Reviews

DAVE KOZ ad FRIENDS; Summer Horns II From A to Z (Concord)

Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altChiming perfectly with the current heat wave, smooth sax supremo, Dave Koz, has re-launched his "Summer Horns" project. The first Summer Horns was back in 2013 and, if you remember, Dave teamed up with like minded horn players, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot to groove through a selection of soul and jazz classics on which the horn parts were particularly strong. So they treated us to things like 'So Very Hard To Go', 'Got To Get You Into My Life', 'Reasons', 'Always There' and 'Rise' and jolly good they all were too!

For Summer Horns II, Kos once again works with Albright and Elliot but brings in "newcomers" Rick Braun (trumpet) and Aubrey Logan (trombone and vocals). That aside, the formula is very much like the Mark 1 long player. That's to say that Dave and his team (which includes arrangers Tom Scott, Greg Adams and Gordon Goodwin) have chosen a great selection (11 tracks in total) of soul and jazz standards where on the originals the horn section was prominent. And the crew nail their flags to the mast from the start with an opening medley salvo that pairs EWF'S 'Getaway' with KC's 'That's The Way I Like It'. Big and bold, it sets the tone for make-you-smile versions of 'More Today Than Yesterday', 'Keep That Same Old Feeling', 'If You Really Love Me' and 'Before I Let Go' (the Maze classic). All feature a gleaming horn phalanx. The set's big vocal is a swinging rendition of Natalie Cole's 'This Will Be' – vocalists here are Kenny Latimore and Shelea.

The jazz tunes include 'Take The A Train' and 'Route 66' while the one selection where the source is neither soul nor jazz is Paul Simon's 'Late In The Evening'. If you know it, you'll know it features township rhythms – fitting then that the guest vocalist is Jonathan Butler.

Harsh critics might opine that that this album lacks a level of imagination. Maybe... but c'mon, it's summer, the sun's out (dare we add that England are still in the World Cup!) and what's wrong with great tunes played with fun, energy and artistry by a top team. Nothing not to like here!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:50

 

RAMSEY LEWIS: Four Columbia Albums (BGO)

Tuesday, 03 July 2018 13:31 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe great Ramsey Lewis is a black music pioneer. His work at Chess between 1956 and 1972 was truly ground breaking and secured him a place for all time in the jazz pantheon. His 'Hang On Sloopy', 'The In Crowd' and 'Wade In The Water' remain classics and are staples of every proper jazz station. In '72, though, Lewis left Chess for Columbia and though his time at the major was maybe not quite so significant, it did yield plenty of quality jazz, crossover and fusion – notably the incomparable '74 'Sun Goddess' album.

Lewis was prolific at Columbia where he released just over 20 long payers and over the years most have been reissued. Continuing the trend, BGO have just re-released four of 'em in a double CD pack. There seems to be no real logic behind the four choices.... 'Legacy' (1978), 'Ramsey' (1979), 'Live At The Savoy' (1982) and 'Chance Encounter' (1982) save that they show the keyboardist's breadth, versatility and commitment to quality.

'78's 'Legacy' is the first up in this pack and it represents one of Lewis' most ambitious ventures. Working with producer James L Mack, he wanted to create a bridge between jazz and classical music and using a tight, disciplined framework they crafted longish pieces under the familiar classical headings toccata, adagio and fugue.

'Ramsey' from the next year was again part produced by Mack bur represented a return to what most people expected from Ramsey Lewis. The third album in this package, 'Live At The Savoy' is even more "Ramsey Lewis" and harks back to those groundbreaking Chess sets in more ways than one - he even reprises his three biggest Chess hits for the audience at New York's swanky Savoy Theatre.

The last of this set's albums is 'Close Encounter' from 1982 - a workaday affair enlivened by a Fender Rhodes-led version of 'What's Going On' and a cover of 'Up Where We Belong' which features vocals from Morris Gray and Pat Shannon.

The sleeve notes for this four album set come from our very own Charles Waring. He tells you everything you need to know (and a lot that you thought you didn't need to know!) but even he would, I'm sure, agree that maybe these particular long players aren't vital or crucial to understanding Ramsey Lewis. Nevertheless, great to have them back in circulation.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 13:54

 

SHIRLEY ELLIS: Three, Six, Nine... The Best Of (Ace)

Friday, 29 June 2018 12:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTo most, Shirley Ellis is best known for her novelty hits - stuff like 'The Clapping Song', 'The Name Game' and the even more bizarre 'Ever See A Diver Kiss His Wife While The Bubbles Bounce About Above The Water'! The Northern fraternity still love her magnificent anthem 'Soul Time' while collectors will cite her version of 'The Nitty Gritty' (the original, by the way) as every bit as soulful as the better known Gladys Knight version. But there was so much more to Shirley (born Shirley O'Gara in Harlem in 1929) than that handful of tunes... and this new 24 track Ace collection amply makes the point.

