top of page

PLAY ALL

May 2020 Highlights

May 2020 Highlights

Watch Now
Mewreyem Aboulouafa - Mereyem

Meryem

by Meryem Aboulouafa

Released 30 May 2020

Animal 63

****-

Young Casablanca vocalist Mereyem Aboulouafa's debut album "Mereyem" is an atmospheric collection of original songs sung in English, French and Arabic. In an interview with Wonderland Magazine, Meryem explained that she grew up influenced by her father's music collection including Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Georges Brassens, Jaques Brel, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf.  She says that her priority is "to express her emotions authentically, afford them the right sonorities and choose with care the words with the intention and rhythm they reflect through the feelings". Her influences span African, Arabic and Western music including Thom Yorke, Fairouz, Benjamin Clementine, Majda Roumy, Björk. Her ambition "to sing the lyrics of Matthew Bellamy and Tania Saleh. To be produced by Max Richter and Brian Eno. And make soundtracks for Tim Burton and Nadine Labaki."

Quite the wishlist - and hopefully a premonition of great things to come!

I found this to an evenly paced, immersive album and its fine production allows her gentle but distinctive vocals to float Sade-like above its cinematic arrangements. Like Lebanon's Yasmine Hamdan, (a remix of whose 2017 song Iza was released this month) Mareyem is a welcome addition to a long tradition of iconic female vocalists from the MENA region. 

A great debut from a promising new artist.

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.

Yasmine Hamdan - Iza (Single)

Iza (George Bshoum Remix - Single)

by Yasmine Hamdan, George Bshoum

Released 15 May 2020

Crammed Discs/Hamdanistan Records

****-

Yasmine Hamdan came to the world's attention near the end of  Jim Jarmush's extraordinary 2014 vampire movie "Only Lovers Left Alive", performing her song "Hal" to a crowded cafe in the Tangier medina. Her albums "Ya Nass" (2013) and "Al Jamilat" (2017) are both exceptional and deserving of wide acclaim. Nine of the eleven original tracks from the album "Al Jimlat" were reworked by the likes of Acid Arab, Matias Aguayo, Brandt Brauer Frick and others for the 2018 album "Jimlat Reprise". Hamdan says "mysterious recluse, middle-eastern producer George Bshoum was going to tackle another song, but he disappeared for a while… and finally sent us his lovely, inspired take on Iza". Sung in Arabic, the lyric is a litany of confessions, leading to a revealing admission: "When I grieve I grieve too much, When I hate I hate too much When I drink I drink too much When I worry I worry too much  .... That's me all the way That's very me". In the original, Iza is a gently-paced Arabic ballad, propelled by traditional instrumentation - oud, darbouka (tabla) drumming, handclaps and electric guitars. In George Bshoum's remix, the electric guitar is prominent, and traditional instrumentation is replaced by interweaving synths and tentative baselines for much of the song with punchier phrasing and contemprary drumming introduced during the final moments of the song. This new arranmgement perfectly derioves from the structure and complements the lyrics of the song.

It also serves as an enticing appetiser for a new album from Hamdan surely due in the near future.

Lady Blackbird - Blackbird

Blackbird (Single)

by Lady Blackbird

Released 6 May 2020

Foundation Music

*****

Sometimes an artist emerges so fully formed, you wonder how it is possible they can be so good, so soon in their career. You make a note to self to remember where you heard them for the first time. When I was younger, it seemed this was a regular thing (possibly because I grew up at a pretty good time for ground-breaking new music) but now, a few decades on, it  occurs infrequently to these jaded ears. Well, it happened again one recent Saturday, when Gilles Peterson played "It Will Never Happen Again", a yet-to-be-released track from Lady Blackbird's forthcoming debut album. He called her "the Grace Jones of Jazz" and her majesty has been confirmed with the release of the album's first single "Blackbird", which she describes as "a stirring interpretation of Nina Simone's powerful civil rights anthem". 

And it turns out she's not such an overnight sensation. Until recently she'd performed as the Acid-Soul goddess Marley Munroe on the funky dance floor tunes "I Can't Stand It" (for Italian house DJ's "Supernova") and "Fantasy" (for Jay Davis and HouseMechanix and Eric Kupper) and live in Goth-Punk cabaret scene in L.A. She has an astonishing  voice and enormous stage presence . I hope that by adopting the Lady Blackbird persona she will be able to take her career to a much wider audience. We will have to wait for the new album to reveal whether that will be with original new songs or reworkings of jazz classics such as this.

