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YouTube | Favourites 2022 SunNeversetsOnMusic

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Annual Favourites|2022

The Smile - A Light For Attracting Attention

A Light For Attracting Attention

by The Smile

Released 13 May 2022

XL Recordings

*****

Upon first listen, one might mistake the Smile's debut, A Light for Attracting Attention, for a Radiohead album. Considering that band's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (as well as longtime producer Nigel Godrich) are two of the three core members of this side project, it's not a surprise. Conceived during the COVID-19 lockdown as a way for Yorke and Greenwood to jam, the Smile also features drummer Tom Skinner of modern jazz group Sons of Kemet, who invigorates the album with his lively backing and dizzying time signatures. With the help of Greenwood's friends in the London Contemporary Orchestra and various jazz artists from Skinner's orbit, the trio lean into their progressive and psychedelic tendencies here, sounding like an expansive, mind-bending version of Yorke and Greenwood's main band. Many of Radiohead's typical hallmarks -- anxiety, dread, angst, and tension -- are present, with Yorke delivering reliably passionate performances and heady lyrics across all tracks.

The frantic, horn-backed storm "You Will Never Work in Television Again" and the driving, synth-hazed "We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings" channel the anger and frustration heard on Hail to the Thief, winding up as the most aggressive Yorke has sounded in years.

Meanwhile, the elastic groover "The Opposite" and the jittering "Thin Thing" find the trio locked-in as a formidable unit, with Skinner's drumming building to head-rattling levels as Greenwood's guitar noodling and Yorke's detached falsetto push the songs to bewitching heights.

On the opposite end of the energy scale, the atmospheric "The Same" envelops like a dense fog and the hypnotic "Pana-vision" weaves haunted piano and drums with Amnesiac strings, as the ethereal "Speech Bubbles" and the sci-fi sweep of "Waving a White Flag" create widescreen cinematic moments of orchestral beauty.

There's something here for fans of any era, but as a reference for longtime devotees, A Light for Attracting Attention bests The Eraser as Yorke's finest non-Radiohead effort and falls somewhere amongst A Moon Shaped Pool and King of Limbs in terms of scope and daring. As such, diehards should be quite pleased with this release: an utterly satisfying set of songs that stands tall on its own, yet could easily climb the ranks against any of Radiohead's late-era efforts.

Source: AllMusic

Alabaster DePlume - Gold

GOLD

by Alabaster DePlume

Released 1 April 2022

International Anthem

*****

Mancunian musician and poet Gus Fairbairn - the multi-instrumentalist who records and performs under the name Alabaster DePlume - reacts to the contemporary moment with his double album, GOLD. A mix of jazz and spoken word, the sounds are intended to keep the listener on their toes. On each of the tracks he worked with different producers, and in each session a different band was used - though, apparently, this is not unusual for DePlume. The end result is unpredictable and eerie and just plain weird. But good weird.

With 19 songs ranging in duration from one and a half to seven minutes, there’s a lot of variety to be heard. On “I’m Gonna Say Seven,” DePlume sounds very much like Simon and Garfunkel, soft and sincere. Though perhaps the echoing backup vocals are more DePlume’s own sonic terrain than that of the famous folk duo, there is a certain calm to the track that brings “The Sound of Silence” to mind. At other times, he sounds more like the jazz-fusion group, The Comet is Coming—as with the eighth track, “Jerusalem, Palestine.” Saxophone and spacey backing vocals create an unsettling and anxious atmosphere. There is something coming, there is a disturbance, and we don’t know how to fix it yet. That is the interesting unpredictability of DePlume.

With all the chopping up done by the different producers and the veritable legion of musicians (over 20!) on this album, you’d think the sound and vibe would be all over the place. It is and it isn’t. Guitar, saxophone, and those echoey backing vocals cement Gold together. However, when DePlume starts “Fucking Let Them” with a live monologue and then comes in with the band, I am hesitant to continue listening. Many contemporary jazz musicians—like Benjamin Boone, Joy Harjo, etc.—play around with spoken word. But the effect can sometimes have mixed results. Spoken word relies on emotion communicated through how the lyrics are said, but that very emotion—overly emphatic usually—loses its very power by pushing too hard. DePlume does better than most with skirting the edge of becoming saccharine or affected. And still, it’s the musical aspects of “I Will Not Be Safe” and “Don’t Forget You’re Precious” that I’m ultimately drawn to.

That being said, the tracks are well arranged and have a natural, energizing momentum. The guitar notably ties each composition to the next, minimal and often a refrain, repeated and working with DePlume’s chant-like lines superbly. This is when he is at his most convincing and emotional, such as on “Broken Like,” which is meditational, trance-like. It is moving and reminds us to take a look at ourselves and our surroundings. Likewise, GOLD is a reaction to the world. It is a journey through soundscapes made from the emotional and societal environments around us. It is a connecting force that tells its listeners that we are broken by this external disturbance, but we are fixable, able to become better again, internally.

Source: Treble

Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn - Pigments

Pigments

by Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn

Released 21 October 2020

Merge Records

*****

A foreshadowing of Pigments took place in 2018 when Spencer Zahn released an abridged version of "Cyanotype" -- a tranquil, floating piece from his instrumental album People of the Dawn -- with sorrowful words and vocals added by art-pop whiz Dawn Richard. The lengthier and from-scratch collaboration here is a progression for both artists. Zahn is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, and arranger who often cites the ECM label and Mark Hollis' self-titled solo album, inspirations that are as evident as ever on Pigments, particularly with its foundation in near-minimalist chamber jazz, and a sense that Zahn relates to Hollis' philosophy of "Don't play one note unless you've got a reason." To paraphrase another sage, Too $hort, Richard gets in where she fits in, vocalizing on just over half of the sections within the 37-minute composition. She appears sometimes sylph-like, pushed aloft by gentle coaxing from Zahn's upright bass and piano. During other moments, Richard is wholly human, basking in physical intimacy atop lapping drums, entreating through whirls of saxophone and strings, and on the finale, gathering strength over a partly mechanized pulse amplifying her ceaseless determination. Those most drawn to Richard when she's in high-BPM prancing mode might find it challenging to acclimate to the slow pacing and open spaces (with drums frequently absent). Moreover, Richard is not so much the primary voice as she is part of an ensemble, sharing the lead role with many of the eight players, such as saxophonist Jas Walton, whose fluttering tenor on highlight "Vantablack," undergirded by bass clarinet and dressed with acoustic guitar, resembles that of Waterfalls-era John Klemmer. Only on "Cerulean" does the singer let loose, and it's to confront and grieve ("Are you hurting like you're hurting me?!") with support from needling electric guitar, blasting reeds, and intense swells of electronics and strings. Still, each appearance she makes is halting and deeply felt. Everything provided and guided by her partner coalesces into a quietly powerful flowing sequence. Pigments is not necessarily built for movement, but it's as moving as any of Richard's previous output. No other album is quite like it.

Source: AllMusic

Sudan Archives - Natural Brown Prom Queen

Natural Brown Prom Queen

by Sudan Archives

Released 9 September 2022

Stones Throw TRecords

*****

Natural Brown Prom Queen is without doubt the work of an introverted extrovert putting her extroversion on full display. Funkier and friskier than Athena, Brittney Parks' first album as Sudan Archives, this follow-up resulted from a unique recording process with phases of isolation and collaboration. Demos made by Parks were sent by manager Ben Dickey to a host of producers for their individual takes. From those submissions (one track in particular yielded six possibilities), Parks chose what to keep, sometimes selecting elements from multiple versions (while opting to remain oblivious to the producers' identities), and then made more alterations and additions with assistance from Dickey and other associates. Parks' debut LP was too impressive and distinctive to be considered merely developmental. Natural Brown Prom Queen, featuring refined, uninhibited lyricism and diversified vocals -- supplied over much more low end and higher BPMs with unpredictable rhythmic twists -- nonetheless represents a kind of blossoming. Rollicking lead single and first song "Home Maker" gets the point across in more than one way. A hospitable Parks greets with "I just got a wall mount for my plants," declares "Only bad bitches in my trellis," and a couple lines later, one can sense her smiling as she loses herself in her domestic reverie. Freedom and self-confidence are common themes. The biographical "NBPQ (Topless)" practically barrels with bounding drums, rapid bouzouki and handclaps, and an inexorable Parks targeting colorism and superficiality before she taunts former lovers "who missed out on all my magic." On "Chevy S10," she leaves the house for a woozy escapist fantasy in which the bassline switches from a G-funk groove to an acoustic one seemingly plucked from a jazz date. "Freakalizer" is seductive, blissed-out electro with none other than Egyptian Lover working the 808 drum machine. The presence of Parks' violin isn't as obvious as it was on her earlier work, though she plays the instrument on more than half of the songs, treating it at times with effects pedals to make it resemble bass and guitar, juggling actual drums, percussion, synthesizers, and other keyboards all the while. As a vocalist, Parks shows even greater versatility, matching modes ranging from breathy siren to tough MC with productions that dish out flickering electronics, atmospheric breaks, blown-out trap, and knocking hip-hop soul. Resilience, joy, and power emanate from all of it.

