Reviews

LYDELL WILLIAMS: The Sound Of My Melodies (LMG)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:29 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLydell Williams is an indie soul singer/songwriter who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas but currently works out of Richmond, Virginia. He began singing as a hobby but after a successful EP debut back in 2008 he found a new career beckoning. Young Lydell, who cites his influences as people like Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and D'Angelo, soon found work supporting artists of the calibre of Eric Roberson and Dwele. He released a couple of singles – 'Get To Know You' and 'Heartbeat' and both won regional support with critics making comparisons with Bilal, Rahem DeVaughn and even John Legend.

Mightily encouraged, Mr W began putting together an album which he's just released on his own Lydell Music Group label and even a cursory listen will reveal that those early artist comparison are spot on. Lydell Williams does indeed craft a music that is the sound of contemporary US soul music – neo or nu soul, if you would.

Complex and multi-layered, 'The Sound Of My Melodies' isn't an immediate easy listen but patience, as is usually the way, brings its own rewards. Those two singles – 'Get To Know You' and 'Heartbeat'- take pride of place on the album. The former is as accurate a sonic definition of current neo-soul as you could get while a remix of the song will interest sophisticated dancers – as long as they accept the rap intro; the latter treads much the same path though it is a little more ponderous and meandering.

Elsewhere 'Groove your Body' is the most accessible track... tight beats and a loose jazzy vocal contrive to weave some musical magic while 'Rain' is the long player's best ballad ... the mournful organ, a nod to soul's rich archive.

My only criticism of this album is that it's just too long. There are seventeen tracks here and some are interchangeable. This is often the problem with self-produced albums; an extra "ear" and some outside influence could maybe have tightened things up and brought out a proper, soulful focus to bear.

However, investigate for yourself @ www.lydellwilliamsmusic.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:48

 

SPYDER TURNER: Is It Love You’re After (bbr/Whitfield)

Thursday, 25 May 2017 12:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBorn in West Virginia in 1947, David Dwight "Spyder" Turner is a Detroit-based soul singer who enjoyed a hit way back in 1966 with an audacious cover of Ben E King's 'Stand By Me' on which he mimicked contemporary soul greats – Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Billy Stewart and David Ruffin amongst them. The record was produced by sometime Motown staffer Clay McMurray and it was the McMurray connection that brought Turner, in 1975, into contact with Norman Whitfield. Whitfield had just started his own label in association with Warner Bros and he remembered Turner from his Detroit days and duly signed him as artist and writer, quickly placing the Turner-penned 'Do Your Dance' with the then hot Rose Royce.

We're told that Turner and Whitfield enjoyed a love/hate relationship – often arguing over writing credits and that old chestnut, "artistic control", Despite that the Spyder man cut two albums for Whitfield – 1978's 'Music Web' and 'Only Love' from 1980. Both meant little at the time (Turner claims Whitfield and Warner Bros put no effort into promotion) but now, of course, both sets are collectors' items.

To satisfy the demand bbr have just reissued both albums on a single CD and notwithstanding the lack of contemporary promotion, you can hear why the long players didn't take off. Spyder Turner is a proper soul singer – passionate, fierce and intense. But the late seventies were a tough market place for soul singers – disco was still in demand and punters preferred gimmicks to commitment. Great songs, though, will always win through but sadly there aren't too many here. Best single cut is Spyder's version of 'Is It Love That You're After' – the first recording of the tune, we're told – but of course this version was overshadowed by Rose Royce's take. Elsewhere there's just too much disco-by-numbers and despite the presence of top session men (Keni Burke amongst them) and Whitfield's production, neither project really takes off. However, collectors will be delighted to have access to the albums at a decent price.

Spyder Tuner, by the way, is still active. He works the concert circuit and he's also recorded with Four Tops drummer, Drew Schulz.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 May 2017 13:06

 

CHARLIE BYRD: Sixties Byrd (El)

Monday, 22 May 2017 13:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCharlie Byrd was once described by eminent jazz critic Leonard Feather as "the most versatile guitarist ever to play jazz". Many might argue with that but it is undisputable that in the late fifties/early sixties Byrd was a key player in bringing Brazilian music into mainstream culture and (along with people like Stan Getz) helping make the bossa nova hugely popular.

If you're not that familiar with Byrd's work, then this new 24 track compilation from El Records will serve as a great introduction to his talents. The album's music is taken from the guitarist's tenure with Columbia Records and consists of his versions of well-known sixties hits. Like many sixties jazzers, Byrd regularly covered contemporary hits and you can probably guess from whose catalogues he chose his repertoire... yep, amongst the selections are tunes from Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and a band called the Beatles! The Fab 4 tunes to get a gentle jazz guitar makeover are 'Girl', 'Norwegian Wood', 'Michelle' and 'A Taste Of Honey' (yes, we know this wasn't a Beatle original, but they helped make the song popular). The Webb songs are 'Up Up And Away', 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Where's The Playground Susie' and 'Galveston' while the chosen Bacharach tunes are 'Alfie' , 'The Look Of Love' and 'Who Is Gonna Love Me'. Other inclusions are the Seekers' 'Georgy Girl', the Zombies' 'Time Of The Season' and Bobby Hebb's 'Sunny' – possibly one of the most covered tunes of all time.

Byrd gives them all his own distinctive, gentle acoustic guitar treatment and given what we said up top you won't' be surprised to learn that many are given a distinctive Brazilian flavour. However if you want the full bossa nova hit, then there's also versions of 'The Girl From Ipanema', 'Corcovado' and 'Meditation' – classics from Jobim canon!