Little Simz - Drop 6 (EP)

Drop 6 (EP)

by Little Simz

Released 6 May 2020

Age 101 Music

***--

Little Simz has released a new addition to her Age 101 Drop series of recordings (she calls mixtapes)  - a series of EP's she released between her major projects: Drop 1 to 3 in 2014, Drop 4, The Theory Of and Drop X in 2015.

Speakingto BBC 6Music following this release, she said "I'm just having fun, nothing too serious ...just wanted to keep my creative juices flowing ...keep my mind active you know ... this is just a collection of vibes really ... its pretty much just an isolation tape".

Don't expect the polish and variety of last year's long play "GREY Area" (Feb. 2019). Here be happy with percussive word strings focusing primarily on living life and working it to the fullest "I got one life and I might just live it". From her home in lockdown she calls it like it is: "If this 2020, there ain't no hindsight / If you see death is the next chapter, can you die twice? / Guess life forced me to calm down, get my mind right / Livin' day by day, sleepless night by night / Bored out of my mind / How many naps can I take? / How many songs can I write?". 

Mahalia - Isolation Tapes

Isolation Tapes (EP)

by Mahalia

Released 1 May 2020

Warner/Asylum Records

****-

This is the second release in under a year from young UK soul/R&B vocal stylist Mahalia Burkmar. It follows last year's excellent full length album "Love and Compromise". The three songs here are all gentle gems in the mould of Sade and Destiny's Child, but in a timely manner, the lyrics for this EP abandon the usual subject matter for this genre (living, loving, lusting, longing, leaving) to focus on the trials of separation.

Opener"BRB" directly addresses forced isolation: "I don't mind if you're tired of the days when we don't get to Facetime 'Cause most of my life is split between you and the redeyes".

Similarly, "Plastic Plants" deals with working from separate bases: she is touring all over the planet, while he at home. Over a funky broken beat she sings "I tried to love like in the movies But, all I got was plastic plants".

The gentle reggae close-out song "Too Nice" addresses another kind of isolation. "I know you want me So, just be honest, boy I made it easy I think you're the problem, boy This could be lovely And I know what you would enjoy Think you're too nice, only got one life, so Don't you waste it". 

Willaris K. - Lustre

Lustre (EP)

by Willaris K.

Released 3 May 2020

Soothsayer

****-

Wallis K. is an Australian acid house rising star, whose new EP is a journey of changing moods and paces. It's three main instrumental tracks feature extended synth lines, pulsing EDM beats and percussive keyboards that take you on a frenzied cosmic journey, pausing briefly for strong vocal tracks "Get With My Light" (feat. Tom Snowdon) and "Indifferent" (feat. Gordi), before returning to earth with the gentle instrumental closer "Past Light".

It's a journey well worth taking.

Nubya Garcia - Pace

Pace

by Nubya Garcia

Released 28 May 2020

Concord Jazz

****-

Nubya Garcia's latest "Pace" is her first release since the EP "When We Are" released in March 2018 and "Nubya's 5ive" (May 2017). Not that she's been idel in between: to the contrary she's been busy on the live music scene and featured on five of the nine tracks of the celebrated Brownswood 2018 release, "We Out Here". 

This is another feast of rich saxaphone backed by energetic keyboards and percussion.

 Nubya Garcia - Tenor Saxophone
Joe Armon-Jones - Piano/Wurlitzer
Daniel Casimir - Double Bass
Femi Koleoso - Drums

Marshmallow - The Sweet Enoughs

Marshmallow

by The Sweet Enoughs

Released 1 May 2020

Wondercore Island & Dreamlake International Visions

***--

The Sweet Enoughs is Haiatus Kaiyote bass player Paul Bender's "long lost easy-listening project". He is joined by Haiatus' keyboardist Simon Mavin and Brisbane guitarist Lachlan Mitchell and Melbourne violinist Elle Shimada on one song. According to the band, Marshmallow is “presented by Yannis Dreamlake", who is credited with no less than the album’s concept, engineering, mixing and mastering. Dreamlake is also more jokingly credited with Executive Production, Creative Direction, Consulting, Styling, Choreography, Spiritual Advising, Divination and Marketing. Further, "Dreamlake" is a suedenym, whose identity has not been revealed. The band decares “It feels like the entirely appropriate time to make this dreamlike record of soft warm breezes, mysterious birdcalls, starlit pools in which lovers swim, a castaways hermitage transcribed on palm fronds and sent in a bottle across the distant waves to your golden shores.”

Of course it is - and so they have.

