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Favourites 2020

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Favourites|2020

SAULT - Untitled (Black Is)

Untitled (Black Is)

by SAULT

Released 19 June 2020

Forever Living Originals

*****

SAULT has existed as a mysterious open sceret since the release of two exceptional albums, enigmatically titled "5" (released 5 May 2019) and "7" (released 27 September 2019).

Those involved kept their identities low key, in the  hope that the music would speak for itself, but a little digging revealed that the project is the work of vocalist Cleo So, fellow London-based producer Inflo (real name Dean Josiah Cover, who is asociated with Michael Kiwunuka, Little Simz and Danger Mouse/Karen O, among others) and Nathan Burke (known for his Forever Living Originals labe)l.

The albums "5" and "7"are so good they sounded like the Greatest Hits releases of a long-lost funk'n'soul outfit from the 1980's. And there's no mistaking this third album in 13 months for anything other than a  candidate for a mainstream album-of-the-year.

The album is dedicated to the memory of George Floyd, who was brutally choked to deatc subject matter for many of the songs focuses on race and although it's clearly a work that hasn't been produced overnight, the lyrics and timing of this release could not have been more insightful or timely after the violence at the hands of police in American streets and worldwide over the past two weeks.

Songs such as "Don't Shoot Guns Down", "Sorry Ain't Enough", "Why We Cry Why We Die" and "Black Is" presciently capture this moment and provide an up to the minute soundtrack to all thats's going on.

Play. Enjoy. Repeat. Listen. Learn.

Sault - Untitled (Rise)

Untitled (Rise)

by SAULT

Released 12 September 2020

Forever Living Originals

*****

"Untitled (Rise)", SAULT's second release for 2020, (their fourth in 16 months!- or fifth in 18 months, if you include participant Cleo Sol's solo debut "Rose In The Dark", which was released in March).

"Untitled (Rise)"  equals and perhaps surpasses the quality and impact of their previous release "Untitled (Black Is)", released just a few weeks ago. They will now be even harder to dislodge for end of year best of lists and album of the year.

Each album has surpassed its predecessor in lyrical content, musical ambition and quality. The songs stand out strikingly when dropped into a playlist or shuffle play.

Once again with this release, SAULT's music draws from a wide range of jazz, funk and soul influences. "Untitled (Rise)" is as much a dance album as it is protest music, yet lyrics address complex racial and social themes with a lyrical mix of wisdom, humor, optimism and political outrage. 

SAULT (pronounced S-A-U-L-T) provides no details to identify who does what on the album packaging, web pages or streaming platforms, except that songwriting credits on all tracks are given to Dean Josiah Cover (UK producer Inflo), shared variously with Cleopatra Nicolic (UK vocalist Cleo Sol), Melisssa Young (LA rapper Little Sister) and Kadeem Clarke (UK based producer  / Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz collaborator). 

Olafur Arnalds - Some Kind Of Peace

Some Kind Of Peace

by Olafur Arnalds

Released 6 November 2020

Mercury KX

****-

Olafur Arnalds describes his new album "Some Kind Of Peace" as "a journey of personal and creative growth, set against the backdrop of a chaotic world". “It's so personal that I'm still trying to find the words to talk about it,” Arnalds says. “I felt it was important that the album would tell my story in a very honest way" urging us to embrace all that life throws at us and above all to react, and contemplate, to find our own kind of peace.

Musically, the result is not a serious or precious as his description might have you fear. The ten pieces that comprise the album each run between three and five minutes, always allowing time for each idea to be fully resolved and moving on without delay or over-indulgence.

Guest artist JSDR (Iceland's Jofriour Akadottir) appears on the track "Back To The Sky"contributing Bjork-like funky vocals to the album's most memorable track.

The album-opening  "Loom" featuring electronic superstar Bonobo, is complete with a hooky synth melody and a synthesised child-like vocal conclusion. Further in, "The Bottom Line" features emerging German/Korean vocalist Josin whose haunting (Thom Yorke-like) vocals are offset by a mellow string backing.

Although presumably not written as such, this is an album that is perfectly weighted for the home-bound isolation that the pandemic has required. It's also mellow enough to be played as an ambient accompanyment to house-bound activity, but lively enough in parts to draw attention from time to time, like occasional sunshine breaking through the grey monotony of an otherwise cloudy day.

Hania Rani - Home

Home

by Hania Rani

Released 29 May 2020

Gondwana Records

*****

Hania Rani is a pianist, composer and musician who was born in Gdansk and splits her life between Warsaw, where she makes her home, and Berlin where she studied and often works. Her debut album 'Esja', a beguiling collection of solo piano pieces on Gondwana Records was released to National and international acclaim in April 2019. Rani has also composed the music for her first full length movie "I Never Cry" directed by Piotr Domalewski and for the play "Nora" directed by Michał Zdunik. Her song "Eden" was used as a soundtrack of a short movie by Małgorzata Szumowska for Miu Miu's movie cycle "Women's Tales"
The expansive, cinematic 'Home', finds Rani expanding her palate comapred to "Esja", on which she explored her fasciination with the piano as an instrument. Now, she has added vocals and subtle electronics to her music as well as being joined on some tracks by bassist Ziemowit Klimek and drummer Wojtek Warmijak.

The album reunites her with recording engineers, Piotr Wieczorek and Ignacy Gruszecki (Monochrom Studio) and the tracks were again mixed again by Gijs van Klooster in his studio in Amsterdam and by Piotr Wieczorek in Warsaw (Ombelico and Come Back Home).

Home was mastered by Zino Mikorey in Berlin (known for his work on albums by artists such as Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds).

More information on Bandcamp:

https://haniarani.bandcamp.com/album/home

Wilma Archer - A Western Circular

A Western Circular

by Wilma Archer

Released 3 April 2020

Weird World

*****

Wilma Archer's string-filled album "A Western Circular" is a groundbreaking genre-defying masterpiece that deserves to be heard widely and often. The album begins witha discordant opening to the short cello-driven title track, leading into the superbly sustained electric guitar riffs and vocal harmonies of it's first major set piece, "Scarecrow". This is followed by the string-heavy "Last Sniff" featuring the enigmatic rapping of MF Doom, (who tragically died 31 October 2020 at age 49) and "Killing Crab", a driving march-like instrumental thet might well have been written by George Martin. The mood shifts for "The Boon" in which we hear Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring's emotional operatic vocals calling out for companship to watch the sun come down one last time. This is followed by "Cheater", with a vocal by Sudan Archives and mood shift energetically supported by brass and string ensemble in a Beatlesque/boroque tradition. "Cures & Wounds" gently soothes with vaguely eastern backingwhile "Decades" is a genuinely touching love song, with vocals shared between Samual T Herring and Laura Groves. A pair of melifluous saxaphones intertwine throughout the penultimate track "Ugly Feelings (Again)" and strings return (briefly), closing the album with "Worse Off West".

"A Western Circular" ixes rap usic, jazz and conventional songwriting in a 

Alabaster De Plume - To Cy & Lee Instrumentals Vol. 1

To Cy & Lee Instrumantals Vol. 1

by Alabaster De Plume

Released 28 February 2020

International Anthem

*****

Alabaster De Plume's (Mancunian, Gus Fairbairn's) album "To Cy and Lee" is a re-mastered collection of musical pieces written Speaking the The Guardian, De Plume recalled that the album is named after two adults with whom Fairbairn worked when he was a mental health support worker in Manchester. Many of the songs stemmed from melodies they would sing together to relax. “I wanted to celebrate Cy and Lee,” he says. “These were peaceful tunes that really helped me at the time, and, when I decided to release them, I knew that we would need calm. Of course, I had no idea that there would be a global pandemic, but this record speaks to our general need for comfort. There was a lot of beautiful feeling and love that went into this.”

