Reviews

SA-HA-RA: Past Present Future (SHE Records)

Sunday, 29 October 2017 19:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThink it was back in 1985 that a Brit band called Sahara impressed all and sundry with a timeless dancer, 'Love's So Fine'. The brains behind the band were a team known as "The Producers" – collectively Peter Hinds, Steve Sinclair and Kevin Ellis. The trio had served their soul apprenticeship in bands like Light Of The World, Beggar and Co, Incognito and Atmosfear and for reasons never best explained Sahara kind of petered out with the guys going on to other tasty projects.

Last year they got together again and reissued their iconic tune under the new(ish) name SA-HA-RA and it (and the several new mixes) took off all over again, encouraging the boys to work on an album... and here it is! Released on their own SHE Records (I'm guessing S – Sinclair, H – Hinds and E – Ellis), the title 'Past Present Future' aptly describes what the set's all about – yep – plenty of retro grooves (including 'Love's So Fine') lots that's current and a nod to what's next.

The set's first single was a well-received (by radio and club jocks) 'You Are My Everything' and it still sounds good – a definite retro groove matched by the inclusion of the band's 'Love's So Fine' anthem. More retro flavours on the opening cut, 'Why The Hate'. Tough vocal on this from Jenny Ingram Brown who rides the 80s Weekender groove with real panache. More great 80s Weekender flavours on the semi-instrumental that is 'Summer Reprise' ... the tinkling keys here might remind you of Shakatak!

Amongst the more ambitious tracks are 'Let's Get It On' and 'Easy Come Easy Go'. The former is not the Marvin tune; rather, a hypotonic slab of electro funk embellished with chinking Chic guitar. 'Easy Come Easy Go' is different again – a melancholy ballad with sensitive vocals from Helen Louise Jones and lovely muted Chet Baker style trumpet form Light Of The World's Kenny Wellington. As intriguing is the album closer, a new take on the traditional gospel song 'God's Gonna' Cut You Down'. Here SA-HA-RA place the biting lyrics (delivered by Yvonne Sinclair) over a sinister modern soul shuffle.

SA-HA-RA's 'Past Present Future' is out now and is available in all formats including vinyl and what's really good about the set is that it's a simple nine tracker. The quality is concentrated ... much better that the lengthy, overblown, self-indulgent sets that too many soul artists create these days. Here, clearly, each track has been crafted with love and merits inclusion in its own right while complementing the other tunes and the overall vibe.

((B) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:06

 

VOICES OF EAST HARLEM: 'Voices Of East Harlem' and 'Can You Feel It' (Soul Brother)

Sunday, 29 October 2017 09:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Vocal aggregation, Voices Of East Harlem, began life as the offspring of an inner city youth project in 1969, put together by Chuck Griffin and his wife Anna. They rapidly gained fame in the early '70s, performing their Afro-topped variety of gospel soul  at major music festivals, including the UK's own Isle of Wight festival in 1970, where they appeared on a  bill that included The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, and Miles Davis.  The same year, they released their debut album, 'Right On Be Free,' for Elektra. It was the first of two LPs recorded for the label, the other being  an aborted album project with Donny Hathaway at the helm, provisionally titled 'Nation Time,' which was never released. But Voices Of East Harlem did their best work for Woodstock music festival promoter, Michael Lang's indie soul imprint, Just Sunshine, during the years 1973 to 1974. They released two LPs for Just Sunshine -  1973's 'Voices Of East Harlem' and 1974's 'Can You Feel It' - both of which are now reissued as a tasty twofer  by the UK's rare soul specialists, Soul Brother.

The vocal ensemble's eponymous debut for  Just Sunshine featured music and production from Curtis Mayfield along with his Curtom sidekick - and, ironically, the singer that replaced the 'Gentle Genius' in The Impression - Leroy Hutson as well as arranger, Rich Tufo. It yielded a minor US R&B hit single in the shape of the shimmering, sophisticated  ballad, 'Giving Love,' co-written by Hutson with his wife Janice and some of his band. Another Hutson co-write, and without doubt the album's catchiest cut, was the superb uptempo number 'Cashing In,' which mystifyingly wasn't a hit when issued as a 45 in 1973. It remains Voices Of East Harlem's most memorable and enduring record, beloved of both Northern and Modern soul fans. Also worth singling out for praise is the funky 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' - a bonafide rare groove classic - and 'Little People,' a blaxploitation-style cut with layered, contrapuntal vocals, framed by cinematic orchestration, which ride on a funky backbeat.    