Source: AllMusic

Immanuel Wilkins - The 7th Hand

The 7th Hand

by Immanuel Williams

Released 28 January 2022

Blue Note

*****

Brooklyn-based alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins mightily impressed critics with 2020's Omega. His wispy yet resonant tone revealed a wildly inventive soloist with an advanced compositional facility executed with authority by his quartet -- pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns, and drummer/percussionist Kweku Sumbry. That group returns on The 7th Hand to ask an audacious question across seven tunes: What would happen if God joined the band? This hour-long suite of seven stand-alone movements investigates the space between two existential poles: the abundance of sacred presence and the nihilistic poverty of nothingness. The music on the provocative The 7th Hand moves through evolutionary stages. As it plays, elegantly rendered post-bop embraces harmonic modalism, then develops outward in the echolalia of free improvisation. In considering his existential question, Wilkins pondered the biblical significance of the number six, which represents the maximum potential of human possibility. He wondered that if the band actively sought divine intervention as an intended part of their creative process, would God's spirit, the heavenly seventh element, possess and guide them?

Opener "Emanation" balances release and tension with harmonic inquiry through modernist post-bop. Played with intricate melodic invention and barely restrained energy, Wilkins' horn offers a plethora of harmonic ideas. Thomas' piano employs expansive chord voicings as the rhythm section swings hard underneath. "Don't Break" features the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble. The djembe drums employ chantlike rhythmic motifs, directly reflecting the evolution of the African diaspora as Wilkins and Thomas answer with the blues. "Fugitive Ritual, Selah" is a gorgeous ballad derived from prewar Black gospel. It's introduced by a lyric statement from Johns before a recurrent riff claims the center. Sumbry's delicate brushwork gives way to a relaxed beat caressed by syncopation from piano and alto. "Shadow" sways alongside the blues with a minimal riff-laden theme in a deceptively easy groove until it drifts naturally into restrained abstraction. Both "Witness" and "Lighthouse" feature flutist Elena Pinderhughes. Her graceful approach adds a spectral dimension to the former, while on the latter, her cerebral lyric invention provides both contrast and depth to Wilkins' skillful, intuitively tempered improvisation amid forceful drumming and frenetic bass runs. The sprawling, 26-minute closer, "Lift," is a furious labyrinthine group improvisation that recalls John Coltrane's Ascension. Wilkins' knotty blowing acknowledges the modal intention in Thomas' spiky, harmonic piano stabs. Propulsive intervallic bass lines accentuate crashing cymbals and clattering tom-toms as snare and kick drum drive the molten flow of energy.

The 7th Hand is a major work. It travels dazzlingly from tranquility and comfort to ambivalence, restlessness, and impatience before it engages re-entry, rebirth, and transcendence. This band understands that Wilkins' bold question may be unanswerable, but they play as if they know. They commit to asking it with music-making as compelling and inspired as it is exploratory and dazzling.

Source: AllMusic (Thom Jurek)

Gabriels - Angels & Queens-Part I_edited.jpg

Angels & Queens - Part I

by Gabriels

Released 30 September 2022

Gabriels / Atlas Artists

*****

Frontman Jacob Lusk is nothing short of incredible on the trio’s debut album, a powerful half-hour of top-tier songwriting that proves Gabriels are far more than soul revivalists

Gabriels seemed to appear out of nowhere. They were hoisted into the public eye a couple of years ago, thanks to an extraordinary self-released five-track EP and an equally extraordinary video accompanying its lead track, Love and Hate in a Different Time. A perfectly synchronised selection of clips of people dancing (African tribes, saucer-eyed habituees of Wigan Casino, Theresa May at the Conservative party conference), the video suddenly stops dead, the final two minutes given over to what looks like cameraphone footage of a singer at a street demonstration, performing Lewis Allan’s Strange Fruit through a megaphone. The singer was Gabriels’ frontman, Jacob Lusk, at a Black Lives Matter protest.
The more you find out about them, the more curious Gabriels sound: Lusk was a choir director and a runner-up on the 2011 series of American Idol. His bandmates are a classically trained California composer called Ari Balouzian and a Sunderland-born video director, Ryan Hope, who named the band after the street in Bishopwearmouth where he grew up. They first collaborated on an advert for Prada in 2018, from which the EP’s opening track, Loyalty, had sprung: outside Love and Hate in a Different Time, Balouzian and Hope’s other 2020 release was the soundtrack to a documentary about Pepe the Frog.

However odd their background, Gabriels quickly gained momentum: critical acclaim; a major label deal; a showstopping appearance on Later With Jools Holland. It would be easy to suggest that their rise is down to Lusk, who has vast charisma and an entirely astonishing voice: he has a startling ability to sound intimate and warm one second, then unleash an agonised, shiver-inducing falsetto the next.

Angels and Queens Part One album cover
Angels and Queens Part One album cover
But an astonishing voice isn’t necessarily enough on its own, as evidenced by Lusk’s pleasant but inconsequential 2018 EP My Love Story, which framed him with too-slick production, equal parts early 90s slow jam and Mellow Magic-friendly 80s AOR. Without wishing to take away from the power of his vocals, it’s hard not to feel that Love and Hate in a Different Time derived its head-turning power from the fact that it was a fantastic song and from an overall sound that smartly keyed into soul music’s past without feeling like a painstakingly researched historical reenactment. It was obviously cut from a very different, more traditional cloth to most contemporary R&B, but it was cheeringly hard to put your finger on exactly what aspects of the past it was evoking.

That’s even more true of Angels and Queens Part One. Lusk is, plainly, incredible throughout – the sound of his voice multitracked to infinity on If You Only Knew is quite something – and the standard of songwriting set by Love and Hate in a Different Time never dips, as evidenced by the dense funk of the title track and piano ballad If You Only Knew, written from the perspective of Lusk’s late godsister, which shifts from wrenching misery to euphoria.

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This album highlights that Gabriels, having drafted Kendrick Lamar collaborator Sounwave as producer, are far more than revivalists. He helps craft a sound that feels entirely of the moment, and not merely because there’s a constant, nagging sense of tumult and foreboding lurking behind even its prettiest songs.
If it seems counterintuitive to split your debut album in two – Part Two is due in March – a song like Taboo makes it feel like common sense: like a lot of Angels and Queens Part One, it’s intense listening. The seven songs here last barely 30 minutes, but a powerful, concentrated half hour dose is all you need. Certainly – it’s all you need to stake a strong claim to the title of album of the year.

Source: The Guardian (Alex Petridis)

Father John Misty - Chloe and the Next 20th Century

Chloe and the Next 20th Century

by Father John Misty

Released 27 May 2022

Sub Pop

*****

Father John Misty's combination of caustic wit and staggering talent as both a vocalist and songwriter has resulted in a catalog of varied, consistently strong albums, but he reaches new levels of refinement and grandeur on fifth album Chloë and the Next 20th Century.

With earlier output, Misty (aka Josh Tillman) put his bile-dripping storytelling and darkly comical character sketches at the forefront of his songs, using instrumentation as an accessory for his scathing commentary and depraved character sketches. This took the form of epic, sometimes overblown production on 2017's Pure Comedy and stripped-down, vocals-forward rock on 2018's God's Favorite Customer.

Chloë and the Next 20th Century, however, is a softer, more thoughtful reading on FJM's sound, toning down his often ugly observations by letting gorgeous orchestral arrangements and gently beautiful songwriting occupy equal space with his persona.