Indeed, the songs are propelled by De Plume's unique and calming saxaphone technique, which sounds like a kind of atmospheric chamber music you might imagine escaping unnanounced from an upstairs room in a back street of an eastern european village.

Cleo Sol - Rose In The Dark

Rose In The Dark

by Cleo Sol

Released 27 March 2020

Forever Young Originals

*****

From the opening harmonies of "One Love", the first track on "Rose In The Dark" it is clear that Cleo Sol debut solo album is very special. Eventually a snare drum kicks in and the soaring vocals soon pull away: then the song is suddenly over, before eveen a first verse is sung. This only makes "Why Don't You" the second track, all the sweeter. This is a gently funky sound collage of distant rimshots and swelling strings that caresses Sol's half-sung, half-spoken lyrics, a steady metronomic beat the foretaste of the glorious set of neo-soul tunes to follow.

"Rose In The Dark" revisits territory that Sade made her own nearly 40 years ago (and Minnie Ripperton, Roberta Flack and Diana Ross even before her) but updates with influences and techniques from contemporary British neo-soul, under the sensitive production of fellow SAULT collaborator Inflo, whose gentle restraint throughout the album conjures an inner glow: the open mix, frequently placing lush strings and reverberating percussion in the sonic distance, allowing space for Sol's naturalisticly-recorded voice.; the contrast of acoustic guitar and a "gameboy" sample in "Butterfly".

Lyrically, the album reflects Sol's personal growth and strong faith and is a perfect tonic for these uncertain times: In "Rose In The Dark" she sings: "Do you know, do you know, do you know, I'm doing better? It'll be alright" And in "Butterfly": "Butterfly, lost in the night Running out of faith but your wings are still bright Hold on, don't you cave in yet Your spirit's much stronger, don't you forget"
To say that Cleo Sol, and Inflo's production team are rising talents may be true but misses the mark. "Rose In The Dark" is a genuine highlight of 2020 in its own right an a perfect apolitical complement to the pair of politically-charged "Untitled" albums-of-the-year they also produced as their alter-ego ensemble S-A-U-L-T.

Nubya Garcia - Source

Source

by Nubya Garcia

Released 21 August 2020

Concord Jazz

*****

Like Cleo Sol and "Rose in The Dark", it's hard to believe that "Source" is Nubya Garcia's debut album, as she is already such an influential presence in the London's contemporary jazz scene.

From the first notes sounding out  of her tenor sax on her 2018 EP Nubya's 5ive, it was evident that this was another important artist to follow, alongside her fellow travellers including Cleo Sol, Shabaka Hutchings, Makaya McCraven, Moses Sumney and so many others.

Pitchfork said: "Switching from dub reggae to cumbia to classic balladry, Garcia meditates on her humble family heritage, the continuum of jazz history, and the power of collective action in our present moment.

“Pace” serves as an empathic mission statement. As she recently told Downbeat, it refers to the hectic lifestyle of a gigging Londoner, but “Pace” embodies a whole range of emotions. Propelled by keyboardist Joe Arman-Jones’ cascading chords, the group soars and then deftly lands back where they began. Garcia’s solo calmly navigates it all: fiery and supple, dizzying and lyrical. You can hear how she’s garnered comparisons to the greats: Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Gary Bartz".

Nadine Shah - Kitchen Sink

Kitchen Sink

by Nadine Shah

Released 26 June 2020

Infectious Music

*****

‘Kitchen Sink’, Nadine Shah's richly-constructed fourth album, is just as uncompromising as 2017’s Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Holiday Destination’, as unlikely to mince its words as a skilled orator with a telescript.

On ‘Ladies For Babies (Goats for Love)’ Shah sets her sights on toxic relationships, where a man “wants his lady… to care less / be hairless,” and to be tamed.

Elsewhere, there’s the pain in witnessing richer hand-me-down friends purchasing houses for “less than I’m renting mine”, on ‘Ukrainian Wine’. And ‘Trad’ finds her wrestling with age, bluntly asking a loved one, “Will you want me when I am old?”

All of this stacks up as examples of her faultless, observational songwriting – when she takes on a subject that’s usually hard to convey, she doesn’t miss. She remains a one-of-a-kind songwriter.

Nadine Shah: “It was heartbreaking releasing this album during the pandemic. I wished we could’ve been touring it live for you all".

Source: BBC 6Music

Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (EP)

Who Sent You?

by Irreversible Entanglements

Released 20 March 2020

International Anthem

*****

From Andy Kellman's review for AllMusic

"This one's for Akai Gurley," declares Camae Ayewa from the center of a tornadic disturbance caused by one-off collaborators turned bandmates Tcheser Holmes (drums), Luke Stewart (double bass), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), and Keir Neuringer (saxophone). In referencing the tragedy that prompted the Musicians Against Police Brutality event that begat Irreversible Entanglements -- after a thunderous sequence filled with caustic and terrified remarks directed at an occupying force -- the poet supreme continues to link the recent past to the present, or what she identified on the group's first album as "trauma looping." It's no coincidence that the instrumentalists throughout Who Sent You? keep building on a previous generation's free jazz -- more specifically the fire music, to use Archie Shepp's terminology -- made in response to similar displays of corrupt power. Unlike Shepp, Irreversible Entanglements don't recast standards and bossa nova hits. There's no time for that. Following a mournful, simmering intro in the opening "The Code Noir/Amina," Ayewa sternly repeats "every nine seconds," the time separating one incident of domestic abuse from the next, demanding an answer to "At what point do we give a shit?" The Pope gets his in "Blues Ideology," with Holmes' hard pulsing keeping the purposefully wayward players, mimicking the pontiff's drunken shuffle observed by Aweya, from veering completely off course. Not all is fury and scorn. Presumably inspired by Dionne Brand's book of the same title, the concluding "Bread Out of Stone" is calm and meditative, if by no measure escapist. Above all, at the start of side two, is "No Más." Holmes and Stewart get into an intricately knotted funk groove, composer Navarro and Neuringer buzz and beam with a shared sense of liberation, and Ayewa speaks of "Infinite possibilities coming back around -- I know we are more than circles." It's uplifting, even life-affirming.

Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas

by Lianne La Havas

Released July 2020

Warner Records

*****

This is the first album in five years from UK songstress Lianne La Havas (a follow up to 2015's Blood) but well worth the wait. It's old-fashioned in many ways - an exceptional R&B vocalist singing some well-written love songs and doing it so well that there's no need for the added effects, interludes, rap breaks and autotuning  that have intruded into the work of many of her peers.

This set tracks the trajectory of a failed relationship, starting and finishing with versions of the song Bittersweet. The album is filled with Havas' own songs, however the exception is her remarkable interpretation of Radiohead's Wierd Fishes, (which I understand she has performed live for years). This appears half way through and turns the mood of the album. Wierd Fishes is like a love song from a David Lynch movie (Your eyes, They turn me, Turn me on to phantoms, I follow to the edge of the earth, And fall off, Everybody leaves, If they get the chance, And this is my chance, I get eaten by the worms). The succeeding songs - Please Don't Make Me Cry, Seven Times, Courage, Sour Flower - remain downcast and Havas revives the opening song Bittersweet for the finale, but this completes an ultimately satisfying and beautifully constructed circle.

Zara McFarlane - Songs of an Unknown Tongue

Songs of an Unknown Tongue

by Zara McFarlane

Released 3 July 2020

Brownswood Recordings

*****

Brownswood's release notes from Zara McFarlane's Bandcamp perfectly describe this wonderful new offering, as follows:

"Songs of an Unknown Tongue is a masterful work that underlines her continuous growth as an artist. Zara’s fourth studio album pushes the boundaries of jazz adjacent music via an exploration into the folk and spiritual traditions of her ancestral motherland, Jamaica. The album is a rumination on the piecing together of black heritage, where painful and proud histories are uncovered and connected to the present.