Blake Mills - Mutable Set

Mutable Set

by Blake Mills

Released 8 May 2020

Verve

***--_

Blake Mills has an impressive resume: vituoso touring guitarist for the likes of Jenny Lewis, Band of Horses, Cass McCombs, Julian Casablancas and Lucinda Williams; session musician with Conor Oberst, Kid Rock, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, Paulo Nutini, Norah Jones, Carlene Carter, Jesca Hoop, Dixie Chicks, Zucchero, Pink, Lana Del Rey, Dangermouse, Vulfpeck and more; go-to producer for Sky Ferreira, Billy Gibbons, Connor Oberst, Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard, Dawes, John Legend, Laura Marling and Perfume Genius. On this his fourth album, Mills seems to put most of his pedigree aside and presents a portfolio of soothing songs set to quiet acoustic arrangements. Many of these were co-written with Cass McCombs, whose most recent album "Tip of the Sphere" featured in my February 2019 playlist. Mills' soft vocal delivery at times recalls Harry Nilsson, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake, though without quite the abandon of the former on soaring high notes of the former or the tragic melencholy of the latter. The result is a generally quiet listen that demands close attention and might have benefited from a few more shots of vocal or guitar energy, changes of pace and some of the fuzzed-up guitars - such as the track "Vanishing Twin" or his 2014 EP "Look". But considering his credentials, he deserves to please himself.

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. 

Moses Sumney - Grae

Grae

by Moses Sumney

Released 8 May 2020

Jagjaguwar

*****

Moses Sumney has added the second disc of Grae, following release of the first in February and following up to the remarkable 2017 album Aromantacism .  Having grown up in California, of Ghanian parents, Sumney told NME “People always look to define you to understand you, but my identity is this kind of patchwork. It’s not something that can be – or that I want to be – defined.” Appropriately, Grae is wide ranging exploration of self, to music, expressed using one of the most distinctive and soulful voices of his generation. Sumney's work defies simple catagorization and each song on Grae is unique to itself. On the surface this is a melencholy kind of jazz-soul fusion and frequently it is lyrically intimate and challenging, as it reaches to dark places dealing with isolation, identity, sexuality. The album is also is the product of participation of a stellar group of like-minded collaborators including  including bass lines from Thundercat, saxophone from Shabaka Hutchings, horn parts from the English art-rock group Adult Jazz. Writing credits are shared with James Blake; thre are numerous spoken contributions from author Michael Chabon and a shared vocal credit with Jill Scott. Thanks to its refreshing brilliance and broad scope, this double album will stand as one of best (if not the best) records of this tragic year.

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.

Reb Fountain - Reb Fountain

Reb Fountain

by Reb Fountain

Released 1 May 2020

Flying Nun Records

****-

NZ singer-songwriter Reb Fountain has assembled a superb backing group and peerless production for this impressive collection of soft-rock songs which compare favourably to contemporaries such as Lana Del Ray and Laura Marling. I found the the lyrics of the opening song "Hawks & Doves" and the third track, "It's A Bird (It's A Plane)" were distractingly rather obique, but from there on the album settles into an accessible storytelling mode and enjoyable and memorable listening. 

Bob Dylan - False Prophet

False Prophet (Single)

by Bob Dylan

Released 8 May 2020

Columbia Records

*****

On this third single from the forthcoming album "Rough and Rowdy Ways" Dylan, ever the archivist, sounds like Muddy Waters singing over a backing track to Billy "The Kid" Emerson's 1954 slow blues classic "If Lovin' is Believing". As in his previous release"I Contain Multitudes", Dylan is once again in auto-biographical mode, now as a world travelling "enemy of treason ...strife ...and the unlived meaningless life". Disgusted by materialism ("You can bury 'em naked with their silver and gold") he urges the audience to seek redemption. "Oh you poor devil look up if you will, The city of God is there on the hill". . The double-negative song title and refrain ("I ain't no false prophet") apparently responds to public comments by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict) in 1997 . "No, I’m nobody’s bride, Can’t remember when I was born, And I forgot when I died", replies Dylan. Note too that the disturbing artwork for this release shows a gift-bearing Grim Reaper dressed in top hat and tails, syringe in hand and casting the shadow of a hanging man whose profile is distinctly Trumpian. Following last months single, "Murder Most Foul", this seems to be referencing America's ongoing political malaise.  Dylan remains at the top of his game here and for the 39th time, we await eagerly for the new album, due in June.

Ludovico Einaudi - 12 Songs From Home

12 Songs From Home

by Ludovici Einaudi

Released 8 May 2020

Ponderosa Music

*****

Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi has shared 12 new recordings, all recorded at home on upright piano in one evening using his iphone, during Italy’s lockdown.

It doesn't get more basic than this, but all the nuance & sophistication is in the music.