The Tin Pan Alley instrumentation that starts the album on jaunty opener "Chloë" sets a tone of timelessness, as it draws on the carefree, strolling energy of '70s songwriters like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, softening the snark and vitriol of Tillman's typically sharp lyrical content.

"Goodbye Mr. Blue" goes so far as to rework Nilsson's 1968 hit "Everybody's Talkin'," sounding dangerously close to the original, but with lyrics about a couple uncomfortably coming back together over the death of their cat.

"Funny Girl" is similarly ornate, with cinematic touches supporting a lounge-y lope. Tillman explores torch song territory on the sweetly sad "Buddy's Rendezvous" and a bossanova sway on "Olvidado (Otro Momento)." While the arrangements on 2015's I Love You, Honeybear could be similarly grand at times, Father John Misty has never turned in anything as ambitious as the impeccable sonic tailoring of Chloë and the Next 20th Century.

Fans who fell in love with Tillman's sharp social commentary will find plenty to hone in on, but the lush sounds take some of the bite out of his clever barbs and cynical perspectives on love and connection.

Even with the strong, considered design of his previous albums, Father John Misty has never sounded so pleasant.

Source: AllMusic

Perfume Genius - Ugly Season

Ugly Season

by Perfume Genius

Released 17 June 2022

Matador Records

*****

When Perfume Genius' Mike Hadreas worked with choreographer Kate Wallich on the dance piece The Sun Still Burns Here, it revolutionized his relationship with his body and his music. Listeners got the first indication of how powerful these changes were with 2020's brilliant Set My Heart on Fire Immediately; with Ugly Season, they get even closer to the source of this transformation.

Hadreas' sixth album is largely based on his music for The Sun Still Burns Here, and like all of his work, offers a fascinating dance of vulnerability, strength, and how they intersect.

He's well-equipped to explore the musical and emotional complexities on pieces like "Teeth," which uses cut crystal chromatic percussion, pizzicato strings, soprano saxophone, and his highest falsetto vocals to blur pain and beauty together until they're unrecognizable from each other.

Ugly Season's detailed instrumentation evokes the choreography at the heart of The Sun Still Burns Here: "Herem," which moves from fluttering woodwinds and sinewy upright bass to sacred blasts of organ to an elastic electronic beat and tabla, suggests all the different shapes a mass of bodies can take over its seven-minute sweep, as do the jabbing piano and scrabbling strings of "Scherzo," which reflects Ugly Season at its most challenging. While the album is rooted in the artiest realms of Perfume Genius' music, it's still connected to the subversive pop that made No Shape and Set My Heart on Fire Immediately so compellingly catchy. As its name implies, "Pop Song" boils down that sound to its broadest strokes, yet there's still plenty of power and mystery in its swooning melody and jungly beat. "Eye in the Wall," another of Ugly Season's most immediate tracks, is a taut nighttime seduction with an extended percussive passage that reminds listeners this is dance music in its most literal sense, while "Photograph"'s smoldering pop encompasses the extremes of beauty and rawness that coexist in Perfume Genius' music. Hadreas dives into the deep end of that rawness with "Hellbent," a cathartic blast of synths, guitars, and mechanical beats that rivals Suicide in its electro-punk fury. It's in this discomfort zone that his art thrives: Ugly Season is a powerful statement as both an album and a score for a dance piece, and its intertwining of self-expression and healing is peak Perfume Genius.

Source: AllMusic

Sampa The Great - As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below

by Sampa The Great

Released 9 September 2022

Sampa The Great / Loma Vista

*****

Bold production, rich harmonies and equable beats; Sampa the Great curates a more intimate-feeling sonic experience on new album ‘As Above, So Below’.

The follow up to 2019’s ‘The Return’, Sampa’s new project builds on everything that made her last record so good, and simply does it better.

‘As Above, So Below’ opens with ‘Shadows’, a menacing cut centred around a sinister bells loop, bolstered by stacks of lavish harmonies and a healthy dose of beefy 808s. The beat, while punching through the mix, still retains a reserved feel. The addition of African wind instruments and spoken-word passage toward the back end of the track is the nod we need to know this record is going to be quintessentially Sampa the Great. ‘Shadows’ leads into the synth-heavy ‘Lane’ (also the first single from the record), which kicks off with layers of ambient and granular texture and effected vocal chops. Sampa’s flow is subdued yet passionate, and once again we are continually treated to large harmonic moments throughout the track. It also gives us the first feature of the record, with an impeccable verse from Florida rapper Denzel Curry. His energy as an artist is often unrivalled, and his verse here helps the case. 
Other singles ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Bona’ slot nicely into the feel of the record, with the former boasting a delectable marriage of borderline trip-hop beats and African music. ‘Bona’ ups the energy during the near-half point of the album. The pulsating sub basses and frantic flows from Sampa make an intoxicating experience, with the delicacy of the piano and backing vocals working hard as a stark contrast to the verses. Sampa the Great’s flow, throughout ‘As Above, So Below’, remains cool, calm and collected, but she is never afraid to cross into more frenetic energies. 

Album closer ‘Let Me Be Great’ works perfectly as the final chapter of the record. It encapsulates everything that makes Sampa Sampa; the neo-soul inflections paired with grand choral passages are simply quintessentially here. ‘Let Me Be Great’ is also rich with positive feelings, again a clever contrast to some of the darker instrumental moments on the album.

Sampa the Great’s latest release cements her as someone who ignores any traditional restraints within hip hop. The beautiful blends of genres and crisp production make ‘As Above, So Below’ an enthralling listen, and has Sampa raising the bar for herself once again. 

Source: ClashMusic

SAULT - Air

AIR

by SAULT

Released 13 April 2022

Forever Living Originals

*****

If you love Little Simz’s coronation album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert or Adele’s 30 from last year, you’ll know one of their defining qualities is the orchestration that, in each case, became a character in its own right. Both records presented a regal congress of choral vocals and classical instrumentation, padded with a cold echo as though recorded in the stately home featured in the video for Simz’s ‘Woman’. The linking node between those albums is newly-lauded producer Inflo, and his band SAULT has a new surprise release. AIR gives those illustrious symphonies the full stage.

This may be a shock if you’re not clued in on this mysterious group’s connections, as their last five records have all been firmly soul-funk affairs. But on their sixth album, they create a near-wordless collection of scores with enough scale to match – or even tower over – their diptych of 'Untitled' records from 2020. These compositions deserve Fantasia-style visuals.

Air can be a wandering record that doesn’t give its big crescendos away easily. The group is often finding, mining at and striking moments that earn that Disney soundtrack comparison. Foremost is ‘Heart’, a veritable hero’s theme that grows botanically from a plucky, out-of-tune guitar to a triumphant marriage of the album’s most dynamic elements. ‘Time Is Precious’ begins as an edifice of horns, strings and choir being pulled along by a fleet of woodwinds, all before settling down for the first and only vocals with lyrics, sung like a hymn under silent candlelight.

Other parts reinstate a dash of Sault’s usual soul accents, highlighting the influence of Stevie Wonder’s adventurous Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Title track ‘Air’ shows delicate pacing as wondrous horns swoop off and strings flourish like a rococo ornament, but it stems from a terra firma of warm, bounding keys and vocals that could have fit snuggly amongst Wonder’s eclectic synth-soul. Again it appears in the last few minutes of ‘Solar’, grounding a 12-minute John Williams homage with a seamless transition. It would have been nice to see this experiment stretched further into the track rather than keeping it hidden until the end. Then again, it could be a passing glance at what’s to come in the future.
Themes of survival have crept into Sault’s work since the Untitled records, but Air seems to zoom out to the survival of the Earth itself. The alternate artwork of a boy looking down at the globe matches the band’s conceptual perspective, and each song could be a film score’s finale. With this, the lyrics to ‘Time Is Precious’ are all the more poignant: “Don’t waste time ‘cause time is precious” / “Use it wise and keep those treasures”. Air feels like a swan song for a gorgeous world in peril.

Source: The Quietus

Szun Waves - Earth Patterns

Earth Patterns

by Szun Waves

Released 19 August 2022

The Leaf Label

*****

Earth Patterns is an overwhelmingly calm and mellow listen. Even when the album gets a touch moody, an inherent feeling of lush sleepiness remains predominant. The record meanders in an enticing middle ground between strands of jazz, ambient, drone, and synth-driven electronic. All told, it’s a relatively trim work which sucks the listener in and doesn’t let go.