The group's sophomore outing for Just Sunshine was 1974's 'Can You Feel It,' which retained the services of Leroy Hutson. Though it lacked  an out-and-out killer cut in the shape of 'Cashing In,' it nevertheless proved a solid set with plenty of good moments and starts off in fine style with the opening funkafied title cut, co-authored by Hutson (and which is stylistically similar to the music that he was producing for Curtom during the same timeframe). Also memorable is 'Jimmy Joe Lee,' a slice of storytelling filmic funk but even better is the gentle, soul-infused, groover 'Rare So Rare,' which features Berneice Cole's plaintive vocal and also has some deft jazzy touches. Also listen out for the soulful, dance groove, 'Take A Stand' (which is also available from Soul Brother on a 7-inch vinyl single together with 'Cashing In'). It's driven by a pulsing bass line and characterised by a passionate female lead vocal. There's also the Voices' version of the Hutson co-written tune, 'March Across The Land,' which Linda Clifford recorded as a 45 B-side for Paramount in 1973.

Sadly, Voices Of East Harlem didn't make any more LPs after 'Can You Feel It,' and faded into obscurity. These two albums, which haven't been available on CD for a couple of decades, are undoubtedly their best recordings and having them together on a handy twofer is a great way to appreciate the Harlem ensemble's super-soulful work. If you're a dedicated fan of '70s soul, put this double reissue at the top of your wants list.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:06

 

CHANTAE CANN: 'Sol Empowered' (Atlanta Records)

Saturday, 28 October 2017 10:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                         altBased in Atlanta but raised in Chicago, angelic-voiced Chantae Cann first came on the radar of soul music enthusiasts via her session work on albums by Maysa, India.Arie, Avery *Sunshine and Snarky Puppy. But she had too good a voice to stay in the background and it was no surprise that she stepped into the spotlight to forge a career a solo artist. After a memorable 2015 update of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway's immortal dance floor duet, 'Back Together Again,' with the UK's own Tony Momrelle, she went and cut her debut album, 'Journey To Golden,' which topped iTunes' jazz chart. Now she's back with this, her superb second LP, and with any luck, it should consolidate the success she reaped with her debut.

There's a deliciously laidback '70s jazzy soul vibe on 'Sol Empowered.' Its sound, seductive and alluring, features lashings of blissfully-chilled-out Rhodes and Wurlitzer piano a la Roy Ayers as well as some piquant yet subtle Latin seasoning. Floating above this lightly funkafied  backdrop is Chan's lithe, honey-drizzled voice, which is light and airy but also imbued with a deep soulfulness. Impressively, she writes most of the songs herself though employs the services of  Justin Timberlake associate, Justin C. Gilbert, to helm the majority of the record.

Standouts are abundant, and include the shimmering 'Happy Song,' the sunshine-drenched 'The Light' and a gently bubbling opener, 'U Gotta Love Ya.' Ear-catching, too, is 'Craters,' a slow, simmering but ultimately uplifting duet with Maroon 5's PJ Morton (its key hook line is "we belong together like craters on the moon," sounds absurd, perhaps, but it actually works within the emotional context of the song). Listen out also for a perky slice of driving pop-soul with an infectious chorus called 'Hey Watcha Say' and 'I Rise' where Chan joins forces with Snarky Puppy on a sizzling, brassy Latin-esque groove. 