Of course, all those novelty hits are here (the excellent sleeve notes explain their meanings – especially the names in 'The Name Game') alongside 'The Nitty Gritty' and 'Soul Time' but to get the real measure of Ms Ellis just listen to her intense version of the Clyde McPhatter-led Drifters' 'Such A Night'. Penned by her producer, Lincoln Chase, Shirley's version lost out in the chart race to someone called Elvis Presley! Other familiar songs given new and soulful treatments by Shirley include 'Kansas City', 'Bring It On Home To Me', 'Back Track' and 'Yes I'm Ready'. Those last two were produced by the legendary Charles Calello and the take of the Barbara Mason Philly song gives the original a proper soul run for its money.

Never a major "name", Shirley Ellis died in 2005 aged 76 and hopefully this long overdue retrospective will help establish a bigger and better reputation for her.

(BB) 35

 

GRANT GREEN: 'Funk In France: From Paris To Antibes (1969-1970)'/ 'Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's' (Resonance)

Thursday, 21 June 2018 10:51 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

         altGrant Green is an underappreciated jazz guitar genius. Less flamboyant than his more famous contemporary, Wes Montgomery, St. Louis-born Green pioneered his own distinctive style that was almost minimalist by comparison. Often eschewing chords in favour of single note, horn-like, melodic lines, Green played with a mixture of judicious economy and good taste. He is mostly remembered for two fertile yet stylistically contrasting stints at Blue Note Records. The first Blue Note spell, between 1960 and 1965, found Green playing bop-influenced straight ahead jazz while during the second, spanning the years 1969-1972, he reinvented himself as an R&B and funk player. Two new and exciting Grant Green archival releases from the Resonance label - first released back in April on vinyl LP as limited edition Record Store Day specials - are now available on CD.

'Funk In France...' is a 2-CD set that includes six cuts recorded in front of a live audience in a Paris studio (and broadcast on French TV) in October 1969 during a rare European tour. Green is accompanied by bassist Larry Ridley and drummer, Don Lamond, who offer sympathetic support throughout. It opens with Green serving up his own full-throttle take on James Brown's verbose-titled self-determinist funk anthem, 'I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself).' After this, though, Green's trio dig into a hard-swinging straight ahead groove, reviving a couple of Sonny Rollins' classic songs,  'Oleo' and 'Sonnymoon For Two.' Green also touches on bossa nova with 'How Insensitive' and demonstrates his prowess with delicate ballads on the lovely and subdued, 'I Wish You Love,' which features a cameo from fellow American fretboard master, Barney Kessel. Interestingly, the Paris performances give us a clearer picture of Grant Green's skills and all-round ability than most of his albums (and you probably hear him play more chords here than on all his Blue Note albums combined).  

In addition to the Paris recordings, 'Funk In France...' is bolstered with four tracks recorded nine months later in July 1970 at the Antibes Jazz Festival. By this time, Green had a different travelling band - Claude Bartee on sax, Clarence Palmer on organ, and drummer, Billy Wilson. They open up with an 18-minute funk juggernaut called 'Upshot' (originally featured on Green's 'Carry On' LP) whose style mirrors the content of Green's Blue Note albums at the time (two versions of this tune are included, the second recorded two days later). In the early 60s, Green used to cover jazz standards but by the '70s, he was covering R&B hits of the day. His inclusion of jazz-infused covers of Little Anthony & The Imperials' 'Hurt So Bad' and Tommy Tucker's 'Hi Heel Sneakers' reflect his new direction.

An even deeper R&B vibe infuses Resonance's second Green offering, 'Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's.' Though the venue's name sounds like a fictional one taken from a bad movie, it actually existed and could be found in Vancouver, Canada. 'Slick!...' captures Green and his band (comprising pianist Emmanuel Riggins, bassist Ronnie Ware - who plays a prominent role in the band - drummer Greg 'Vibrations' Williams, and percussionist Gerald Izzard) there in September 1975. By that time, Green had left Blue Note. His set here is a curious melange of differnet things - he starts off with pure bebop in the shape of Charlie Parker's 'Now's The Time,' moves into bossa nova territory (serving up an epic 24-minute version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's 'How Insensitive'), and then offers an eccentric but thoroughly absorbing 14-minute medley that fuses Stanley Clarke's short, dreamy, effects-laden fusion ballad, 'Vulcan Princess,' with the Ohio Player's high-voltage, bass-heavy funk anthem, 'Skin Tight.' It then morphs into Bobby Womack's soul groove, 'Woman's Gotta Have It.'

