Reviews

VARIOUS: STAX SOUL EXPLOSION (UMC/Concord)

Monday, 03 June 2019 17:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn soul's storied annals a clutch of labels stand head and shoulders above all others in the importance and evolution of the genre. Amongst that select group is Stax – the leading bastion of Memphis soul. This is not the place to recount the history of the iconic label, save just to say in the label's story, 1969 was a key year. It was then that Stax ended its distribution and licensing deal with Atlantic to go solo, as it were. Though there was a little problem. Original owners brother and sister Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart had naively, some would say, signed over the rights to much of their music to Atlantic. So, out on their own and brimming with optimism, Stax had little back catalogue of its own to promote. Enter young Turk, Al Bell. Brought in by Stewart and Axton as a CEO, he was tasked with taking Stax onwards an upwards. His first job was to create a new "back catalogue". He began by commissioning a massive 27 new LPs to be cut in just a few months. Commentators dubbed the idea "the Soul Explosion" and Bell agreed that that was exactly what he was intending.

Heading the "explosion" was a compilation LP – a sort of shop window showing what the new look Stax was all about It was an immediate best seller (compilation LPs were so, so popular back then... remember 'Motown Chartbusters'?) but it was soon out of print. Now – 50 years after the event – the wonderful album is back with us in all the desired formats, including vinyl.

The album offers all the original tracks – most of 'em well known tunes like Johnnie Taylor's 'Who's Making Love' and Booker T and the MG's 'Soul Limbo'. To tempt collectors, the reissue also includes loads of rarities and lesser known items from Stax stalwarts like Ollie and the Nightingales, the Mad Lads and Judy Clay.

Remember too that 'Soul Explosion' was a shop window for Stax and Bell was keen to show that the label offered more that Southern soul... so here, there's blues from Albert King, gospel from the Staple Singers and psychedelic rock from Southwest FOB (who, anoraks will tell you, later morphed into soft rockers England Dan and John Ford Coley).

The 28 tracker is a wonderful homage to Stax and if you want more, many of those aforementioned 27, 1969 "new age Stax" recordings are being reissued too.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 03 June 2019 18:07

 

KING LOUIE ORGAN TRIO; It’s About Time (Shoug)

Friday, 31 May 2019 18:27 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altContemporary jazz fans will know that "King" Louie Pain' is a modern Hammond B3 maestro- keeping alive the spirit of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff et al. Louie's been around a while with a number of acclaimed albums under his belt, all celebrating Hammond-led, old school soul, blues and soul-jazz. However, he's never released an album in the classic trio style – till now – hence the title 'It's About Time'. The two other members of the band are drummer Edwin Coleman III and sax man Renato Caranto. Mr P's worked with the pair before, of course, but this is the first time that the threesome have called themselves a formal "trio" – not that that matters too much.... the Louis Pain sound on 'It's About Time' is essentially the same as on his other albums – old school soul-jazz all the way!

Get the flavour on the delicious, bluesy 'Big Brothers' which has a kind of 'Dimples'/'Baby Please Don't Go' thing going on. But dip in anywhere here and hear and enjoy the same flavours. All 13 tracks have been generated by the band and we're told that each one was inspired by someone dear or influential to the writer. For instance the aforementioned 'Big Brothers' is dedicated to Pain's two siblings, Lincoln and Duncan while 'Blues For Pierre' was inspired by his step brother. From a musical inspiration viewpoint, 'Chester McGriff' offers double respect to two of Louie's organ heroes - Chester Thompson and Jimmy McGriff while 'Mel Brown' is homage to the drummer with whom Louie worked for many years. Mel even guests on the track. The LP's other guests are guitarists Bruce Conte and Dan Faehnle (the former was with Tower Of Power in their heyday, while the latter has worked with amongst others Diana Krall). Guests and core players have a wealth of experience and totally understand the genre. Result – authentic soul-jazz

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 31 May 2019 18:37

 

KIM CYPHER: Love Kim X (KCM)

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

 

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