There’s a lot of stunning beauty to be found on this album. Szun Waves (a London-based trio) consists of a percussionist, a saxophonist, and a pianist/synth wrangler. Together, they have an organic sense of chemistry, managing time after time to engulf the listener into a dreamy music-crafted world. Opener “Exploding Upwards” sets the stage with its rather upbeat, if reserved, leading melody. “Garden”, meanwhile, feels slightly ominous while moving along in a ponderous fashion. “Willow Leaf Pear” excels with a melancholy yet soothing horn performance taking center stage. It all culminates with the wonderful closer “Atomkerne”, which proves both highly spaced-out and intensely here on Earth (the latter perhaps due to a recurring motif which recalls birdsong). It’s simultaneously one with the cosmos and the woods right next to your neighborhood.

Earth Patterns approaches “atmospheric masterpiece” status. It’s full of colorful and refreshing music which captures the essence of beautiful outdoor spaces in the summer or fall (with this sense perhaps encouraged by the gorgeous album artwork). The album is generally light and airy, full of space to allow the listener’s mind to wander. Don’t expect the most vigorous of records, but as a companion to reverie and contemplation, it doesn’t get much better than this.

 

Source: Sputnikmusic

Gui Duvignau - Baden

Baden

by Gui Duvignau

Released 13 May 2022

Interscope/pgLang

*****

Gui Duvignau is a French-Brazilian bass player and composer. His multi-cultural background has led to a life of traveling and musical exploration.
A jazz musician in essence, he also draws inspiration from his experiences performing Rock, Brazilian, and ‘World’ music, as well as his studies in classical contemporary music. His ability to combine elements of jazz, classical, and Brazilian folkloric music into his own singular genre that was spoken only on his nylon string, acoustic guitar has maintained his quiet legend status throughout the world.

Born in France, but raised in Brazil, Duvignau was drawn to the music of Baden Powell through his Brazilian guitarist friends, who all considered Powell a fundamental figure in the worlds of Brazilian music and acoustic guitar. During his own guitar study, Duvignau asked friends for pointers and they continually referred him to Powell’s techniques. Further exploration of Powell’s repertoire led the bassist to the revelations provided by the fantastic music of the guitarist.

Baden, uses Powell’s beloved songs as a foundation for explorative interpretations and improvisations from Duvignau’s fantastic ensemble, along with two highly esteemed guests, Ron Carter and Bill Frisell.

As a well-studied musician, Duvignau was astounded by Powell’s classical-honed technique and ability to communicate across genres. The guitarist’s music was a breath of fresh air and there was a sense of the spiritual in everything that Powell played, including the many interpretations he made of religious music of Brazil’s African-derived religions, like Candomblé and Umbanda. The guitarist was unique as he looked more toward the influences of samba rather than the bossa nova style that was popular at the time.

Duvignau felt that the best way to pay tribute to Powell was to play his music as openly as possible; not try to make a recording that was a Brazilian jazz record. Thus, Duvignau pointed this out to the musicians that he wanted to play with as he knew they could take the music anywhere. He welcomed back two mentors and friends who had appeared on his previous recording, 3, 5, 8, woodwind master Billy Drewes and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Duvignau also recruited fellow Berklee alum, pianist Lawrence Fields, a great bandmate and consummate professional.

To make the project even more special, Duvignau invited his mentor Ron Carter to participate on a track. The bassist also recruited the great guitarist Bill Frisell to add his brilliant tones to a number of the pieces.

Source: Bandcamp

Gharlotte Adigery, Bolis Pupul - Topical Dancer

Topical Dancer

by Gharlotte Adigery, Bolis Pupul

Released 4 March 2022

Bounty & Banana / DEEWEE & Because

*****

Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul are acutely aware of how difficult it can be to navigate your way through a world that seems determined to drag you down. Between the corrosive effects of everyday racism and misogyny, to the breakdown of our social discourse, they could have been forgiven if the negativity of it all had dragged them under. Rejoice, then, that their debut album has arrived bursting with positive energy; ‘Topical Dancer’ is a triumphant middle finger to the people that need to see it the most.

The pair met in 2016 when they were invited by Belgian musical royalty Soulwax to take part in a soundtrack project. They immediately hit it off, and within a week they had written ‘La Falaise’, their first EP together. That 2017 release and its 2019 follow-up, the ‘Zandoli’ EP, were released under Adigéry’s name exclusively, but now, after a period of soul-searching, the Ghent-based musicians decided that this first full-length should be credited to them as equals.

‘Topical Dancer’ is defined by its caustic sense of humour. On ‘Esperanto’, Adigéry sings, “Don’t say, ‘Nice pair’ / Say, ‘I love the symmetry of you’”. It’s just one of the album’s many one-liners that are laugh-out-loud funny, while smartly describing the toxicity of social media. The music itself matches the humour of the lyrics, with bouncy synth lines and skittering beats that seem to tee up the jokes before Adigéry delivers the punchline. The song decries the absence of nuance in the way that we communicate, acknowledging the absurdity of the topic while not pretending to be a quick fix.

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‘Blenda’ deals with post-colonial racism in Belgium with the same lightness of touch. “Go back to your country where you belong / Siri, can you tell me where I belong?”, Adigéry sings, before mocking the achingly obvious shortfall in the logic behind such bigotry: “I am here because you were there.” Adigéry and Pupul tackle the bleakest of subject matter with defiance, while conjuring astral disco arrangements that recall the likes of LoneLady or Jane Weaver.

 

This playfulness also stretches to ‘Ceci N’Est Pas un Cliché’, which began as a list of every cringeworthy song lyric the duo had ever heard (“I was walking down the street / When I woke up early this morning…”). On album closer ‘Thank You’, Adigéry throws every condescending piece of ‘advice’ she’s ever received back in the faces of the men that have sought to take credit for her success.

 

Adigéry and Pupul don’t need any help with their success, thank you. With ‘Topical Dancer’, they have created an album that works just as well as the soundtrack to a killer house party as it does a necessary act of rebellion against the negative forces in our society

Source: NME

Ruben James - Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

by Ruben James

Released 29 April 2022

Rufio Records

*****

This much-anticipated release from Birmingham-born keyboardist, vocalist and producer Reuben James is a treat, filled with warm vibes and top instrumental talent exploring a jazzy nu-soul R&B style with skill and panache.
Reuben James came to prominence in his work with chart-topping singer Sam Smith, joining the arena tours, Grammy awards and international acclaim of the pop world while quietly nurturing his jazz chops. He is interested in a wide range of music and has made a particularly bold move in being ready and willing to collaborate with other musicians ranging from global superstars like Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Stormzy to jazz drummer Chris Dave, rapper Jay Prince, and fellow Midlands alumni Tom Ford and Soweto Kinch.

It’s at least a year since James was talking about this work, and he has rightly held off until summer and barbecues are once again an option.  He calls this set a ‘mixtape’, a nice informal way to present a seamless well-mixed hour-long collection of work with many co-performers, some new material alongside some choice previous releases.  The opening Vegan Butter sees American saxophonist Tivon Pennicott adding his smooth colour to a bass-filtered groove, which swoops into Closer, James’ 2021 single with Sophie Faith’s gorgeous vocals interspersing James’ own laid-back voice and Jay Prince’s rap. It’s quite a seven minute journey, which moves into the swaying U Got Me with South Londoner Jaz Karis providing the chorus vocals.

The emphasis switches to softly strummed acoustic guitar on Searching with Vula Malinga joining Jay Prince and multi-instrumentalist Conor Albert. The beat gets a notch firmer for Ruby Smiles, a James keyboard solo leading into some alto sax from Soweto Kinch.  BBQ Energy, another James song from a year or two ago, is brought in with Adam Flowers sharing vocals and in-demand trumpeter Keyon Harrold adding brassy flair into the mix.  

Flute master Gareth Lockrane is featured on the new single What U Need with Chicago rapper Ric Wilson. All I Wanna Do is totally chilled, strings, piano and acres of space, while Wings Of A Butterfly sees Vula return along with Vanessa Butler on vocals. The title track Tunnel Vision sees Frida Touray and Daley sharing vocals with James, maintaining the cool yet rich pulse of the whole set with Tom Misch’s guitar coasting along to the close. 