Partnering with cult South London based producers Kwake Bass and Wu-lu, Zara has created a futuristic sound palate, electronically recreating the pulsing, hypnotic rhythms Kumina and Nyabinghi – and the music played at African rooted rituals like the emancipation celebration Bruckins Party, and the lively death rites of Dinki Minki and Gerreh.

These richly patterned electronic rhythms are balanced throughout by McFarlane’s distinctive, clear vocal tones, and vivid song writing".

Emma Donovan - Crossover

Crossover

by Emma Donovan and the Putbacks

Released 6 November 2020

Hopestreet

*****

Six years have elapsed since "Dawn" the last album by renowned indigenous soul singer and powerhouse vocalist Emma Donovan and critically-acclaimed Melbourne-based rhythm combo The Putbacks. The album is an Australian soul classic and un-surprisingy, new album "Crossover" showcases their musical development of these artists within the similarly-evolving Australian jazz and soul scene, during the intervening years.

Emma reaches deep within her life experience and produces heartfelt songs that refer to her childhood, family, culture and especially her late mother. These include

"Yarian Mitji" (the album's standout track in my opinion), a beautiful song written by Ruby Hunter that is sung in the Ngarrindjeri language from South Australia and translates to "What is my story?" "Mob March" is inspired by the land right marches of the early 70s and the recent Black Lives marches. "Pink Skirt" is inspired by her grandmother: "the funny little things she did, the funny little things she wore, childhood memories of her, and being able to share that with her mum and her daughter". "Warrell Creek Song", sung in Gumbaynggir language from the mid North Coast of New South Wales, tells a story of pain felt by Gumbaynggir mob after the first tugboats came up from the ocean filling up the creek valley with smoke.

In support, The Putbacks lay down powerful, faultlessly funky rhythms that draw inspiration from classic soul with arrangements that will earn tham further respect from their peers within the neo-soul revival.

The band is:

Emma Donovan - Vocals
Simon Mavin - Keyboards
Rory McDougall - Drums
Mick Meagher - Bass
Tom Martin - Guitar
Justin Marshall - Percussion

Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways

Rough and Rowdy Ways

by Bob Dylan

Released 19 June 2020

Columbia

*****

In his first album of original songs since 2012's "Tempest" we are invited into the craggy-voiced master's hallucinogenic universe, to join its ever-expanding cast of musical, literary and cultural characters: a diverse parade that began nearly 60 years ago with "Pretty Peggy-O" and "The Man of Constant Sorrow" on Dylan's  debut album and runs through "Desolation Row" and "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965) to the teeming cast he has assembled here.

Now 79 years old, Dylan delivers with enduring vigour and crustily wicked humor, backed by the symbiotically-tight western swing of his Never-Ending Tour band. The songs are delivered with the rarely-seen ease and complex emotional range of an ageing troubadour: the young turk of 60's folk & rock music now occupies chairs vacated by the aged bluesmen he emulated.

In this turbulent moment of social unrest, some may yearn for inclusion of overtly political protest songs, to address any number of the prevailing progressive causes (Black Lives, MeToo, Climate, Covid, Trump's re-election) but what's to add if you wrote "The Death Of Emmett Till" and "Oxford Town" the year Dr King declared "I Have A Dream"? What more to add regards the state of the society than is already said in "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" or "Masters Of War"?

Dylan's response from virus-enforced isolation at home in Malibu was to release the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is "Murder Most Foul" as a single, a few weeks ahead of the album. This was surprisingly astute: the 17 minute long dirge became Dylans firse  No. 1 single in his long career! An epic in it's own right. "Murder Most Foul" sits alone on a second disc in this package, the overall album extending to 70 minutes. It is as strong a collection of songs as Dylan has assembled since "Love and Theft" (2001) and "Time Out Of Mind" (1997) and there's enough lyrical content here that to unpack it would require a complete university graduate course.

In the song "Mother of Muses" Dylan sings “I’ve already outlived my life by far ... I'm a-travelin' light and I'm a-slow coming home". Let's hope he lets us in a few more times along the way.

Natalie Slade - Control

Control

by Natalie Slade

Released 5 June 2020

Eglo Records

*****
Control is the incredible debut album from Sydney based vocalist Natalie Slade, produced by Hiatus Kaiyote’s Simon Mavin and featuring contributions from other members of the Grammy Nominated group.
Combining Soul, Jazz, Folk and RnB, Natalie’s timeless vocals dazzle across 10 stunning tracks, perfectly complimented by rich, live instrumentation and Mavin’s vibrant production. The album is classic to its core, whilst taking a fresh and energetic approach to a long tradition of Soul/RnB long players. Familiar broken rhythms and jazz heavy motifs, notorious with Hiatus Kaiyote’s writing and arrangement style are present, reminding us throughout that we are in the hands of true masters.

The result is a kaleidoscopic reimagining of sounds and styles from an exciting new vocal talent.

We hope you enjoy it just as much as we do.

Bandcamp: https://natalie-slade.bandcamp.com/album/control

Miiesha - Nyaaringu

Nyaaringu

by Miiesha

Released 29 May 2020

EMI

*****

This is the outstanding debut album by 21 year old Miiesha Young, from the small aboriginal community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland. The album is the heart-felt coming-out statement of a strong and proud Pitjantjatjara-Torres Strait Islander woman and the lyrics of all songs deal with the challenges of young adulthood and indigenous life. Adopting conventions recently popularised by artists including Solange on her album "When I Get Home" (2019) and Mo'Ju on "Native Tongue" (2018), many of this album's tracks are framed by spoken word interludes, including her grandmother's words of wisdom and advice and a particularly tone-deaf comment by former Australian PM Abbot. Coinciding with National Reconcilliation Week in Australia and the global Black Lives Matter demonstrations worldwide, this is a timely release, however the underlying intent is deep-seated and timeless, rather than opportunistic. 

Miiesha's  words and music are clearly influenced by contemporary RnB, gospel and soul artists such Solange, SZA, Nao, Cleo Sol, James Blake and (especially) FKA Twigs and perhaps the only limiting factor in assessing the album is that these influences can still be heard in this debut. Otherwise, this is an engrossing release from an important new voice in Australian music.

Artist website:

https://miiesha.com/

Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Fetch The Bolt Cutters

by Fiona Apple

Released 17 April 2020

Epic / Clean Slate

*****

Rated by many critics as the best album of her career and their album of the year, "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" is album of innovatively produced, lyrically arresting, energetically delivered perforance poetry; it is also so engagingly informal that it presents as if the whole thing was tossed off casually, while Apple bumped around in the kitchen  involving pots, pans and dogs barking (earning them bv credits). 

It is 8 years since Apple's last (preposterously-titled) album "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do", which was also very well received by critics and she was already using a trademark rythmic  sing-speak technique (sprechstimme) that allowed her to deliver verbose lyrics and complex content with refreshing mix of candor and humor.

However, with "Fetch" Apple has refined her delivery to such a degree that it has become a variable, expressive instrument that allows expression across the emotional range , including variously, anger, drama, humor and surprise - all the while engaging and entertaining the listener. 

It is this last quality, coupled with having meaningful things to say and saying them well, that elevates this album from the ruck of "serious" singer-songwriter fare, to the genuine heights of all-time-classic-album status.

