DVD REVIEW: 'Saxophone Colossus Featuring Sonny Rollins' (Wienerworld)

Sunday, 06 August 2017 10:06 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Noted Chicago-born filmmaker, Robert Mugge, is renowned for the honesty of his music documentaries - his subjects have ranged from Robert Johnson and Zydeco music  to Gil Scott-Heron and Sun Ra - and in 1986, he brought his unique, informal style to bear on a portrait of jazz legend, Sonny Rollins, who was then 56-years-old. It mixes in-concert footage of Rollins and his band together with talking head contributions from the saxophonist himself (who talks to the camera alongside his late wife, Lucille, from a New York park bench) and several noted US jazz critics (among them Gary Giddins), who attempt to define Rollins' contribution to jazz and his place within it.

The film opens with Rollins playing live on a summer's day in a sculpted quarry in a New York park. He's captured doing a fifteen-minute track called 'G-Man' and with its cascade of melodies over a swinging backbeat, it shows exactly why Rollins is considered one of jazz's greatest ever improvisers. It proves to be quite an intro and leads into Rollins talking about his life. He comes as across as a thoughtful, articulate man, who despite being burdened with the nickname 'Saxophone Colossus' at an early age, appears to be an exemplar of modesty.

Rollins talks with candour about his life, refusing to gloss over or ignore his drug addiction in the 1950s, which he eventually got over. His abiding addiction, though, remains music. Talking of his relationship with the tenor saxophone, he quips "it's almost closer to me than Lucille." Lucille, though, who became his manager as well as wife, showed a greater understanding of Rollins and his obsession with music than some of his previous partners ("one of them broke up my saxophone when she was mad at me" he reveals).

Later in the documentary, Mugge and his camera team follow Rollins to Japan where he rehearses then premieres a specially-commissioned large ensemble suite, 'Concerto For Saxophone & Orchestra.' The four-part composition has never been commercially available so it's a treat for Rollins fans to hear this rarely-heard work in its entirety. 

Sadly, Rollins, who is 87 now, ceased performing due to health problems in 2012 but for those who want to witness him playing in his prime, then this DVD (which is remastered in 4K and includes an updated bonus feature commentary by Robert Mugge) will provide a lot of satisfaction. It's an insightful  and enjoyable portrait of one of the last true jazz greats from the idiom's golden age.

(CW) 4/5



Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 August 2017 07:17


WILSON PICKETT: Wilson Pickett Sings Bobby Womack (Kent)

Saturday, 05 August 2017 18:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe wicked Wilson Pickett was clearly a big fan of the great Bobby Womack. Between 1966 and 1968 Pickett recorded no less than 17 Womack songs. Back then, of course, Bobby was an up and coming songwriter whose earlier hopes of performing stardom had seemed to fade when his (and his brothers) mentor, Sam Cooke, was gunned down in a seedy Los Angeles motel in 1964. The young Bobby then adopted the motto "have guitar will travel" and on his peregrinations he also peddled his songs and he knew he had most chance of selling 'em down South – more specifically in Memphis and Muscle Shoals which were becoming hot when it came to turning out soul hits. So hot that major labels had started to send their stars down there hoping that that special Southern soul magic was transferrable.

So it was that in 1965, Atlantic bosses sent Wilson Pickett to work with the Stax crew in Memphis. The first major outcome of the trip was, of course, 'In The Midnight Hour' – a worldwide smash that catapulted Pickett to soul superstardom. After Stax, Pickett was then sent to record at FAME and in both studios the wicked one was offered plenty of Womack songs.

On this new 20 tracker Ace/Kent have collected together all the Womack/Pickett collaborations. They include the seminal 'I Found A True Love', the oft-recorded 'I'm In Love', and what became the Pickett theme song 'I'm A Midnight Mover'. The lesser known items yield plenty of treasures too – like 'Nothing You Can Do' which was clearly set up to be 'Midnight Hour part II' and the country blues that is 'Something Within Me'.

You've probably noticed that we said Pickett recorded 17 Womack songs, yet this album offers 20 cuts. Well that's because there are three bonuses.... Pickett's version of 'Bring It On Home To Me' (remember what we said about the Womack/Cooke connection?) and the two sides of a 1967 single that Atlantic released on Womack. The two tunes are the jaunty 'Find Me Somebody' and the catchy 'How Does It Feel'. Both interesting and relevant additions to an album that will thrill proper soul fans... great Atlantic golden age style cover art work too!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 August 2017 18:49


JOHN PIZZARELLI: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (Concord)

Wednesday, 02 August 2017 11:49 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in 1967 Frank Sinatra released one of his best, yet, oddly, least acclaimed of his albums. It was the great man's homage to the then contemporary musical craze that had bewitched American sophisticates. The 10 track collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim was 'ol blue eyes' take on the bossa nova and it was very different to anything he'd recorded before. Indeed he's said to have remarked after the sessions: "I haven't sung so soft since I had laryngitis'!

A month or two back, to celebrate the album's 50th anniversary, it was reissued with the addition of a couple of insightful bonus tracks and now American guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli offers his homage to 'Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim'.