There is so much to enjoy in this hour-long drifting dream of an album – many performers, great arrangements and production, and Reuben James at the heart of it with his vocal style and sensitivity for a hook.  No, it’s not jazz but… I am wondering whether Reuben James is becoming a kind of Steely Dan for the R&B generation, producing engaging and enjoyable material which is both accessible to a wide audience and yet packs a musical punch that belies its clear charms.   

Source: London Jazz News

Ndudozo Makhathni - In The Spirit Of Ntu

In The Spirit Of Ntu

by Ndudozo Makhathni

Released 27 May 2022

Blue Note

*****

South Africa's jazz scene may not get nearly as attention as London's, but it is every bit as varied, innovative and creative. Pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini is a leading light in South African jazz, a musician at the forefront of its scene. In the Spirit of NTU is his tenth album and second for Blue Note, and the inaugural recording for Blue Note Africa.

The pianist surrounds himself with South Africa's top musicians including saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane, trumpeter Robin Fassie Kock, vibraphonist Dylan Tabisher, bassist Stephen de Souza, percussionist Gontse Makhene, and drummer Dane Paris. His guests include American alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and vocalists Anna Widauer, and Omagugu Makhathini.

Across this new work, Makhathini condenses conceptual, often esoteric philosophical and spiritual themes explored in his catalogue down to 10 tracks. He draws on Zulu and precolonial traditions and wide-ranging cosmological and intellectual curiosities -- the NTU itself is an ancient concept about interdependence and collectivity.
Opener "Unonkanyamba" is introduced by rumbling piano, and layered hand percussion. The horns offer a sweet, township-inspired theme that Makhathini punctuates with bridged harmonies. Sikhakhane's powerful solo explores amid intensely hypnotic rhythms. The pianist's gospel-tinged melody lines accent his solo. "Mama" is a lullaby. It offers resonant interplay between Omagugu's vocals and Fassie Kock's trumpet. Makhathini's downmixed, chanted backing vocals (on all but two tracks) underscore tenderly articulated lyricism above a poignant bassline and rippling percussion. "Amathongo"'s postbop uses shuffling swing from Paris's kit as a catalyst. Flugelhorn and vibes exchange lines with each another and Makhathini's vamp. His solo threads angular arpeggios through dissonant harmonic invention as vibes, flugelhorn and percussion frame his attack. The set's hinge track, "Emlilweni" in inspired by Old Testament Book of Daniel tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Sentenced to die by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship his image, they emerge unscathed followed by a fourth man, "…like a Son of God." The expansive modal opening features Sikhakhane in concert with the pianist appended by dramatic hand percussion and drums. The pianist's solo is rife with athletic, high register arpeggios. Shaw delivers an incendiary alto solo representing the fire. Widauer appears on "Re-Amathambo," reworked from 2018's, Ikhambi. Her smoky alto offers lustrous, syncopated phrasing amid the bluesy, shuffling architetcure. The pianist's fills and phrasing frame her singing as vibes poignantly and authoritatively underscore her lines. "Omnyama" employs haunting repetition in modal chord voicings and pronounced circular rhythms that morph into vocal chanting. Sikhakhane's soprano shouts and whispers before Makhathini inserts jagged single lines amid swelling, poignant horns. "Senze'Nina" juxtaposes stately chordal piano statements with rumbling glissandos, a vocal chant, and Sikhakhane's mournful tenor solo.

The title track closer is a solo, hymn-like, meditative piece wedding gospel and township folk before evolving toward vanguard improvisation. In the Spirit of NTU is an introduction to and summation of Makhathini's musical universe to date. Contrasting inquiry and statement, exploration and discovery, it's the work of an artist possessed of startling vision and dazzling creativity.

Source: AllMusic

Areni Agbabian - Bloom

Bloom

by Areni Agbabian

Released 26 April 2022

ECM

*****

Improvising vocalist, folk singer, storyteller, pianist: on her ECM debut Areni Agbabian focuses the range of her skills in music that casts a quiet spell. A sparse music in which voice, piano and the subtle percussion of Nicolas Stocker (last heard on ECM with Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile ensemble), continually shade into silence.  The California-born Agbabian, who came to international attention with the groups of Tigran Hamasyan, draws deeply upon her Armenian heritage, reinterpreting sacred hymns, a traditional tale, a folk melody transcribed by Komitas and more, and interspersing  these elements among her own evocative compositions. 

Areni Agbabian casts a quiet spell with her art, as an improvising vocalist, folk singer, storyteller and pianist. Her voice has been described as “bell-toned” by The Guardian and “lush” by the Los Angeles Times, the music she creates with it “intensely focused, moving toward some kind of hidden truth,” according to The New York Times. Agbabian’s ECM debut, Bloom, has a richness that belies its spare ingredients: just her evocative voice and piano, along with the subtly ingenious percussion of Nicolas Stocker (who was last heard on ECM with Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile ensemble). Born and raised in Los Angeles into an Armenian family, Agbabian came to international attention via performances and recordings with groups led by Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan.

Bloom draws deeply on the singer’s Armenian heritage, as she reinterprets sacred hymns, a traditional spoken-word tale and a dark folk melody transcribed by the great Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist Komitas. She intersperses these among her own vocal and instrumental compositions, which channel a wide world of influences, from Komitas to Tigran Mansurian, from Morton Feldman to George Crumb, from Patty Waters to Kate Bush. The melody that recurs through the highlights “Petal One,” “Petal Two” and “Full Bloom” glows with an aural and emotional purity that’s characteristic of Agbabian’s music.

Bloom was recorded in Lugano in October 2016 and produced by Manfred Eicher.

Source: ECM

Jon Balke, Siwan -  Hafla

Hafla

by Jon Balke, Siwan

Released 22 April 2022

ECM

*****

Hafla is the third album from Norwegian keyboardist-composer-arranger Jon Balke’s Siwan, the ensemble launched in 2007 as a meeting point for musicians of strikingly different backgrounds and experiences.  Siwan celebrates the concept of coexistence and cooperation, making the case for the positive attributes of cultural diversity, as it looks back into history and forwards towards new models for shared work.  The legends and the poetry of al-Andalus continue to inspire Balke and company, but this is contemporary music shaped by players who choose to listen, respond and adapt.
Jon Balke brings many musical aspects together in his writing for a unique ensemble that includes an Algerian lead singer, a kemençe player from Turkey, an Iranian master of the tombak, an innovative Norwegian drummer and an energetic string section of baroque specialists. The interweaving of their creative contributions - in a delicate play of textures, melodies and rhythms - underlines and envelops verses penned many centuries ago.
Repertoire on Hafla begins with Balke’s setting of lyrics by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, the free-thinking 11th century Ummayad princess of Cordoba and the lover of Ibn Zaydun, the great poet of al-Andalus.
“The story of their relationship is legendary”, Balke notes. “And Wallada also wrote some great, short and precise poems. This time, we were looking for poetry descriptive of life as it was lived in that period. Somebody made the observation that the phenomenon of co-existence begins in the neighbourhood when someone needs help. It begins in the queue to buy bread. On that kind of basic level.  It’s a good perspective, I think.”
Composing for Siwan frequently begins with the selection of words to be sung, he explains, as he exchanges ideas with Mona Boutchebak.  “Often it’s many processes taking place. I might suggest some poems – perhaps starting from Spanish translations of the words - and then, while walking in Nature, sing or whistle a melody into a recording device.  In my home studio I’ll develop that a bit and send it to Mona who’ll look into the translations and send me back a version sung in Arabic. Checking formal Arabic against dialect versions, and other details. Meanwhile I’ll start arranging for strings and imagining how the percussion players might work with material.”

 

Source: ECM Records

Raffy Bushman - E Minor String Quintet + Rhythm (EP)

E Minor String Quintet + Rhythm (EP)

by Raffy Bushman

Released 29 July 2022

Bridge The Gap x New Soil

*****

Raffy Bushman's "E Minor String Quintet + Rhythm" is a fresh new selection of original contemporary classical compositions that update the very idea of classical music to encompass contemporary music.

Speaking in a YouTube documentary for the piece, the artist says: "I think this piece is as much contemporary classical music as anything else out there. I’m using classical music competition structures. I use counterpoint and functional harmony along with jazz stuff and yeah, I'm using a rhythm section. But all my favourite composers - and I'm not just talking, like, Stravinsky, but talking Bach, Beethoven, Mozart - they were in touch with the dance rhythms of their time because they knew that all the best music is first a visceral experience (meaning that you like it instinctively when you hear it) and then an intellectual experience (meaning that when you look more closely and analyse it, it makes sense).