All in all, then, this is an impressive sophomore outing from the Windy City chanteuse whose warm vocals are a beacon of refulgent light and energy.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:07

 

SARAH ELIZABETH CHARLES: 'Free Of Form' (Ropeadope)

Friday, 27 October 2017 11:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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An alumnus of Manhattan's famously progressive New School - a fertile breeding ground for fresh contemporary jazz talent that has produced the likes of Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Marcus Strickland, and José James - Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a Massachusetts singer/songwriter who has forged her own distinctive style since she emerged with her debut album, 'Red,' in 2012. This is her third and most impressive offering so far. It reunites her with the outstanding New Orleans' horn blower, Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah, who co-produced the singer's second album, 'Inner Dialogue' in 2015. Scott turns up as co-producer again on 'Free Of Form,' and also contributes molten trumpet lines on four of the set's twelve tracks.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a fascinating artist who combines a pure, clear, almost ethereal voice devoid of R&B melisma with poetic, introspective lyrics. She is patently not, then, your archetypal jazz singer but brings something new and unique to the genre. She's brilliant at creating brooding cinematic soundscapes, and though her sound is not often easily digestible on first listening, it benefits with repeated plays. That's because what she is doing is free of cliché, trendy gimmicks, and familiarity. It takes time, then, to get acquainted with her musical world, but it's one that's well-worth investing your time in.  

'March To Revolution Part II,' featuring Christian Scott's burnished trumpet, is one of the set's standouts, and so too the more earnest, 'Learn How To Love,' with its declamatory vocal. Scott again compliments Charles's limpid voice on the inspiring ballad, 'Change To Come.' By contrast, 'I Will Wait,' is a gentle rumination on life's vicissitudes while 'The Fold' is a mellow jazzy groove that summons up the spirit of Roy Ayers. And the closing track, with its echoing, layered voices, is a free-form piece that is nothing less than haunting. All but one of the songs is self-penned - the exception is an intriguing cover of Irish pop/rock group The Cranberries' anthemic Delores O'Riordan-written 'Zombie,' which is reconfigured in a way that gives the song new meaning, resonance, and emotional power.

Sometimes, the best music isn't always immediately accessible. And sometimes, it requires patience and perseverance on the listener's part to make an emotional connection and fully understand the music and what the artist is trying to say. This is one such album. A bona fide slow-burner, it yields its secrets gradually but deserves repeated listens - and they will eventually reveal Sarah Elizabeth Charles's unique musical universe in all its beauty and spellbinding splendour.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 27 October 2017 19:05

 

VARIOUS: Two Beats One Soul (RVMK/Sony Latin)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe 13 track 'Two Beats One Soul' album is an exciting and imaginative project that was birthed by Ray and Vivian Scott Chew. Both are music industry veterans with a love of Caribbean and Cuban music and culture. Vivian, in particular, is known for introducing the music of Jamaica to the mainstream US audience. Here, with working partners, Mark and Cathy Grier, they turn their attention to the music of Cuba – focusing especially on how Cuban music has fused with American sensibilities; in essence – how "two beats" have created "one soul".

To help them deliver the concept, the team have drafted in what seems like a cast of thousands who between 'em have garnered 16 Grammy Awards! Amongst the contributors are Shaggy, Latin pop stars Jean Rodriguez and Anané, Cuban stars Ruben and Gabriel Rodrigues, Xlomara Laugart and Milagros Hodelin and American soul and pop stars Eric Benet, Jon B and Josh Milan.

And it was the Josh Milan-vocalised track 'The World Is A Family' that was chosen as the first single from the set. Helmed by the redoubtable Louis Vega, musically and lyrically it encapsulates the spirit of the whole album... with an appeal that goes right across the board. No wonder it was chosen as the album-heralding single! There's more great Louie Vega mixes of the tune available too... check them out! I'm guessing that the soul fraternity will also single out the sensual 'Havana Moon' from Jon B and Eric Benet's 'The Rhythm'. Benet has never sounded better; he has his own album out right now, by the way – watch out for a full review very soon!

Those three songs have English lyrics, but even if you don't "have Spanish" you can't help but be moved by things like 'En La Habana' from the Rodrigiuezs and the lovely 'Me Enamore' from Milagros Hodelin. Fans of Gloria Estefan will love this one and I don't really know what it all means, but it gets my vote!

The PR people call this album "a love letter to Cuba's rich musical influence". You can make up your own minds... but I just wish I could pen love letters like this! Barack Obama relaxed relations with Cuba... who knows what Mr Trump will do... in the meantime break open the Bacardi, take off your shoes, forget the oncoming European winter and enjoy some great, warming, life-affirming Latin sounds!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:15

 

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