Known as an inspired reinventor of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli tackles the Sinatra album in a new way melding some of the songs into medleys. So where Sinatra offered 'If You Never Come To Me', 'Change Partners' and 'I Concentrate On You' as single tracks, Pizzarelli pairs the first with the second and adds his version of 'Wave' to the third. He also includes Jobim's 'Agua De Beber' and 'Two Kites' (neither on the original Sinatra LP) along with three other "new" cuts – Michael Franks' tribute to Jobim, 'Antonio's Song', and two of his own , 'She's So Sensitive' and 'Canto Casual.' Then for reasons never quite explained there's no 'Girl From Ipanema' – the first track on the Sinatra long player.

The set's guest-in-chief is Jobim's grandson, Daniel who adds vocals and piano on a number of cuts. Given his pedigree and Pizzarelli's musical CV you can probably guess that their treatments of the classic songs are respectful, tasteful and true to the spirit of their creators while the original songs fit the template perfectly.

And the rasion d'être for the album? Well apart from celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original release, Pizzarelli was interested to explore the concept of "what if Sinatra and Jobim had continued to collaborate?"... this explains the addition of the new material, obviously. Obvious too, that both Sinatra and Jobim would have approved of what Pizzarelli has achieved here.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 August 2017 11:54


WENDY & LISA: 'Eroica' (Cherry Pop)

Thursday, 27 July 2017 14:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboard player Lisa Coleman rose to fame as members of Prince's band, The Revolution, in 1984, starring alongside the diminutive Minneapolis genius in the blockbuster movie, 'Purple Rain,' which also yielded a multi-Platinum soundtrack album.  By 1986, the duo had signed a deal with Virgin to make their own records, and in 1987 issued their self-titled debut LP, which included the minor hit, 'Waterfalls.' Their second LP, 'Fruit At the Bottom,' came out a year later (it included their UK Top 30 hit, 'Satisfaction') followed by their third album, 'Eroica,' in 1990, which is now reissued as an expanded 2-CD 'Special Edition' set by Cherry Pop.  

Lisa Coleman contributes detailed reminiscences to the liner notes of this release and reveals that the duo regarded 'Eroica' (which takes its title from Beethoven's third symphony) as their best for Virgin as it was a record that didn't try to appease record company A&R people and as such was the truest reflection of what they wanted to achieve musically. What they delivered was a seamless amalgam of Minneapolis-style funk, R&B, pop, and rock flavours, with passionate vocals (mostly sung by Wendy) and intelligent lyrics. The original album has been remastered and is certainly a vast sonic improvement on the 1990 CD. The highlights include the insistent 'Rainbow Lake,' a brassy funk juggernaut called 'Skeleton Key,' the throbbing, wistful groove ballad, 'Staring At The Sun,' and  the slow, poignant confessional, 'Don't Try To Tell Me,' featuring Lisa doing lead vocals (which an orchestral arrangement by Wendy's father, noted west coast jazz man, the late Mike Melvoin).

The second disc in the set is packed with sundry bonus cuts, which range from  various 7-inch edits and 12-inch remixes of singles (including the catchy 'Strung Out,' and an ultra-funky 'Rainbow Lake'), an alternative version of 'Don't Try To Tell Me,' plus the non-album single B-sides, 'Stones And Birth,' and 'Balance.' The original 'Eroica' album came with a limited bonus CD of four solo, jazz-inflected piano improvisations by Lisa Coleman, which are also included in this package.  

While Wendy & Lisa can currently be found touring the USA to great acclaim in a reformed Revolution band (alongside fellow original members, bassist Brown Mark, keyboardist, Dr. Fink and drummer Bobby Z), this fine reissue shows us what they could do when they spread their wings and flew to musical worlds beyond Prince's orbit.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 August 2017 10:13


SHAILA PROSPERE; Back To Life (Rhythm Records)

Monday, 24 July 2017 18:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altShaila Prospere is an English soulstress who impressed with her first long player, 'In My Shoes'. For whatever reason the album never really took off but with her soulful voice Ms P was never out of work doing sessions and BVs. Earlier this year she enjoyed a higher profile via a couple of tasty singles – 'Let Me Be Yours' and 'Family'. In both original and remix formats the tunes got plenty of plays with commentators drawing comparisons to Beverley Knight. Nowt wrong with that analogy and easy to hear why it was made. Both tunes had that peculiar 80s UK feel though they also bristled with contemporary flavours.

The good news is that Shaila has just released a new album and it's stuffed with similar soulful sounds. 'Let Me Be Yours' and 'Family' are there, of course and as bonuses you get the Soul Syndicate mixes of 'em too. The mix on 'Let Me be Yours' is particularly strong with samples, we think, of Cheryl Lynn's 'Encore' and Curtis Hairston's 'Morning After'. Sample spotters will also recognize the riff from Jones Girls classic 'Who Can I Run To' on the album title track, a lazy, rolling groove. There's the same feel on the set's most imaginative track – the cover of Sister Sledge's 'Thinking Of You' ... laid back, lovely and very different to the familiar original. The album's other key slower moments are 'That Place', 'Don't Ask Me To Stay' and 'Beautiful'.

But we think the modern soul crowd will be more impressed with the dancers and with UK soul veterans Everis Pellius and Phil 'Phillo' Nugent at the helm, there are plenty of them. We've already highlighted the two singles; then there's stuff like 'Love Like This' and the very catchy 'Break The Chain' while one of those ballads, 'That Place' also comes, thanks to Soul Syndicate, in a soulful house mix. .. impressive.

Indeed, overall this is an impressive UK soul collection – offering quality in all departments.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 24 July 2017 18:30


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