A lot of contemporary classical music I'm hearing nowadays is a thinking exercise. And if I have to think about whether I like something, I'm pretty sure I don't like it."

Bushman's autobiographical candor and his views on classical music and it's accessibility, are as interesting and enlightening as his music.

Source: raffybushman.com

Beyonce - Renaissance

Renaissance

by Beyonce

Released 29 July 2022

Columbia Records

*****

"Break My Soul" offered much to dissect as the preliminary single off Renaissance, Beyoncé's first solo studio album since Lemonade and part one of a promised three-act project.

Integrating a flashback to early-'90s crossover house hit "Show Me Love," the resilience anthem -- reinforced with an echoing gospel choir and sampled Big Freedia exhortations -- came across like a nostalgic dance remix preceding the original version.

Instead, it slid neatly into place on the parent LP not only as an accurate representation but also as a foreshock to an hour-long housequake filled with irrepressible exuberance in celebration of self and sisterhood.

Among those to whom Beyoncé dedicates Renaissance is her late gay cousin and godmother, Uncle Jonny, credited for introducing her "to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album." The multitude of dancefloor sounds cultivated and celebrated since the late '60s in underground clubs by liberation-seeking gay, Black, and Latino dancers has been a natural ingredient in Beyoncé's recordings since the birth of Destiny's Child (take the use of the Love Unlimited Orchestra's proto-disco exemplar "Strange Games & Things" in "No, No, No, Pt. 2"), but it is the basis of Renaissance.

The LP is top-to-bottom danceable and sequenced with each track setting up the next, through the ecstatic finale, where Beyoncé most potently mixes sensuality and aggression, claiming her man with nods to Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Patrick Cowley, and Larry Heard.

"Cuff It" is a disco-funk burner with Nile Rodgers' inimitable rhythm guitar and a slick quote from Teena Marie's biggest ballad, though it has all the vigor of Lady T's uptempo classics.

The more relaxed "Virgo's Groove" is designed for circling the rink with its delectably plump bassline and handclaps, and moves to a private room where Beyoncé commands, in one of the set's many memorable turns of phrase, "Motorboat, baby, spin around."

Renaissance pulls from the more recent and present sonic developments with equal guile. Dancehall-derived dembow is stretched out for the strutting opener "I'm That Girl." "Heated" works a chugging Afrobeats rhythm, and is keenly trailed by the swollen dubstep pulsations of "Thique." The most exciting moments fearlessly blend and switch eras. "Pure/Honey" alternates between a duly vulgar ballroom brush-off and pop-funk rapture, and "Church Girl," a rousing gospel-bounce marvel, weaves the Clark Sisters with the decidedly less-reverent DJ Jimi and the Showboys.

Beyoncé is vocally up to the challenge of juggling the almost-innumerable quantity of styles and references, sighing, purring, beaming, belting, and spitting fire with all the required conviction and attitude. Her congregation of fellow writers, producers, and vocalists is a formidable assembly of close collaborators (the-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Mike Dean, NOVA Wav), younger trailblazers (Honey Dijon, Kelman Duran, Tems), and legends (Grace Jones, Raphael Saadiq).

Act II will presumably have at least one ballad. They're not missed here.

Source: AllMusic

Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

by Kendrick Lamar

Released 13 May 2022

Interscope/pgLang

*****

As early as his first official studio release, 2011’s Section.80, Kendrick Lamar’s albums have been intricate and conceptual, constructed more like ambitious theatrical narratives than mere collections of songs. Fifth album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers follows this trajectory as a double-album’s worth of interconnecting statements that are relentlessly complex, emotionally dense, and sometimes uncomfortably raw.

Unlike the lush, spacious sonics of DAMN. or the life-affirming funk of To Pimp a Butterfly, Mr. Morale is scattered both in terms of musical approaches and lyrical perspectives.

The album’s first half is particularly messy, with themes of trauma, grief, society, and Kendrick’s own uneasy relationship with fame all overlapping. His technical abilities are stunning and versatile as ever, but the frantic flows and jarring beat switches of “United in Grief” begin an angsty catharsis that runs throughout many of the tracks.

“N95” is a seething cultural critique where Lamar spits bile in multiple directions over a bleakly catchy, bass-driven instrumental. Issues with lust addiction and infidelity are put under a microscope on the tense and minimal “Worldwide Steppers,” and Lamar depicts his troubled relationship with his father in painful detail on “Father Time,” which features a gorgeous vocal performance by Sampha on the hook. There’s further exploration of deeply personal family history on “Auntie Diaries,” which chronicles Lamar coming to understand the experiences two of his relatives had with transitioning gender identities. Throughout the album he funnels all of these experiences inward, seeking to grow through his own changes and the changes he sees around him. This shows up as a dismissal of celebrity on “Rich Spirit” or as striving for self-acceptance on “Count Me Out.”

The album’s quick musical and thematic shifts can make for an uneven flow. The floating R&B instrumental and tender introspection of “Die Hard” come just a few tracks before cacophonous swirls of piano on “Rich - Interlude” and the jagged cosmic hip-hop of Ghostface Killah and Summer Walker collaboration “Purple Hearts.” The album’s intensity reaches a full boil on “We Cry Together,” a song that sounds like live audio footage of the most vicious couple’s argument imaginable, and reaches the same levels of ugliness as Eminem’s “Kim,” a clear reference point.

As always, the production is immaculate and Lamar is joined by a host of industry giants, with contributions coming from Baby Keem, Thundercat, and even a vocal cameo from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons on the stunning sadness of “Mother I Sober.”

While not as immediately accessible as some of the work that came before it, there’s value in both the harrowing and enlightening moments here.

Lamar puts everything on the table with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, trying to get closer to his unfiltered personal truth, and creating some of his most challenging, expectation-defying work in the process. While not always an easy listen, the album shows more of its intention as it goes, and ultimately makes sense as the next logical step forward in Lamar’s increasingly multi-dimensional artistic evolution.

Source: AllMusic

Bjork - Fossora

Fossora

by Bjork

Released 30 September 2022

One Little Independant Records

*****

Though the search for connection has been the crux of Björk's music since the beginning, she was resolutely alone on Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017).

After the traumatic isolation of the former album and the healing solitude of the latter, on Fossora she's ready to reach out again. Named for a Latin word meaning "digger," Björk's tenth album is one of her best blends of the conceptual and the personal.

Initially inspired by clarinets, gabba techno (her favorite to play at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic lockdown), and the communal nature of fungal networks, it grew to embrace her new love, her children leaving home, and her mother's 2018 death. Björk weaves these huge emotional milestones together into earthy, organic illustrations of the many kinds of love and how they're expressed. On Fossora, love isn't always soft: the album opener "Atopos" shows Björk has come down from Utopia's clouds with an impatient thud. "Our differences are irrelevant," she insists over jabbing beats, prodding clarinets, and an army of backing vocals before concluding, "Hope is a muscle/that allows us to connect." There's a maternal quality to her no-nonsense tone that ties in perfectly with Fossora's later expressions of being a daughter saying goodbye to her mother and a mother saying goodbye to her daughter. "Sorrowful Soil," the somber choral piece that serves as a eulogy for Björk’s mother, environmental activist Hildur Rúna, is striking, but still doesn't fully prepare listeners for "Ancestress." The equivalent of Vulnicura's centerpiece "Black Lake," it captures Rúna's legacy and passing in beautifully wrenching detail, from the traits she shared with Björk ("she invents words and adds syllables") to the form left behind ("let go of a cold palm"). Just as stunning is the misty-eyed finale "Her Mother's House," where Björk sends her daughter Isadora out into the world with the benediction "The more I love you/The better you will survive/The more freedom I give you." Romantic love inspires several of Fossora's other highlights, whether it's the Homogenic-like fusion of digital, emotional, and physical intimacy of "Ovule," the verdant sensuality of the serpentwithfeet collaboration "Fungal City," or "Freefall," a celebration of "the shape of the love we created" dotted with pizzicato strings that light up the track like tiny bioluminescent mushrooms. Like Vulnicura, the album has its challenging moments -- particularly "Victimhood," a subterranean crawl through the muck of self-pity -- but they make the transition from loss and grieving to love and hope on "Allow" and the title track all the sweeter. Whether Björk presents a magical world on Fossora or just reminds listeners of the magic within everyday life and relationships, it's more proof that she can still forge a remarkable connection with her audience.

