WILL DOWNING; The Promise (Shanachie)

Friday, 07 December 2018 16:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoul is the most personal of all musical genres and the masters of the craft deliver with such intimacy and conviction that they seem to be able to speak to and connect with each and every individual directly. Will Downing is an undoubted master of the soul art and over two decades he's delivered plenty of proper soul music – music that is both universal and personal. Now with his latest project, 'The Promise', Will delivers his most personal album to date.

You see back in 2007 – at what was shaping up to be his career peak – Will Downing was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease polymyositis. Always a fighter, Downing eventually recovered through, he believes, a combination of medical skill, familial love and his faith in God. The singer tells us that in prayer through his lowest times he offered himself to God in return for a recovery: "Lord you see me through this and I promise I will give you all the honour, all the praise...wherever I go."

Thankfully, Will made a full recovery and since 2007 he's made several excellent albums, but now 12 years down the line, he delivers on his promise with 'The Promise' – our man's first full gospel album and his testimony to the power of faith and prayer.

Musically, the sound is vintage Will Downing... smooth, sophisticated soul with, as you'd imagine, in places, gospel shadings. Those shadings are most obvious on the opener, 'Take It To The Cross', which features what sounds like a large gospel choir in support of Will's heartfelt testifying. Elsewhere there are pleasing upbeat, optimistic moments like 'God Will Show You The Way' which echoes those great Sounds Of Blackness /Jam and Lewis tunes and 'Look At Yourself In The Mirror' which was the album's first single. There are deeper moments too like the piano led 'God Is So Amazing' and 'Changed' - a stirring duet with Regina Belle.

Will calls this album is love letter to God; the ten song cycle is in the long tradition of gospel testifying... sharing experiences of adversity and overcoming it. But even if you're not a believer, Will also delivers a master class in soul music; believer or not this music will speak to you.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 07 December 2018 17:00


LYNNE FIDDMONT; Power Of Love (via CDBaby)

Friday, 30 November 2018 19:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLovely Lynne Fiddmont is one of America's top session and backing vocalists. There aren't too many big names, across all kinds of genres, who haven't benefited from Lynne's artistry in their back line either in the studio or live. Amongst the icons who've profited from Lynne's support are Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Bill Withers, Phil Collins, Barbara Streisand, George Duke, Barbara Streisand, Seal and Joe Zawinul. Ms F is in such demand that she finds it hard to pursue her own solo career but over time she's managed to record three fine solo sets including an acclaimed Billie Holiday tribute.

Lynne is currently promoting this, her fourth solo long player and 'Power Of Love' was much anticipated after the release of two heralding singles. First there was a swinging, jazzy version of Lou Rawls' 'Groovy People' and an equally fine 'Daylight' . Their quality was no flash in the proverbial pan; the 12 tracker that is 'Power of Love' is stuffed with plenty more of the same soul excellence. If you want foot tappers there are 'Good Time Party' and 'Walking On Rainbows' – the latter, a particularly fine slab of modern soul optimism. For something a little more laid back, try the moody meander of the album's title track or the bumpy 'Go'.

But where 'Power Of Love' really scores is in the delivery of the chosen cover songs. There's always been debate about the merits of cover versions. Can they be creative? Are they cop-outs? Do they match the quality of the original? Well, of course, the answers to all those questions are matters of opinion, but what is clear is that artists confident in their own abilities are never frightened to cover even very well known songs and put their own spin on 'em.... dear old Luther Vandross was a great example of this. Lynne Fiddmont, like Luther, from the sessioneer ranks, is clearly mightily confident in what she can do too, 'cos here she offers her versions of five very well known classics. We've already mentioned her take on 'Groovy People' – but you really need bottle (and some voice!) to try Minnie Riperton's 'Lovin' You'. Here Lynne offers a beautiful, melancholic jazzy version and if that's not enough there's a second Minnie cover – the less well-known 'Memory Lane'. Lynne nails that one too as she does with John Lennon's 'Imagine' and Stevie Wonder's 'Key Of Life' song 'Ngiculela .. I Am Singing'. Yes, our Lynne's not frightened to take on the big names.... comfortable in what she knows she can do, she just does it ... and beautifully! Mr Wonder no less recently commented: "Lynne's Music is Hot! She's been mine for years... now she will be yours too." Recommendation seconded!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 20:04


MARCUS STRICKLAND TWI-LIFE: 'People Of The Sun' (Blue Note/Revive)

Friday, 30 November 2018 10:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altOriginally from Gainesville, Florida, multi-reed man, Marcus Strickland, is forging a reputation as a genre blender with his tremendously versatile Twi-Life band. His previous album and debut platter for Blue Note, 2016's 'Nihil Novi,' harmoniously married jazz improv with hip-hop and contemporary R&B tropes, but here, on his sophomore outing for the iconic New York jazz label, Strickland has added perceptible Afrobeat elements into the mix to create a truly "genre fluid" sound.

The album's title alludes to the African diaspora, and over the course of eleven tracks, Strickland explores different themes related to the African American experience but more importantly, perhaps, the album is a quest to discover his own identity. As well as music, there are spoken narratives, which bind the songs together with a unifying sense of oneness. Besides his dependable Twi-Life band - Mitch Henry on organ, Kyle Miles on bass and drummer, Charles Haynes - Strickland is joined by R&B singers, Bilal and Akie Bermiss, plus rapper, Pharoahe Monch. The end result blurs the boundaries between different black music genres.