Beatrice Dillon - Workaround

Workaround

by Beatrice Dillon

Released 12 February 2020

PAN

*****

Released in February, 2020, Beatrice Dillon's debut LP "Workaround" was played often during the year, becoming a firm favourite because of its beguiling marriage of improvisation, tempo and sparse edginess. The musical equivalent of an impressionist painting, the omission of sound and the absence of most effects on this recording is often as important to the piece as the various samples and instrumentation from which this elecronic music was assembled. The sounds are derived from many sources and is structured with mathmatical precision, but the recording also features numerous guest artists including UK Bhangra pioneer Kuljit Bhamra (tabla); Pharoah Sanders Band’s Jonny Lam (pedal steel guitar); techno innovators Laurel Halo (synth/vocal) and Batu (samples); Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyaté (Kora), Hemlock’s Untold and new music specialist Lucy Railton (cello). The music is presented at a steady 150bpm throughout and the artist's Bandcamp explains that the music derives from various high-minded literary and visual inspirations. Although clinically arranged and produced, it retains the warmth of her  many collaborators,  good humor (reminiscent of early FourTet), the familiarity of asian and african samples and an atmospheric dub production.
 

Nick Cave - Idot Prayer Nick Cave Alone At Alexandria Palace

Idiot Prayer - Nick Cave Alone At Alexandria Palace

by Nick Cave

Released 20 November 2020

Bad Seed

*****

Tragedy seems to cling to Nick Cave like an oil-soaked cloak: his early-career lyrical focuses on American Southern Gothic, Old Testiment themes was surplanted by the tragedy of his son's death in 2015, which became a major infuence on his remarkable 2019 album Ghosteen.  His return to the concert arena now restricted by a pandemic of truly Cavesian proportion, Cave booked the Alexandra Palace in London for a live solo performance that was streamed globally and "exclusively" to ticket holders online on 23 July 2020. The performance was filmed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan and although initially intended to be a one-time-only event, Idiot Prayer was released in extended form in cinemas on 5 November 2020 and as a live album on 20 November 2020. Idiot Prayer also serves as the final film in a trilogy, along with 20,000 Days on Earth (2014) and One More Time with Feeling (2016). It has been described by Cave as "its luminous and heartfelt climax".

84 minutes in duration, it is indeed a remarkable performance that dramatically transposes the powerful Bad Seeds music to solo piano. The emotional, often-ponderous lyrics of favourite songs like Into My Arms, Jubilee Street, Higgs Bosumn Blues, The Mercy Street transpose well to this intimate new setting, carried by Cave's earnest barritone. 

Although all these songs are dredged up from his back catalogue, these are interpretations that now seem essential: as if we are now hearing the songs as they sound in Nick Cave's head. Once again Cave has delivered one of the albums of the year.

Perfume Genius - Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

by Perfume Genius

Released 15 May 2020

Matador

*****

I could listen to Perfume Genius all day long - his vocals rival Roy Orbison and he has assembled a remarkably varied set of beautifuly crafted pop songs for this album.

It may lack the overall impact of  the albums to which (to his great credit) this invites comparison, such as Orbison's "Mystery Girl" (1989) or Jeff Buckley's "Grace" (1994), the production perfectly showcases his singing as he parses pop classics without descending into pastiche.

Perfume Genius' first-person depictions of personal experience of sexuality, violence and suffering (Crohn's disease) may have prevented him breaking through to greater acclaim with his previous albums "No Shape" (2017) and "Too Bright" (2014). On this album too, he uncompromisingly touches on ageing, depression, body dysmorphia and sexuality.This album also benefits from the musical support of many highly skilled and experienced musicians including guitarists Jim Keltner and Blake Mills, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Matt Chamberlain and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. 

Fleet Foxes - Shore

Shore

by Fleet Foxes

Released 22 September 2020

ANTI Records

*****

In his Bandcamp entry for this album, Robin Pecknold, lead songwriter for Fleet Foxes, says:"Since the unexpected success of the first Fleet Foxes album over a decade ago, I have spent more time than I’m happy to admit in a state of constant worry and anxiety. Worried about what I should make, how it will be received, worried about the moves of other artists, my place amongst them, worried about my singing voice and mental health on long tours. I’ve never let myself enjoy this process as much as I could, or as much as I should. By February 2020, I was again consumed with worry and anxiety over this album and how I would finish it. But since March, with a pandemic spiraling out of control, living in a failed state, watching and participating in a rash of protests and marches against systemic injustice, most of my anxiety around the album disappeared. It just came to seem so small in comparison to what we were all experiencing together. In its place came a gratitude, a joy at having the time and resources to devote to making sound, and a different perspective on how important or not this music was in the grand scheme of things. Music is both the most inessential and the most essential thing. We don’t need music to live, but I couldn’t imagine life without it. It became a great gift to no longer carry any worry or anxiety around the album, in light of everything that is going on".

This album marks a positive shift and progression in Pecknold's songwriting and considering the quality of it's predecessoers "Crack Up" (2017), "Helplessness Blues" (2011) and "Fleet Foxes" (2008), this release elevates Fleet Foxes to the very top rank of contemporary popular music.

Bandcamp: https://fleetfoxes.bandcamp.com/album/shore

Shebaka snd the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History

We Are Sent Here By History

by Shebaka and the Ancestors

Released 13 March 2020

Impulse! Records

*****

As my compilation of favourite albums from the years's releases is revealing, the output from the British jazz scene this year has far exceeded expectations for quantity and quality. At the centre of the entire phenomenon is tenor Shabaka Hutchings. Raised in Birmingham, Hutchings is a British-Barbadian jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and band leader. He leads the bands Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors. He is also a member of The Comet Is Coming, performing under the stage name King Shabaka. Hutchings has played saxophone with the Sun Ra Arkestra, Floating Points, Mulatu Astatke, Polar Bear, Melt Yourself Down, Heliocentrics and Zed-U.

Like much of what is happening in the UK scene, and a source of it's strenght and likley endurance, The Ancestors is Hutchings' collaborative project, in this instance with various South African artists: Ariel Zamonsky (Double Bass), Mthunzi Mvuba (alto sax), Gontse Makhane (percussion), Timu Mogorosi (drums) with words and vocals from poet Siyabonga Mthembu.

Recorded in Johannesburg and Capetown, the album deals in themes related to the end times. In his review for Pitchfork, staff writer Matthew Israel Ruiz noted "As the world reels from the repercussions of the novel coronavirus, We Are Sent Here by History might feel particularly timely, particularly for those in the West typically shielded from the brunt of capitalism and the brutality of colonialism. But the album, recorded in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2019, is not so much prescient as it is broadly in tune with the plight of the marginalized. As Hutchings has said, “For those lives lost and cultures dismantled by centuries of western expansionism, capitalist thought and white supremist structural hegemony the end days have long been heralded as present with this world experienced as an embodiment of a living purgatory.”

It is an immense, immersive masterpiece.

Surprise Chef - All News Is Good News

All News Is Good News

by Surprise Chef

Released 10 July 2020

Mr Bongo

****-

There is something simultaneously both brand-new and retro about "All News Is Good News", the debut album from Melbourne's instrumental soul group Surprise Chef. With dramatic cinematic arrangements echoing both light and dark, delving into moments of dissonance and positivity.

There is a meticulous education of 1970’s soul on display that touches on the legacies of the great composer / producers, yet at the same time this is a truly contemporary record that could have only been made now.
 

MOJO Magazine called it “Soothing, atmospheric, disquieting”.

Surprise Chef - Daylight Savings

Daylight Savings

by Surprise Chef

Released 16 October 2020

Mr Bongo

*****

Daylight Savings is the second full-length album by Melbourne's cinematic soul journeymen Surprise Chef - and comes only three months after their stunning debut in July an develops similar themes.