On this soul-nourishing tour de force, her one-of-a-kind mix of innovation and emotion is as inspiring as it's ever been over her decades-long career.

Source: AllMusic

Mwanje - Seasons (EP)

Seasons

by Mwanjé

Released 22 April 2022

Mwanjé

*****

Mwanje Tembo is a Melbourne based singer/ songwriter originally from Zambia but born and raised in Botswana. With influences such as Solange and FKA Twigs, Mwanje expresses herself through music, art and dance. Her use of melisma and stacked harmonies creates a psychedelic trance that captivates her listeners. With lyrics based off of real life experiences, Mwanje hopes to grow with her listeners. 

One of RnB’s most exciting new contemporary artists, Mwanjé's debut EP “Seasons” is a transcendent coming-of-age record that includes the arresting single ‘Wildones’ featuring her sister, Sampa The Great, and ‘Call 2 the Diaspora’.
Mwanjé is creating a limitless space of her own connecting Black feminism and Afrofuturism with new wave RnB.
With “Seasons”, the 23-year old artist presents a journey of self-love, self-discovery and transition into adulthood through a fluid soundscape that spans alternative R&B, neo-soul, jazz and spoken word poetry.

Mwanjé said: “Seasons’ is a journey of self-discovery. There is a lot of room for individual interpretation for the listener but for myself, my first body of work is about a journey of self-love and discovery while maintaining adult life. It is an introduction to the world of Mwanjé. Where cycles, flows and evolutions are constantly at work. The tracklist is a reel of experiences that resulted in this version of me.”

Source: Bandcamp

Kokoroko - Could We Be More

Could We Be More

by Kokoroko

Released 5 August 2022

Brownswood Recordings

*****

One of the features of the 2022 alternative London jazz scene is the incorporation of musical styles originating in Africa and the Caribbean, from whence a high proportion of prominent musicians on that scene trace their heritage. Not every band shares this African and/or Caribbean dimension but the majority do and it is one of the factors behind the broadening of the audience base for jazz in Britain that has developed since around 2016. 

For the musicians, this move towards demographic and cultural inclusivity is attended by a binary choice. Is the adoption and fusion of African and Caribbean styles "mission accomplished" in itself, the focus of their music, or is it to be used as a stepping stone toward extending the historical jazz vocabulary? The dividing line is blurred but the distinction is clear. Those musicians who some observers contend are creating what may prove to be the most enduring music have chosen the second path, with tenor saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings and alto saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Camilla George leading the charge. Others, such as Kokoroko and Ezra Collective, take more of a mission accomplished point of view. Ezra's upcoming 2022 album May The Funk Be With You (Enter The Jungle) doubles down on that direction, as does Kokoroko's first full-length album, Could We Be More. 

Cassie Kinoshi is a member of Kokoroko, but the band's direction of travel is primarily set by its founder and leader, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey. In interviews during the early days of Kokoroko, Maurice-Grey expressed impatience with the fact that much of the band's following was drawn from the existing audience for jazz in London, albeit the more adventurous and outward-facing section of that audience, and she was keen to broaden the band's appeal. So it is no surprise that the Kokoroko's fusion of African (mainly Nigerian and Ghanaian) styles defines and dominates Could We Be More, some will say to the diminution of "jazz" content. 

The debate will continue, and whether We Could Be More has staying power only time can tell. Meanwhile, the album's Afrobeat-highlife-soul-funk romp is a terrific summer soundtrack and will go down a storm at festivals and on dancefloors alike.

Personnel:

Sheila Maurice-Grey: trumpet; Cassie Kinoshi: saxophone; Richie Seivwright: trombone; Onome Edgeworth: percussion; Ayo Salawu: drums; Tobi Adenaike-Johnson: guitar; Yohan Kebede: keyboards; Duane Atherley: bass.

Additional Instrumentation:

Sheila Maurice-Grey: trumpet, vocals; Cassie Kinoshi: alto saxophone, vocals; Richie Seivwright: trombone, vocals; Onome Edgeworth: percussion; Ayo Salawu: drums; Tobi Adenaike-Johnson: guitar; Yohan Kebede: synthesisers, keyboards; Duane Atherley: bass, synthesisers, keyboards.

Source: All About Jazz

Ego Ella May - Fieldnotes

Fieldnotes | Fieldnotes II

by Ego Ella May

Released 15 October 2021 | 8 March 2022

Ego Ella May

*****

We are all moving in slow motion still, after well, you know. Ego Ella May (pronounced “Eh-go”), the British-Nigerian mood enhancer-by way of voice, pen, and whatever else resides in that Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year tool bag she uses.

That raspy vox humana never gets raised past 6. It compels listenership, believers in love, and classic/modern soul philosophers, to get real close and cozy. Hanging on to those vibes, feeling, chi, energy—she uses it all in the slowest of spurts to generate this endearing hopefulness. And that’s really cool. I like my good vibes to last; more bang for your better day, you know? It’s a get-down I can function with these days.

Fieldnotes, Pt II, the second part to this peerless hangout, could really give a damn about a pandemic. May is in her element, fashioning that jazz and contemporary R&B pastiche into full-on Soulquarian territory. Nothing but neo-soul patina backing up whimsical, breathless articulation. Living in that easy pace tempo for the wondrous enunciation dorks who want to know exactly what this wordsmith is putting in the air. Let me condense the succinct: She’s been through it. And still chooses up over down. As admirable as that may be, on Fieldnotes II, Ego Ella May—while deeply personable about her rendezvouses with tenderness and connection—operates from her own rule book. Win or lose.

“Introvert Hotline” deals out the Badu meets Yazmin Lacey attitude so desperately needed in order to control a situation. May is in for a new change, a positive one, but it’s on her terms. “The introvert hotline, nobody’s answered in a while, the only rule, don’t call me, I’ll text you” is voiced with a smirk, but it’s real as supply chain shortages. Don’t test it. “Centered” takes all the likes and retweets without troll number one. Built off this swoony R&B audio verse, May talks about her partner being all she could want. The girl can’t help but brag cause the catch seems to complete her. Sorry, Jerry Maguire, it fit.

Who knew such a cliched plight had the stuff of posey mysticism. Ego knows her influences cold and pays proper respect to them while making a great song extend deep into vaulted earworm districts. It’s a masterstroke of appreciation by way of musicianship. In referencing Joni Mitchell’s “Centerpiece”, from the immortal 1975 Hissing of Summer Lawns, the song infuses new interpretations by way of millennial inventiveness to transpose Joni’s chorus into the stuff of elysian rapture. Way beyond a mood, it’s a slo-mo head nod sesh anybody could rock with.

Fieldnotes ll comprises five tracks. In some others handling it might seem truncated, like a quick-holdover until some full album appears. We all know it was pandemic created. But if you’re familiar with the resume, remember the Honey For Wounds debut, netting the “Best Jazz Act” award at the 2020 MOBO Awards, May creates languid projects that you can’t help but return to incessantly. This second edition, a densely packed EP, operates like your fave weighted blanket, you just can’t get enough of due to its ability to cover you up, from nose to foot.

Source: Treblezine

Ben Marc - Glass Effect

Glass Effect

by Ben Marc

Released 22 April 2022

Innovative Leisure

*****

It’s a rare talent that can link Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, Afrofuturists Sun Ra Arkestra, and grime legend Dizzee Rascal, but Marc has long blurred musical worlds and criss-crossed boundaries.

One of the reasons that he started writing Glass Effect, says Marc, was going to nightclubs in Ibiza and experiencing the heady sun-dappled euphoria of a summery dancefloor, as well as the beat-driven production of artists like Four Tet, Bonobo, Machinedrum, DJ Shadow, and Madlib.

Producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Marc, who’s emerged as a key figure of London’s cutting edge jazz scene, has just announced his debut full length, a follow up to last September’s widely acclaimed Breathe Suite EP (heralded by NPR, Pitchfork, The Wire, The Guardian, and more).