Maybe this collection won't prove Leonard Feather's assertion – its remit's a little limited – but it does show that Byrd had a unique signature sound – gentle, easy-on-the-ear and hugely influential (think Earl Klugh).

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 22 May 2017 14:03

 

LIVE: Brad Mehldau Trio @ Bath Assembly Rooms 20/5/2017

Sunday, 21 May 2017 12:05 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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There are those who view Brad Mehldau as the direct musical descendent of fellow pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. That's not surprising, perhaps, and totally understandable, given that both of those illustrious musicians, like Mehldau, were profoundly influenced by classical music, favoured a densely harmonic, lyrical style and played a major role in plotting the trajectory of the piano trio in the post-bop era. What makes Mehldau different is not solely his propensity to include pop and rock songs in his repertoire - in terms of cover versions, his set list is just as likely to include Radiohead, Oasis and Beatles' tunes as traditional jazz standards - but also his unique contrapuntal approach. Mehldau has developed a technique where he uses his left hand almost as much as his right to craft melodies, motifs, and solos. An orthodox jazz pianist will mostly use his or her left hand to play supporting chords and harmonies while the right takes the lead role but for Mehldau, both hands have an equal say in creating the music and often a ornate, almost quasi-baroque, tapestry of sounds and tone colours results.

The best way to appreciate Brad Mehldau's technical brilliance is in a live setting and so this concert as part of the 2017 Bath Festival with his celebrated trio - the long-serving and peerless Larry Grenadier on bass and swashbuckling Jeff Ballard on drums - offered an ideal opportunity to witness the man in action. But to focus solely on Mehldau's technical accomplishments is to blind yourself to another of his gifts - his sensitivity. Indeed, he achieves the perfect equilibrium between 'chops' and feeling; between his virtuosic manual dexterity and keen emotional intelligence. To have one of these gifts is  to be armed with a potent weapon but to possess both, as Mehldau does, is very special indeed. But singling out Mehldau is to miss the point of the trio - it is, after all, three people playing and each makes his own singular contribution. In the 1960s, Bill Evans introduced a piano trio where a more democratic approach was taken, allowing the bassist and drummer to be regarded as more than mere accompanists and contribute to music in pro-actively creative way. Mehldau has always adhered to the same principle and allows Grenadier and Ballard to express themselves fully within the music. Indeed, the three have achieved a telepathic level of understanding in the way they interact and communicate with each other on stage.

They began with two new and unfamiliar numbers. The first, 'Gentle John,' is a homage to guitarist, John Scofield, with whom Mehldau worked last summer, and the second, as yet untitled, was more pugnacious and built upon a dynamic Jeff Ballard drum groove. Those two tunes showed the trio in full-throttle mode but the next one, 'Wolfgang's Waltz,' was a delicate ballad in 3/4 time that the pianist had originally recorded with Austrian guitarist, Wolfgang Muthspiel, on last year's ECM album, 'Rising Grace.' That particular song highlighted the symbiotic nature of the trio's interaction, which reached an even higher peak of expression on a superlative rendering of Lennon & McCartney's 'And I Love Her,' one of the highlights of their recent 'Blues & Ballads' LP on Nonesuch. It showed that while Grenadier and Ballard function as a reliable rhythmic engine room, their contributions also evince subtlety as well as power, allowing Mehldau the freedom to roam and sculpt elaborate melodic filigrees with an ingeniousness that provoked wonder.

But ultimately, the concert wasn't just about one man - rather, it emphasized the 'all-for-one, one-for-all' ethos of the American pianist's trio. It was a vivid demonstration of what happens when three super-talented jazz musicians unite in thought and purpose, producing music of an extraordinarily high, transcendent, quality.  This was, then, a concert to savour.

(Charles Waring)

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 12:10

 

FREDDIE NORTH: What Are You Doing To Me (Kent)

Friday, 19 May 2017 13:46 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFreddie North (born Frederick Carpenter in Nashville in 1939) was a fine Southern soul singer who never quite made it into the genre's major leagues. Nevertheless, blessed with a mellifluous Jerry Butler style baritone he found regular work in and around Nashville. In his time he recorded for labels like University, Capitol, East West, Philips and Nashboro where, apart from making records, he was also head of promotion. At Nashboro, Freddie cut many fine soul sides for their Mankind imprint. Most were produced by Jerry Williams Jr. and his 1970 'Magnetic North' long player is rightly regarded as a southern soul masterpiece. Most of North's Mankind output has been reissued, chiefly by Ace/Kent and now they make available the best of Freddie North's earlier recordings (cut for the A- Bet subsidiary) alongside several more Mankind releases – in all, a generous 23 cuts, four of which are seeing the light of day for the very first time!

The music reveals a fine soul stylist, with an uncanny similarity in tone and approach to the great Jerry Butler. Indeed this collection kicks off with Freddie's version of Butler's 'Gotta Go Get Your Mommy To Come Back Home Again' while covers of 'Rainy Night In Georgia', 'Oh Lord What Are You Doing To Me' , 'Remember What I Told You To Forget' and 'My Whole World Ended' could be outtakes from a prime time Ice Man album. Superb stuff!

Of the previously unissued tracks, soul buffs will recognize 'Til I Get It Right'. Originally recorded by Tammy Wynette, Bettye Swann cut the defining soul version. Freddie almost matches it with a sound maybe more like Joe Simon than Jerry Butler.

Freddie North stayed with the Nashboro set up till 1977. Reverting to his birth name, he joined the Christian ministry and is now the pastor at Nashville's Bethel Church. We're told that he politely rebuffs all request for interviews and information about his secular music career... so all we have is the music... sweet southern soul at its best!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 19 May 2017 13:52

 

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