Recorded over a weekend in Surprise Chef's DIY analogue studio (dubbed The College Of Knowledge), Daylight Savings expands on the dramatic 1970s cinematic soul sound established on their acclaimed first album, 2019's All News Is Good News. Created in Spring 2019, just as the jasmine bush in the backyard of the College Of Knowledge was coming to full bloom, Daylight Savings is filled with the optimism and hope that comes with the impending long, warm evenings after a dreary Melbourne winter.


Surprise Chef is:

Lachlan Stuckey - Guitar
Jethro Curtin - Keys, vibraphone
Andrew Congues - Drums
Carl Lindeberg - Bass
Hudson Whitlock - Percussion
Lucky Pereira - Percussion
Joe Orton - Percussion, slide guitar
 

Actress - Karma & Desire

Karma & Desire

by Actress

Released 23 October 2020

Ninja Tune

*****

Actress is the performing name of Darren J. Cunningham, from Wolverhampton in UK. His latest release “Karma & Desire” follows the critically well-received early work Splashz (2010) which was named album of the year by UK magazine The Wire and follow up to LAGEOS (2018), a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra.

Karma & Desire is an immersive, atmospheric suite of compositions that includes guest collaborations from Mercury Prize winner Sampha, female vocalist Zsela and LA based Dj and Producer Aura T-09 and more. Actress has described it as “a romantic tragedy set between the heavens and the underworld ... the same sort of things that I like to talk about – love, death, technology, the questioning of one's being”.

Supplementing the usual array of synthesied sounds and effects, Actress has used live acoustic piano and original vocals on many of the tracks, adding a personalied warmth that is uncommon in electronic music. 

Karma & Desire is an enigmatic, high minded concept which augments his earlier work and establishes Actress as an influence and peer of more established artists such as Sampha, James Blake, Burial and even Radiohead.

Source Link: Karma & Desire Bandcamp

Keleketla, Coldcut - Keleketla!

Keleketla!

by Keleketla!, Coldcut, Tony Allen, Others

Released 3 July 2020

Ahead Of Our Time

*****

Keleketla! is an expansive collaborative project involving a veritable "A-List" of progressive musicians, reaching outward from Johannesburg to London, Lagos, L.A. and West Papua,

“Keleketla!” started as a musical meeting ground between Ninja Tune cofounders Coldcut and a cadre of South African musicians (introduced by the charity In Place Of War), including the raw, South African-accented jazz styles of Sibusile Xaba, and rapper Yugen Blakrok (Black Panther OST).

From those initial sessions, the record grew to encompass a wider web of musical luminaries, including Afrobeat architects, the late pioneer Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi, legendary L.A. spoken word pioneers The Watts Prophets, and West Papuan activist Benny Wenda.
The album collaborators are as follows:
South Africa sessions:
Yugen Blakrok, Nono Nkoane, Thabang Tabane, Tubatsi Moloi, Gally Ngoveni, Sibusile Xaba, Soundz of the South Collective, DJ Mabheko
London sessions:
Tony Allen, Shabaka Hutchings, Dele Sosimi, Ed ‘Tenderlonious’ Cawthorne, Tamar Osborn, Miles James, Joe Armon-Jones, Afla Sackey, Benny Wenda, The Lani Singers, Eska Mtungwazi, Jungle Drummer, DeeJay Random
Additionally:

The Watts Prophets (Los Angeles) and Antibalas (New York) contributed to the album.

More information on Bandcamp:

https://coldcut.bandcamp.com/album/keleketla

Majid Bekkas - Magic Spirit Quartet

Magic Spirit Quartet

by Majid Bekkas

Released 31 January 2020

ACT

*****

ACT's second major release for January i2020 was a jazz-gnawa fusion recording.

"Trance, ritual, mysticism, psychedelia, magic...however one chooses to describe the way that North-African 'gnawa' music affects people, there can be no denying the fascination for it which reaches right across the world. Morrocan gimbri-player and singer Majid Bekkas is one of it's most dazzling figures, and also probably the musician who has made this music interact with other genres. Now, with Magic Spirit Quartet, he has built a bridge connecting North Africa and Northern Europe, aligning the ancestral with the ambient. An inspired move which seems to catch the very spirit of 21st century jazz."

Line up:

Majid Bekkas / vocals, guembri, oud & electric guitar
Goran Kajfeš / trumpet, electric trumpet & percussion
Jesper Nordenström / piano, organ, synthesizers & spinet piano
Stefan Pasborg / drums, percussion & tuned gong

Source: ACT Records

JISR - Too Far Away

Too Far Away

by JISR جسر

Released 6 October 2020

Freesoulinc

*****

JISR جسر is a collective from Munich led by the charismatic linguist, singer, percussionist and Gembri player Dr. Mohcine Ramdan. He gathered some of Bavaria´s finest musicians to share his vision of an emotional Pan-Oriental sound that is deeply rooted in the tradition of his family of musicians in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Their live performance offers an unique fusion of Arabic Maqam, the polyrhythm of Gnawa music, World Spiritual Jazz & a bit of Afro Kraut and sets a new landmark in how to unite the diversity of diasporic music in Europe in a one stage set.

Link: Too Far Away Bandcamp

Dinner Party (Kamasai Washington, Phoelix, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder)

Dinner Party

by Dinner Party (feat. Kamasai Washington, Phoelix, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder)

Released 10 July 2020

Label Records

*****

When supergroups form there can often be a lot of hype with smoke and mirrors with little substance, but when some of the most talented modern musicians and producers come together on a single project, you know it will be good.

Dinner Party is the collection of Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington and 9th Wonder - some of jazz, soul and hip-hop’s great producers and artists.

They have been friends for years, but now they have recorded an album to tie everything together.
The (seven track, 23 minutes long) album is a swirling blend of cosmic funk, free jazz that arrives at a time when the impact of black artists on the greater music industry is being examined again and this combination of jazz, soul, hip-hop and funk (all things they created) serves as an important reminder of their vital black musical legacy.
Dinner Party is supposed to feel as fun and joyous as a dinner party with friends. It actually feels like the perfect music for your next dinner party, so turn this up and let the good times roll.

Source: https://www.magneticmag.com/2020/07/album-review-dinner-party/

Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience - To Know Without Knowing

To Know Without Knowing

by Mulatu Astatke Black Jesus Experience

Released 3 July 2020

Agogo Records

*****

Black Jesus Experience (BJX) is an eight piece band playing an irresistibly danceable blend of traditional Ethiopian song and 21st Century groove. With backgrounds as diverse as the 5 countries the members hail from, BJX's music reflects the multicultural vibrancy of the band’s hometown, Melbourne, Australia.

Mulatu Astatke (born 1943) is an Ethiopian musician and arranger who is considered the father of Ethio-jazz. Born in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma, Mulatu was musically trained in London, New York City, and Boston where he combined his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music. Astatke led his band while playing vibraphone and conga drums - instruments that he introduced into Ethiopian popular music as well as other percussion instruments, keyboards, and organ.

The Guardian said: "Like one of its sinuous melodies, Ethiopian jazz continues to take unexpected turns. Melbourne’s Black Jesus Experience are one such, an eclectic eight-piece fronted by a female Ethiopian singer, Enushu Taye, with members of Australian, Moroccan, Māori and Zimbabwean heritage. This, their second collaboration with Mulatu Astatke, founding father of Ethio-jazz, proves an absorbing ride. Astatke, now in his 70s, gets to reprise a couple of his quirky, groundbreaking classics from half a century back, his vibraphone skills intact, but now with a rapid-fire rap or Afrobeat drums dropped in. The musical palette is broad, driven by a fierce horn section led by co-founder Peter Harper, with reggae, funk and Cuban flavours in a mix that’s softened by Taye’s vocals on a brace of Ethiopian wedding songs. The band wear their politics on their sleeve, whether from the gloriously named MC Elf Tranzporter or on the 10-minute centrepiece, Living On Stolen Land, about Indigenous Australian rights. Like other antipodean bands – say, Fat Freddy’s Drop – collectivity, groove and a powerful live show are prized and shine through; perfect for the festival season we are sadly missing".