The music ranges from exploratory, jazz-oriented instrumental cuts - such as the excellent 'Build,' 'Relentless' and 'Timing,' all featuring Strickland on saxophone - to mesmeric hip-hop tinged grooves, like the 'Cloaked In Controversy.' More reflective is 'On My Mind,' a treatise on cosmic love narrated by writer and cultural commentator, Greg Tate. It also featuring Bilal's haunting, almost celestial, vocal, which is counterpointed by Strickland's resonant bass clarinet over an oozy trap beat. Veteran MC, Pharoahe Monch, contributes an incisive rap.

Brooklyn soul man, Akie Bermiss, adds a strident vocal on the trippy 'Marvelous' while in acute contrast, 'Black Love' is a simmering slow jam laced with warbling bass clarinet and interwoven with a host of different spoken narratives. Intertwining horns define the more upbeat 'Aim High,' an ode to aspiration, featuring R&B singer, Jermaine Holmes. The track features Strickland on bass clarinet, while the horn lines and groove draws on Afrobeat.

'People Of The Sun' is an impressive offering that shows 39-year-old Strickland maturing into a disparate and substantial artist. At heart, he is a jazz man who lives and breathes improvisation, but as this remarkable album shows, his musical psyche is a complex one as his influences are disparate and far-ranging. And it is those same influences - hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and Afrobeat, to name three of them - that are helping Marcus Strickland to make jazz relevant again and shape a new and exciting kind of urban music.

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF's 2016 interview with Marcus Strickland here:

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 16:44


JAMES TAYLOR QUARTET: 'Soundtrack From Electric Black' (Audio Network)

Thursday, 29 November 2018 12:57 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       altIn the vanguard of the original acid jazz explosion of the late-'80s, the James Taylor Quartet are now rightly considered a British institution. They've undoubtedly been one of the hardest-working bands in the UK during the last thirty years, racking up hundreds (maybe even thousands) of gigs and releasing a whopping 27 albums (this calculation excludes numerous compilations, as well as three LPs under the name the New Jersey Kings,  and six album-length forays into library music). There's no doubt, though, that 'Soundtrack From Electric Black' is a unique entry in their extensive discography and a major watermark in their storied history. That's because it's the first time that the group have recorded in tandem with a full orchestra (they recorded it in the iconic Abbey Road studio, no less). The end result is a glorious widescreen version of the group's signature meld of funk, soul, and jazz flavours.

From their inception way back in 1987, JTQ have shown an appreciation of vintage movie and TV soundtrack music. In fact, the focus of their debut album, 'Mission Impossible,'  was film and small screen themes that included their acid jazz takes on Lalo Schifrin's classic title cut as well as John Barry's 'Goldfinger' and Herbie Hancock's 'Blow Up.' Now, though, 31 years later, Hammond hero Taylor and his cohorts have created their own soundtrack album and it proves to be a thrilling cache of cinematic  grooves and moods.

The opener, 'Electric Black,' is a tense piece with dramatic orchestral flourishes and replete with stylistic echoes of Lalo Schifrin during his 'Dirty Harry' phase in the early '70s. It's not derivative in any way, though - rather (and this goes for the album as a whole) it's more of a homage to American movie music of the '60s and '70s. More action-packed tracks come in the shape of the propulsive 'Black Belting' driven by wah-wah guitar, the more exotic 'Heidi's Revenge' - characterised by dancing flutes and legato strings - and the Latin-flavoured 'The Frug,' with its exquisite interplay of woodwind, horns, and strings over an energetic backbeat driven by the quartet.  In contrast, Brazilian samba rhythms define the breezy 'Sunshine In Her Smile' and the more urgent 'Making Tracks,' the latter featuring a rangy solo flute. There are some delicious down-tempo moments, too, exemplified by 'Sweet Revival,' which begins with delicate harp arpeggios preceding a gorgeously mellow groove.

'Soundtrack From Electric Black' certainly takes the James Taylor Quartet's music to another level. Though the presence of a full orchestra imbues the album with a grandiose feel at times, it's never over-bearing and the symphonic enhancements don't diminish the down-to-earth directness of the band's unique brand of jazz-funk, which is still the sonic core of this album. Their best album yet? Quite possibly. Electrifying!

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 16:45


COOKIN’ ON 3 BURNERS; Lab Experiments Vol. 2 (Soul Messin’ Records)

Tuesday, 27 November 2018 20:33 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAussie soul-jazz trio, Cookin' On 3 Burners are possibly best known for their tune 'This Girl'. The Kylie Auldist vocalized cut scaled quite a few soul charts around the world and last year Jake, Ivan and Dan consolidated their status with an interesting long player.... 'Lab Experiments Vol 1'. The set was big on their signature 70s soul-jazz and funk vibe but they did entice Ms Auldist back to he mic for a sweet and lovely vocal 'More Than a Mouthful' while there was a distinct Northern soul flavour on 'Sweet Talker' – big vocal from Emmi. Stella Angelico.

Twelve months hence the Burners have managed to push out another set of Lab Experiments and the new, concise 8 tracker offers much the same menu as Volume 1...that's to say , plenty of Hammond-led instrumentals, spiced with some tasty vocals.

No surprise to learn that Kylie Auldist gets to sing with the boys. Her input comes on the mid-tempo groove that is 'One Of The Ones' - steady and steadfast and perfectly fine... but might take a remix to get chart status.

Other vocals come from Simon Burke (an unremarkable 'Garden Of Freedom'), Fallon Williams (a southern soul flavoured 'Force Of Nature') and Queen Kaiit (a semi rapped, funky 'Warning').

Elsewhere, expect 21st century funk (best typified by 'The Jump Off') with light and shade added by the bluesy 'Sunday Mumma'.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 November 2018 20:49


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