Glass Effect is an assured and accomplished 13-track realization of a singular vision that unifies a multitudinous profusion of influences (free-jazz, broken beat, hip-hop, electronica and beyond) into a sublime whole, underscoring the evolution of his quest for a distinctive sound: lambent, low-key, and yet dizzyingly intricate.

Source: Bandcamp


‘Glass Effect’ opens with ‘Way We Are.’ The opening riff is reminiscent to the opening theme to Flight Of The Conchords. It’s catchy and jovial, but here it is underpinned by a whirling loop. This is what propels the song forward. It’s slightly moody, but with shards of hope (this is something that Marc will return to throughout). The beat stutters underneath. It’s a fun way of opening the album. It says: “This is going to be a fun ride, but you might feel giddy when you get off.” After two instrumental tracks ‘Dark Clouds’ features Joshua Idehen on vocals. Out of the gates Idehen’s vocals are gruff but welcoming. He lets us know how things are. Some things are OK. Some things aren’t, but Idehen is always honest. The main vocal hook feels more like a mantra than a chorus: “Tomorrow is gonna be better” – it’s a simple message, but it’s effective.

And this is the secret to ‘Glass Effect.’ When Marc keeps things simple, they work incredibly well. When he starts to over complicate things the album starts to sway under its own weighty ideas. ‘Give Me Time’ is an example of this. The backing track feels a bit buys in places. This is remarkable as the instrumentation is sparse, but around the halfway mark there appears to be two rhythms fighting for out attention. A stuttering drumbeat, a hypnotic guitar, and some strings. Over this Judi Jackson sings the chorus “We just need a little more space and time.” It’s a shame Marc didn’t heed his own advice here.
The title track is one of the standout moments on the album. This is another semi-instrumental. The melodies are captivating. The beats whip up a frenzy and the bassline are deep. It reminds me of going to hip-hop nights when there was a live backing band. At some point the MCs would leave the stage and the band would play something instrumental. Then hook would be the beat that the other musicians would riff around, over the through. It didn’t matter what they played, as you were locked into the spectacle of listening to live hip-hop. The same is true here. The music is slightly immaterial. It's all about the musicianship on display. ‘First Batch’ slows things down about. Ceasar C delivers some great bars, but all your attention is on the string section. It’s moody, but all you can concentrate on.

‘Glass Effect’ works best when the music is instrumental and uncomplicated. ‘Jaw Bone’ does this incredibly well. Cascading guitars and scatter shot drumming are the order of the day. Over this some horns solo. Its simple but very clever. When Marc over complicates things, and the album slightly looses its way. Also, the album feels one, or two, songs too long. This might seem like harsh criticism, which is probably is, but trim it down to around 10, or 11, tracks you’d have a much tighter affair. Saying that ‘Glass Effect’ is very playable and benefits from repeat listens. There are layers upon layers of glorious melodies and hooks here; you just need to spend the time to find the ones that work for you.

Source: The Wire

Makaya McCraven - In These Times

In These Times

by Makaya McCraven

Released 23 September 2022

International Anthem

*****

In These Times is the new album by Chicago-based percussionist, composer, producer, and pillar of our label family, Makaya McCraven.

Although this album is “new," the truth it’s something that's been in process for a very long time, since shortly after he released his International Anthem debut In The Moment in 2015. Dedicated followers may note he’s had 6 other releases in the meantime (including 2018’s widely-popular Universal Beings and 2020’s We’re New Again, his rework of Gil Scott-Heron’s final album for XL Recordings); but none of which have been as definitive an expression of his artistic ethos as In These Times.

This is the album McCraven’s been trying to make since he started making records. And his patience, ambition, and persistence have yielded an appropriately career-defining body of work.

As epic and expansive as it is impressively potent and concise, the 11 song suite was created over 7+ years, as McCraven strived to design a highly personal but broadly communicable fusion of odd-meter original compositions from his working songbook with orchestral, large ensemble arrangements and the edit-heavy “organic beat music” that he’s honed over a growing body of production-craft.

With contributions from over a dozen musicians and creative partners from his tight-knit circle of collaborators – including Jeff Parker, Junius Paul, Brandee Younger, Joel Ross, and Marquis Hill – the music was recorded in 5 different studios and 4 live performance spaces while McCraven engaged in extensive post-production work from home. The pure fact that he was able to so eloquently condense and articulate the immense human scale of the work into 41 fleeting minutes of emotive and engaging sound is a monumental achievement. It’s an evolution and a milestone for McCraven, the producer; but moreover it’s the strongest and clearest statement we’ve yet to hear from McCraven, the composer.

In These Times is an almost unfathomable new peak for an already-soaring innovator who has been called "one of the best arguments for jazz's vitality" by The New York Times, as well as recently, and perhaps more aptly, a "cultural synthesizer." While challenging and pushing himself into uncharted territories, McCraven quintessentially expresses his unique gifts for collapsing space and transcending borders – blending past, present, and future into elegant, poly-textural arrangements of jazz-rooted, post-genre 21st century folk music. 


Credits
Makaya McCraven - drums, sampler, percussion, tambourine, baby sitar, synths, kalimba, handclaps, vibraphone, wurlitzer, organ
Junius Paul - double bass, percussion, electric bass guitar, small instruments
Jeff Parker - guitar
Brandee Younger - harp
Joel Ross - vibraphone, marimba
Marta Sofia Honer - viola
Lia Kohl - cello
Macie Stewart - violin
Zara Zaharieva - violin
Greg Ward - alto sax
Irvin Pierce - tenor sax
Marquis Hill - trumpet, flugelhorn
Greg Spero - piano
Rob Clearfield - piano
Matt Gold - guitar, percussion, baby sitar
De’Sean Jones - flute

Source: Bandcamp

Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble - II.jpg

II

by Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble

Released 30 September 2022

Tomkins Square

*****

In 2020, the acoustic Chicago-based Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble quietly released their debut album independently. It dazzled due to its mysterious open-ended gentleness created by melding American Primitive guitar styles, Western folk and vanguard traditions, Indian drones, and modal overtones to make music that seems to be on a journey. Signed by Josh Rosenthal to his ever-reliable Tompkins Square label, the trio deliver its sequel. This set is brighter, offering a seemingly directed, more complexly ordered ensemble narrative that simultaneously allows for deft individual interplay. Elijah McLaughlin composes and plays six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars. He is joined by Joel Styzens on hammered dulcimer and Jason Toth on upright bass. There is little in the modern vernacular that the ensemble's music compares to.

Opener "Zodiac Rabbit" commences with droning arco bass and shimmering dulcimer notes. McLaughlin alternately strums and fingerpicks through extended chordal drone. The bass drones get deeper and more frenetic as dulcimer and guitar frame it in an airy two-chord vamp. "Wheel" is introduced with kinetic fingerpicking joined by arco bass, while the hammered dulcimer creates a fluid, breathing backdrop as the other instruments lock then separate, cutting across tempos, modes, textures, and cadences. By contrast, "Arc" is spectral, contemplative tune. Introduced by a low-end bass drone, McLaughlin adds jazzy 12-string chords that flirt with syncopated modal blues and flamenco picking. His progression is resonant and brooding. The hammered dulcimer becomes more insistent before creating an overtone drift that winds around the other instruments. "Spring" is the album's hinge piece. As Styzens and McLaughlin engage a driving progression, Toth lags behind, filling the space with alternate harmonies, prompting the guitarist to investigate the tonal terrain in a killer solo. The bassist briefly drops the bow and responds with a flurry of pizzicato notes before reclaiming it on the outro. "Viroqua" directly draws on John Fahey's expansive approach to Americana as the guitarist both fingerpicks and strums through a jaunty pastoral, supported in expansive, drifting rounds by the other instruments. Set-closer "Confluence" also draws deeply on Fahey and Ali Akbar Khan. It weds East and West in revealing the trio's tonal intersectionality as a remarkable conversational discovery. The ascending and descending bassline in "Effigy" becomes the axis the tune turns on. A bluesy, strummed guitar trades in octave drones as the dulcimer works in the upper and middle registers to create a melodic undertow; the bassist and guitarist expand it with intensity and forceful dynamics. The nearly processional "Blind Valley" follows as the dulcimer offers an expressionistic melody line atop hyperkinetic 12-string and crescendo-like basslines.

On II, even more so than on their debut, the Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble showcase a holistic approach to music making that balances deep focus, startling originality, and sophisticated group interplay.

Source: AllMusic