Bandcamp Link: https://mulatuastatkeblackjesusexperience.bandcamp.com/album/to-know-without-knowing

The Goods - II

II

by The Goods

Released 11 May 2020

Bastard Jazz Recordings

*****

Sydney space funk trio, The Goods, are Badmandela, Rosario & Black Tree. With the help of some friends, The Goods capture the energy of jamming and improvisation. 

Musically and lyrically ‘II’ is about living in the moment. Each track harnesses the mood or vibration in the room at the time of its inception.

The album features 2019's breakaway hit “Let’s Roll” featuring Touch Sensitive (Future Classic), a reminder that mood is about choice...if happiness is a state of mind then why not chose it?

“Last Chance” is an invitation to take life by the horns because, in these uncertain times, one can’t take anything for granted. “Voodoo” is that one flame, whose flaws you overlook because they got the mojo while “Walking On Fire” is a nod to band's 80s heroes mixing the likes of Luther, D-Train, and Jam with a future club feel. "Peach" is an anthem for sexual liberation & at the same time being a cheeky funk jam. “Shots”, the album single was born at a jam at Touch Sensitive’s studio - Disco J rocks up a drum loop and turns it into a party! The Beastie Boys meets Marvin Gaye meet Anderson Paak in “Cassandra” resulting from a hang with The Goods’ friend Elliot Hammond of well known Australian band The Delta Riggs, while “Tell Me” is a sexy late night joint for those nights on the prowl. “Che Boog” is an ode to the sleazy funk of Parliament, Funkadelic and Prince , and lastly the Black Mirror inspired “Supersonic” is a tale from a time-travelling consciousness stuck in a dystopian 2020.

Pantayo - Pantayo

Pantayo

By Pantayo

Released 15 May 2020

Telephone Explosion Records

*****

Pantayo is an all-women kulintang* ensemble based in Toronto. They combine percussive metallophones and drums from the atonal kulintang traditions of Southern Philippines with electronic and synth-based grooves. They also offer music and cultural workshops to teach kulintang. This album, which is only the latest of five shared on their Bandcamp site, dating back as far as 2013, features eight diverse songs speaking to Pantayo’s musical influences as queer diasporic Filipinas. 

It's not often we enjoy a genuine new sound or approach in music these days, but here we are. There's obviously a discerning community of music lovers in Toronto that has enjoyed this music for a while now. So pleased the news is leaking out to the world at last.

*Kulintang is a modern term for an ancient instrumental form of music composed on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums. As part of the larger gong-chime culture of Southeast Asia, kulintang music ensembles have been playing for many centuries in regions of the Southern Philippines, Eastern Indonesia, Eastern, Malaysia, Brunei and Timor.

Duval Timothy - Brown Loop

Brown Loop

by Duval Timothy

Released 2 October 2020

Decca Music

*****

Writing on the artist's Bandcamp entry for this album, a re-release of a recording made in New York in 2016, Dutch DJ Martyn Deyker wrote "I often find myself listening to Duval’s music when travelling. On an aeroplane for example, where the comforting piano pieces are set starkly against the sound of the world passing by, the constant engine humming, air conditioning running. Or when I’m walking through a city I’ve not been to before, the music blending into the continuous noise of cars and motorbikes, anchoring me when I find myself in unknown surroundings. Grounding me, one note at a time, in contrast to a city that does the exact opposite. Duval’s compositions bring a sense of comfort where there is detachment. It’s the soundtrack for an immigrant (such as myself), alienated from wherever he came, but someone who also doesn’t fully belong to the place he set off to.

I heard Duval describe the music of Brown Loop as ascending a mountain, and after you reached the top you come down to the other end. Through rhythmic repetitive patterns, the music builds. Within the pieces, melodies stray away from the theme, into unknown territories, but always find their way back to a comfortable home. Most elaborately this happens on my favourite piece, Hairs. The patterns and melodies on pieces such as Through The Night and (recently added to the vinyl version) G are stripped down to their very essence.

It is not just jazz, it’s pure hip hop, as the hooks are reminiscent of the shards of melancholy legends like Dilla, Pete Rock and Havoc used in their best work. In terms of repetition, the music is also very techno. And like in all good techno, the patterns (perhaps contrary to popular belief) ooze humanity and emotion. But most of all Duval’s Brown Loop is a very personal record. it takes courage to expose your inner self like that in the most minimal of compositions. But once you find the right notes, the right pattern, music is the most beautiful thing in the world".

Link: Brown Loop Bandcamp

Jo Harrop and Jamie McCredie - Weathering The Storm

Weathering The Storm

by Jo Harrop & Jamie McCredie

Released 22 May 2020

Lateralize Records

*****

From the blanc-noir sleeve design to its musical core, this is just about a perfect little acoustic jazz album. Jo Harrop's relaxing contralto is a soothing balm throughout, discretely accompanied by McCredie's calm and tasteful guitar. Coming up, this pair cut their teeth working with an array of stars including Jools Holland, Melody Gardot and Robbie Williams before taking the leap of faith required to put together this tasteful blend of Great American Songbook evergreens (Legrand, Mancini, Mercer, Woody Herman) matched up with a handful of well chosen and mostly little-known classics by Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan (Take It With Me), Randy Newman (Guilty) and David Gates (If).
This is a timeless keeper.

Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas

Cenizas

by Nicolás Jaar

Released 27 March 2020

Other People

*****

"Cenizas", the second release by Chilean American electronic music artist and composer Nicolas Jaar in the space of a couple of months (and was included in my March 2020 playlist, without a review). This is an evocative, atmospheric piece that engages acoustic and electronic instrumentation to produce close to an hour's worth of engaging compositions whose musical roots recall the pre-ambient era, reminiascent of works by European artists such as David Sylvian (UK), Can (Germany), John Cale (UK), PFM (Italy).

This release contrasts remarkably to "2017-2019", Jaar's preceeding album, released under the pseudenym "Against All Logic", which called upon an entirely separate set of sensibilities. "2017-2019" (separate review oposite) involved the derivation of themes from rhythm and blues, using samples from tracks by Beyonce/Sean Paul and Bobby "Blue" Bland, and reshaping them them into a suite of music that is reminiscent of kraut-rock. 

"Cenizas" (Ashes) is an orchestral work from the outset, and draws from the neo-classical and contemporary music canons, rather than popular music. 

"Cenisas" opens in a sombre mood with the the call of  anguish of the opening song "Vanish"-"Say your coming back" . The suite of eleven intense compositions that follows are links to whatever mysterious geographies that "Vanish's" call may have been directed. And despite the disquieting journey that Jaar has us take, the album closes with memorable lyrics of encouragement in "Faith Made of Silk", which is sung like a folk song, backed by little more than a piano & snare drum:

Carried by a force until a certain peak
There, all you could see

Is swayed by the wind
Like the locks in your hair
Coloring your eyes

That look nowhere
Like a faith made of silk
Look around not ahead

A peak is just the way towards
A descent

Remarkable work.

Roman Gianarthur - OK Lady

OK Lady (EP)

by Roman Gianarthur

Released 10 September 2020

Wondaland

*****

At long last, Roman Gianarthur has shared his much-anticipated OK Lady project, a record that features the Wondaland guitar demigod reinterpreting the songs of Radiohead and D’Angelo as only he could. Comprised of five tracks (and one interlude), the record features a guest appearance from Janelle Monae and is right in step with the dynamic, imaginative work of Gianarthur’s existing catalog. In its announcement OK Lady was referred to as “musical alchemy” transports listeners into the young guitarist’s own personal world; upon first listen, we most certainly agree.