Another, longer, medley closes the album: an unlikely marriage of Stevie Wonder's jaunty 'Boogie On Reggae Woman' and the O'Jays' Gamble & Huff-penned funk classic, 'For The Love Of Money,' which is rendered at an insanely frenetic pace. Stylistically, these are two very different, contrasting songs, of course, but Green and his cohorts convincingly fuse them together in an energetic and enjoyable way.

Both of these live Grant Green albums are mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman, which guarantees optimum high quality sound, and like all Resonance releases, they are projects that have been lovingly put together.  The artwork and packaging are both superlative and for those listeners wishing to delve into the history of Grant Green and the provenance of these two rare recordings, copious, forensically-detailed liner notes from various music experts will give plenty of insight and information. So, if you're into Grant Green, these two albums should be at the very top of your shopping list - and even if you're not a fan, if you have a taste for jazz-funk or funky jazz, then these are seriously worth investigating.  

(CW)   4/5

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 June 2018 18:51

 

KAMASI WASHINGTON: 'Heaven & Earth' (Young Turks)

Monday, 18 June 2018 20:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altFour years ago, the world was largely unaware of KAMASI WASHINGTON. He was an unsung sideman whose name was an unfamiliar one except to avid readers of album credits, who would have spotted his name on the small print of a slew of albums, including some by Ryan Adams, Robin Thicke, and Snoop Dogg.  But all that changed with the release of 'The Epic' in 2015, a game-changing triple album that transformed a journeyman saxophonist from California  into a world-famous jazz superstar. The fact that the music industry hype machine has gone into overdrive to promote the baby-faced gentle giant as jazz's new saviour would seem to put a ton of pressure on the 37-year-old but on the evidence provided by his stupendous second album, 'Heaven & Earth,' he's riding the tsunami that 'The Epic' engendered with grace and nonchalant ease.

The curse of second album syndrome isn't a factor here on an album that is brimming with ideas and creativity. Never one to do things by halves, Kamasi together with his stellar band, The Next Step, serves up a grandiose double album that is thematically more focused than his sprawling debut but which also offers a wider tonal palette. It also affirms that Washington is an accomplished storyteller, using his music to etch vivid aural narratives that feeds our imagination.

The album's divided into two diametrically-opposed  parts - 'Heaven,' and 'Earth,' each composed of eight tracks.  The former begins with a majestic arrangement of 'Fists Of Fury,' the soundtrack theme to an old Bruce Lee martial arts movie. Rhythmically, it's dynamic and funky, with lead vocals provided by the Patrice Quinn and resonant-voiced Dwight Tribble. 'Can You Hear Him' takes us on a journey into the cosmos with its ethereal choir but it's kept grounded by pulsating Latin-style rhythms, which are even stronger on the propulsive, conga-driven 'Hub-Tones,' with its snaking horn theme. As well as tight but fluid, ensemble work, the music is notable for its stunning solos - not just from Washington's tenor sax, but also from trumpeter Dontae Winslow, and trombonist, Ryan Porter. The uniqueness of Washington's sonic vision is encapsulated by 'Connections,' mostly a simmering, low-key ballad but which is periodically enhanced by a full choir together with orchestra and swirling harps, which give it a larger-than-life, widescreen feel.

The cinematic dimension of Washington's music is even more apparent on the opening cut of the 'Heaven' part of the album. 'The Space Travelers Lullaby' is gorgeous beyond words - an immersive, supremely imaginative, interstellar tone poem that is beautifully arranged (with lush orchestration and a celestial choir) and demonstrates that the saxophonist could easily begin  a new career as a composer of movie scores. By contrast 'Vi Lua Vi Sol,' propelled by Miles Mosley's bass, is tinged with contemporary R&B - in a similar way to what Robert Glasper has been doing with his Experiment band - and features Brandon Coleman singing an infectious melody through a vocoder.  Though grittier, 'Street Fighter Mas' exemplifies Washington's penchant for anthem-like melodies while the driving 'Show Us The Way' sounds like a slower, less frenetic, and more considered version of 'Change Of The Guard,' from his first album.  The album closes with 'Will You Sing,' a rousing slice of choral jazz.

Despite the arresting cover photo, Kamasi Washington can't really walk on water - but he does perform miracles on 'Heaven & Earth,' a deeply impressive collection of songs that will cement his place in the jazz history books. 'The Epic' was no flash in the pan. Rather, it was a bolt of lightning and the start of something deeper and more momentous.  He's made jazz exciting, relevant and more appealing again to the wider general public. Anyone who doubted Washington's ability to reach the creative peaks of 'The Epic' will have to think again. 'Heaven & Earth' is masterly in its execution and consistently breathtaking in its beauty. It's a hugely significant record, not only for jazz, but popular music in general - a masterpiece, in fact.  Jazz has a new messiah ...and his name is Kamasi Washington.

'Heaven & Earth' is out on Friday June 22nd.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 June 2018 18:51

 

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