plenty of airplay when released as a single earlier this year. Easy to hear why. It's incendiary! George Benson and David Sanborn trade solos, by the way.

Other vocal highlights include Smokey Robinson on his own song, 'One Like You' which, I think, was originally recorded by George Benson. Smokey's voice is as sweet as ever... c'mon Bill... what about a new album of your own!!! Then there's a duet between Oleta Adams and Phil Perry on the Isleys' 'Highways Of My Life' which features a surprising mood change mid way through. The Lilliana de los Reyes vocalised version of Minnie Riperton's 'Lovin' You' offers a similar surprise as does a cover of Bobby Caldwell's 'What You Won't Do For Love'. Vocalist on this, by the way, is someone called Lamont Dozier. Amongst the instrumentals are inspired versions of Stevie's 'Go Home', Adele's 'Chasing Pavements' and Sting's 'Fragile'. All are delivered with the professionalism and perfection you'd expect.... but also expect a few surprises!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 13 August 2018 14:08

 

VARIOUS: The Contempo Story (B/G)

Sunday, 12 August 2018 18:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOnce upon a time a long time ago there was a soul music fanzine called 'Home Of The Blues'. It was the creation of soul fanatic John Abbey. The hand produced mag soon morphed into the glossy 'Blues And Soul'.The timing was perfect; B&S chimed with the explosion of soul and it soon became the genre bible – not just in the UK but worldwide. Abbey and the subsequent editor, the genial Bob Kilbourn, knew the business and also loved the music and they employed writers who shared the knowledge and the passion – people like Dave Godin, Ralph Tee, Richard Searling, David Nathan, your truly and my esteemed Soul And Jazz And Funk colleague, Charles Waring. Indeed for many years Charles and I were the magazine's chief soul writers and reviewers.

Sadly as the internet age dawned and evolved, like many music magazines, B&S went bankrupt and folded. The B&S "brand" relaunched some years ago as a web site and occasional magazine. The new owners admitted they knew little about soul and indeed in the soul world the "new" B&S is regarded as lightweight – a very pale shadow of its famous former self.

When it was its "former self", B&S was a byword for excellence in soul journalism; it enjoyed a large readership and soul artists and labels fought for inclusion in its pages. Back then, though, hard to believe, much of the music that was featured in B&S was impossible to find. Only selected soul records were ever released in the UK, imports were expensive and, of course, the digital age was eons away! Logical, therefore, for B&S to help make soul more readily available. Abbey began by working as a consultant for labels but then hit on the idea of having his own B&S linked label... first there was the short lived Mojo and eventually Contempo.

The Contempo label existed between 1973 and 1977 and served the soul public admirably, issuing over 150 singles (a few LPs too). This new 3 CD box set Contempo retrospective offers 63 of the very best Contempo releases - some are soul reissues of hard-to-find classics, some were licensed from US labels and some were specially recorded to meet a demand. Amongst the reissued classics are soul masterpieces like Bob and Earl's 'Harlem Shuffle' and Bettye Swann's 'Make Me Yours'. They're featured cheek by jowl with rarities like Richard Temple's 'That Beatin' Rhythm' (the "Jimmy Conwell" backing track to it, 'Cigarette Ashes' is also included by the way) and Juggy Jones' quirky instrumental, 'Inside America' – a far cry from the sounds on his groundbreaking Sue label from an earlier era.

Maybe the most interest comes from the tracks that Contempo commissioned themselves. Amongst those are cuts from soul icons Major Lance, Sam & Dave, Oscar Toney Jr and JJ Barnes all of whom Blues and Soul/Contempo brought over to the UK to perform and record. Anoraks/collectors and all shades of soul lovers will find loads to enjoy and intrigue... for instance 'Cross The Tracks' by "The Massai' is actually a recording by the JBs while if you want real rarities, try 'Jump The Gun'. This is the only known recording by Mike Conteh.... bother of world boxing champ John Conteh! Then there's the Phil Perry-led Montclairs with 'I Need You More Than Ever'. The excellent sleeve notes from the aforementioned David Nathan gives you all the details.... great stuff, great memoires.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 August 2018 18:50

 

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