Gianarthur blends a chopped hip-hop beat into Radiohead’s In Rainbows classic “All I Need” to open the record, patiently layering vocals atop one another until the inevitable happens: a searing guitar solo. In a great many places on OK Lady, the tension culminates in a massive moment of guitar. It’s the young Roman’s calling card, and sounds positively brilliant over these familiar Radiohead numbers. It should be noted, though, that these are reinterpretations and not full-on covers. “PARANO:D” ditches much of the looming dream of its source material and instead floats easily–blissfully, even. It’s a stark departure, but then Gianarthur has always been one to play by his own rules. By the time his turn on “Send it On” closes things out (with an added layer of “Nude” added in for good measure), OK Lady shows itself to be a deeply rewarding look at one man’s creative powers and the hidden possibilities that still lie in wait within these songs. Roman Gianarthur has produced something very, very okay indeed.

 

Source Link: OkayPlayer Review

Andrea Keller Five Below - Life Is Brut[if]al

Life Is Brut[if]al

by Andrea Keller / Five Below

Released 26 June 2020

Andrea Keller (Self Released)

*****

Andrea Keller’s Life is Brut[if]al, the second album with her band Five Below, is a self -released seven track contemporary jazz oeuvre of gentle musical vignettes, intimate stories and meditative compositions.

Life is Brut[if]ul journeys through seven provoking and heartfelt musical stories.

The album features guest artists Scott McConnachie (soprano and alto saxophone), Julien Wilson (tenor, saxophone and bass clarinet) and Jim Keller (voice), alongside the Five Below band members Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Sam Anning (double bass), Mick Meagher (electric bass), James McLean (drums) and Andrea Keller on piano.

Max Richter - Voices

Voices

by Max Richter

Released 31 July 2020

Decca UK

*****

Max Richter is perhaps most famous for a great may iconic high-minded projects such as his eight-and-a-half-hour 2015 work Sleep or its one-hour precis From Sleep,, his 2004 work The Blue Notebooks (written in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq) and his reworking of Vivaldi  (Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons).

Others are likely to have been unknowingly entertained by his compositions in his soundtracks for motion pictures (Voyager, Mary Queen Of Scots, Never Look Away) and TV series (My Brilliant Friend, Taboo, Black Mirror, The Leftovers).

Voices adds to this impressive resume by tackling another inspirational subject, namely the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.

Explaining that this project has been 10 years in the making, Richter says"in this time of great challenges, VOICES is a place to reflect on the world we have made, and on the world we want to make". 

This is a breathtaking work, the music perfectly complimenting the spoken word, creating a perfect ambience for contemplation. 

A powerful film by Yulia Mahr has also been produced, with soundtrack provided by the opening suite of Voices, All Human Beings Parts 1 to 4) .

Jon Hassell - Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)

Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)

by Jon Hassell

Released 24 July 2020

Ndeya

*****

A companion piece to 2018’s Listening To Pictures, this second volume in the Pentimento series presents eight new tracks continuing Hassell's lifelong exploration of the possibilities of recombination and musical gene-splicing.

In classic Hassell fashion, the title can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, but perhaps the most pertinent at the moment is the human instinct to sing and play through a rain of difficulties. A future blues of indeterminate and ever-shifting shape.

The album is buffered by two 8-minute plus epics at the beginning and the end - the hypnotic “Fearless” with it’s metronomic, almost Can-like rhythm, and blurry, noir-ish texture of sound emerging like car headlights from the fog; mirrored at the end of the record by the beautiful sci-fi lullaby of “Timeless”, a track with a gaseous, billowing quality as electronic clicks and bubbles float over a landscape of shimmering, glacially paced complexity.

The bridge between those two worlds is no less compelling, from the frantic, spidery IDM sketch of “Reykjavik” to the collapsed-time ballad of “Unknown Wish”. Whilst containing seeds of classic ‘fourth world’ fusion, this record finds the artist still questing to create new forms and mutations of music, a thrilling window into what music could sound like in a world to come. 

More information on Bandcamp:

https://jonhassell.bandcamp.com/album/seeing-through-sound-pentimento-volume-two

Roger Eno and Brian Eno - Mixing Colours

Mixing Colours

by Roger Eno and Brian Eno

Released 20 March 2020

Deutsche Grammophon

*****

Their first duo album is the outcome of a fifteen year collaboration between brothers.
Mixing Colours journeys through contemplative sound-worlds in 18 ambient tracks.

In her review for the Guardian, pop critic Kitty Empire wrote"Mixing Colours ... is a double sound-painting made up of natural phenomena (in tracks such as Snow, Desert Sand) and colours (Ultramarine, Burnt Umber) that plays out as an intimate conversation. Fifteen years in the on-off making, its slowly unspooling, generative beauty feels like a balm for these anxious times.Most of these bejewelled instrumental tracks began with multi-instrumentalist Roger – the younger, less well-known brother, an experimental musician in his own right – on piano. His slow key strikes are bell-like. These compositional sketches would then make their way to Brian, who would work on them on the train, adding resonance. For all that, electronics are very much to the fore. This feels like an analogue record, each note having a furry aura. The eerie Obsidian takes a familiar church organ and repurposes it creepily. But by and large, the state is meditative, sometimes more austere, often less. Most startlingly, Wintergreen builds gradually to a peak that recalls Brian Eno’s old collaborators, Harmonia – minus the German band’s regular motorik beat, of course".

 

Source: The Guardian Album Review

Tom Misch & Yuseff Dayes - What Kinda Music

What Kinda Music

by Tom Misch, Yussef Dayes

Released 24 April 2020

Blue Note / Beyond The Groove

*****

South London multi-instrumentalist Tom Misch decribes his music as a fusion of "low-slung hip-hop beats, glittering disco, and noodling jazz instrumentation" and gives credit to with fellow soulful collaborating trailblazers like Loyle Carner and Jordan Rakei. 

Drummer Yussef Dayes is best known for his work with his two brothers in United Vibrations "a psychedelic take on jazz with added elements of hip-hop, chants, electronic dance music and world rhythms" and last year's Yussef Kamaal album, Black Focus, with keyboardist Kamaal Williams, which fuses the dreamier end of 70s jazz-funk with a London club sensibility, tapping into jungle, trip hop and house.

Misch says, “Yussef comes from a more experimental background, and he has a lot of loose, crazy ideas. I know how to write a catchy melody, but with interesting chords and I have a good understanding of popular song forms, so I think I streamlined those ideas and made them accessible.”

Dayes says that the intentions of the record go even deeper than just music. “Both our parents who’d never met each other before, are now best friends as a result of this – they now see each other more than we do! I’d like to think, in some small way, that this album has a similar impact for people too – everything feels so divided these days, it would be nice for people to hear the record and hear two very different musicians coming together and realize it doesn’t have to be that way.”

This is yet another excellent release from young London artists in 2020, that captures the collaborative spirit and possibilities of innovative music played with passion and sincerity.

Owen Pallett - Island

Island

By Owen Pallett with London Contemporary Orchestra

Released 15 May 2020

Domino Recording Co Ltd

*****

Michael James Owen Pallett-Plowright (born September 7, 1979) is a Canadian composer, violinist, keyboardist, and vocalist, who performs solo as Owen Pallett and, before 2010, under the name Final Fantasy. As Final Fantasy, he won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize for the album "He Poos Clouds".

Prolific in his early career. Pallett is in great demand as a collaborative musician, working with leading-edge folk and rock performers such as Arcade Fire, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Frank Ocean, The Mountain Goats, Haim and others - since 2019 alone. He has also written or contributed to three soundtrack albums, including "Spaceship Earth" released this month (see seperate review). Perhaps as a result, Pallett has been relatively sparing in his release of solo albums - only "Heartland" in 2010 and "In Conflict" in 2014. Pallett's music is deeply personal in its lyrical content, complex in its compositional forms and melencholy in mood. In addition, "Island"reintroduces "Lewis" a character who featured in the narrative of "Heartland" which invites a return to the previous releases for coninuity. "Island" is structured as four groups, each of two or three songs, like chapters in a novel. Each group is introduced by an instrumental piece that is identified by a directional arrow and numeral --->(i), rather than a song title. This convention also featured on Pallet's previous albums "In Conflict" and "He Poos Clouds" although not in the same structural manner. This album develops the themes, narratives and musical values first established in and even before the "Heartland" album, forming a satifying suite of musical and albums that demand relistening.

Tenderlonius - Ragas From Lahore Improvovisations with Jaubi

Ragas From Lahore: Improvisations with Jaubi

by Tenderlonius, Jaubi

Released 27 November 2020

22a

*****

In April 2019, Tenderlonious embarked on a trip to Pakistan to work with Lahore based instrumental quartet, Jaubi. Following on from the highly acclaimed, three track limited edition 10” vinyl release of "Tender in Lahore" this is the full suite of improvised ragas from a one day recording session in Lahore, Pakistan.

Tender tells the full story of how this recording canme about on Bandcamp, and I recommend you to it.

He concludes: "Through many hours of hard work and planning we arrived in Lahore on the 9th of April 2019, greeted with nothing but love and humility. Lahore is something special; full of positivity, care and hope. It was, thankfully, all a stark contrast to the negativity we heard about Pakistan before arriving. It was not long into the first day and that first studio session that we realised this trip would be a real awakening. Nothing whatsoever was written down during the recording sessions - no sheet music, no song titles. It was sincere. All egos were left behind and hearts and souls were open and poured into the music."

Many of the so-called east-west musical collaborations between European and Sub-continental artists are among my favourite recordings of all time. This includes Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin's "West Meets East" (Parlophone, 1966); Charlie Mariano with R.A. Ramamani and the Karnataka College of Percussion "Jyoythi" (ECM, 1985) ;Ry Cooder & V.M. Bhatt "A Meeting By The River" (Water Lily Acoustics, 2011) and Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajastan Express "Junun" (Nonesuch Records, 2015).

This new recording is a worthy addition to this formidable canon.

Praed Orchestra - Live In Sharjah

Live in Sharjah

by Praed Orchesra!

Released 23 October 2020

Morphine Records

*****

Shabbi is the name of the popular synth-based music heard in cabs, cabarets and alleyways throughout the Middle East. Mouled (also Mulid and Mawlid) is the word for the birthday celebration for the Prophet and other Islamic saints and is celebrated by great assemblies of Sufi music and dancing. Egyptian composers Raed Yassin and Paed Conca formed Praed Orchestra to perform music based on their extensive research that sought to find the links between Shaabi and Mouled  and the hypnotic structures of both these genres. 

Their music incorprates repetitive beats, loud Mizmar (conical flute) and loads of energy, with a strong contemporay influence from psychedelic rock, free jazz and electronica.

Having produced 4 albums and performed on numerous stages around the globe, Praed started working on an ambitious, expansive project: an orchestra that could transpose this study of rural and popular culture into an immense, iconic work.

In autumn 2018, supported by the Sharjah Art Foundation, Praed Orchestra! premiered “Live in Sharjah”, interpreting new material merged with some of the band’s iconic pieces. Recorded live in Sharjah’s Calligraphy Square, the resultant music ranges widely in content, in a series of seven compositions, each more than ten minutes in duration, commencing with the startling vocal extremity of opening piece "The Last Invasion" and concluding with a prog-rock-like "IL A3SAB".

For me, this is a mind-bending redefinition of the boundries of Middle Eastern music.

Katarzyna Wiktorski - From A Distance

From A Distance

by Katarzyna Wiktorski

Released 13 November 2020

Program Records

*****

Polish born and Melbourne-based Katarzyna is a pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Fusing an unconventional string quartet with a piano-saxophone jazz quartet, her music is influenced by improvisation, modern jazz, classical and film score influences, she says she hopes to create "emotional and ornate listening experiences" through her solo and octet proje

Inspired by Andrea Keller’s Wave Rider (2013) and Linda Oh’s Aventurine (2019) she formed her first major group the Katarzyna Wiktorski Octet in 2019. They sold out a performance at Melbourne's Jazzlab in December, as part of the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival (in a co-presentation with the MJC).  Kat was determined to overcome the constraints of lockdown and persevered to make an ambitious four-track debut EP of original music.

Featuring previously unrecorded pieces, she produced and directed her team of seven to record each layer of instrumentation to build the tracks.

The track titles for this album are suggestive of the mood: "The Warming", "Gratitude", "From A Distance", "Pique & Peace".

This is gentle, calming music played with exquisite touch by the ensemble, despite the pandemic-forced separation. Individually recorded in isolation across Melbourne, Australia between September and November 2020, Katarzyna  is resposible for piano, composition and arrangements and is supported by:

Jade Nye (Alto Saxophone),

Chloe Sanger - (Violins 1 & 2),

Alexi Kyrkilis-Kalathas (Cello 1),

Ffion Stoakes (Cello 2),

William Base (Bass) and

Oliver Ledi Hanane (Drums).

Collocutor - Continuation

Continuation

by Collocutor

Released 30 October 2020

ECM

*****

Musician-composer Tamar Osborn's CV is like tapestry unfurling in bewildering detail. Having started out on clarinet and saxophone, performing mostly classical works, she later studied rhythms and ragas in India, then collaborated with a vast array of talents, often fusing Afrobeat and Ethio-funk into jazzy paradigms. She was part of the onstage band for Fela! The Musical during its 2010 / 2011 runs in London, and formed her own Afrobeat-informed band, The Fontanelles, in 2011. Fond of modal styles that avoid standard chord changes, Osborn used Yusef Lateef's book Repository Of Scales And Melodic Patterns as the base for Collocutor's early work.

Continuation is her third album under this guise and follows the enlightened path of its forerunners. Osborn's emphasis is less on rhythmic exuberance in this project and more on quirky meditations, using feathery woodwind and dreamy brass, with bouts of kick-ass rawk 'n' roll. Indeed, the sense of Continuation as seeking something redemptive is highlighted on the opening cut "Deep Space" which was recorded in a Baptist church in London. Solemn as a vigil, its quiet ricochets of sax and flute gradually coalesce into a restorative ritual. Osborn's hallowed sax tone here echoes the work that Jan Garbarek did with vocal quartet The Hilliard Ensemble.

The title track has a skinny guitar motif on repeat, as the band drifts in floating every note towards a kind of birdsong finale amid chattering tablas.

"Pause" is made of breathy drones, urgent strums and a down-tempo rhythm that could be from the 1990s British trip-hop scene. Such a slowed down funk beat is a neat foil for Osborn's gyrating sax and finds a likeness on the final offering "Pause Reprise" which awakens muzzily until scalding guitar riffs meet Osborn's trancey sax over looping snared percussion.

Elsewhere we get a jolt of Osborn's love for Afrofuturism on "The Angry One" and "Lost & Found" then unveils some classic rock snortings, with a stuttering sax riff that hints at Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Changing tack midway, the piece adopts a pastoral hue as the woodwind wafts us to closure.

This album confirms Osborn as a soulful talent on the vibrant London scene.

Continuation is a potent reminder that music, like spirit, has no physical form. It simply takes us, it simply moves us.

Source: All About Jazz