He explains on his website: “I recorded ’12 Songs From Home’ between March and April 2020 during the peak of Italy’s lockdown. In March I started to play live concerts regularly on social media. Switching on my phone to connect for 30-40 minutes with the world it, has been a beautiful and intimate alternative to the spring tour that I had to postpone. This new release is the memory of those home live concerts, my memory of this time, the memory of a strange and new atmosphere that we won’t forget.”

Ths is a charming recording, like having him in the room.

Rabii Harnoune and VB Kuhl - Gnawa Electric Laune

Gnawa Electric Laune

by Rabii Harnoune and VB Kuhl

Released 15 May 2020

Tru Thoughts

****-

This is a collaboration between Moroccan Gnawa-master (maâlem) Rabii Harnoune (playing a kind of three-string lute known variously as hajhuj, gimbri, or sentir) and Frankfurt electronic producer V.B.Kühl, that has resulted in an LP which represents entirely new territory, building a bridge from old to new, from Africa to Europe, and from to person to person. This melange of traditional North African Gnawa music and modern european club sounds results in an original cross-cultural fusion which is electronic and otherworldly, rather than traditional or pastiche.

Gnawa music is among Morocco’s richest and oldest continuous traditions, dating back to the pre-Islamic period. Gnawa combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dancing and is performed at lila, communal nights of celebration dedicated to prayer and healing guided by the Gnawa maalem, or master musician and their group of musicians and dancers. This musical pairing takes elements of Gnawa into a new and exciting musical space, differentiated from the more common "desert rock" of bands such as Gnawa Diffusion or Gabacho Maroc.

Kurt Rosenwinkel - Angels Around

Angels Around

by Kurt Rosenwinkel Trio

Released 8 May 2020

Heartcore Records

****-

Kurt Rosenwinkel is a recognised contemporary jazz guitar master, who ranks with Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Larry Carlton and John Scofield. On this occasion he is joined by Italian bassist Dario Deidda and American percussionist Gregory "Hutch" Hutchinsonn in a trio for the ages as they interpret a string of classic pieces by past masters, and add a couple of new originals of their own for good measure. The interpretations are of  Ugly Beauty (Thelonious Monk), Ease It (Paul Chambers), Self Portrait in Three Colors (Charles Mingus), Punjab (Joe Henderson), Time Remembered (Bill Evans) and Passarim (Antônio Carlos Jobim). The two originals are  Simple #2 (Rosenwinkel) and Angels Around (Deidda).  I found it to be compelling listening.

Edmund George Taylor - Eois Dissensa

Eois Dissensa

by Edmund George Taylor

Released 6 May 2020

Soundcloud

****-

George Taylor has released some new ambient compositions from lockdown, now available on Soundcloud. These follow George's album "Falling Deeper", which was included in my January 2020 playlist. On "Eois Dissensa", a gamalon-like musical figure opens the song and is joined by succession of strings and beats that conjured images of flying high above the clouds.  George says "Eois Disserna was initiated using a found analogue synth sample. All music in this track is either programmed or sampled. It's entirely free to stream or sync to your own project". His recently released "Blindsided" builds steadily from a lonely litttle piano motif to become a storm of distorted strings, synths and guitars. Then there's "Æthelwulf" which was created "using samples provided by a musical brother Jamie Cameron"of  the band The Last Dinasour (UK). Then late in the month George dropped "Earnest", my favourite track of the series so far. This one shimmers with sliding strings and harmonics over jazzy keyboards.

If you're a fan of the kind of ambient sounds that "Explosions in the Sky" conjures, you will surely enjoy these tracks too.

Nonesuch Records Various Artists - I Still Play

I Still Play

By Various Artists (Nonesuch Records)

Released 22 May 2020

Nonesuch Records

***--

Nonesuch Records releases "I Still Play", an album comprising eleven new solo piano compositions written by artists who have recorded for the label. The pieces were written in honor of the label's longtime President Bob Hurwitz on the occasion of his 2017 shift into the Chairman Emeritus role, after running the label for thirty-two years.

 

"I Still Play" features the following original compositions:

 "I Still Play" (John Adams, Jeremy Denk)

"Song for Bob" (Laurie Anderson)

"Wise Words" (Timo Andres)

"Rimsky La Monte Young" (Louis Andriessen)

"Her Wits (About Him) (Donnacha Dennehy)

"Evening Song No. 2" (Philip Glass)

"Move" (Nico Muhly)

"LA Pastorale" (Brad Mehldau)

"For Bob" (Steve Reich)

"42 Years" Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau

and "Recessional" (Randy Newman)

All pieces have been performed by Nonesuch Artists Timo Andres and Jeremy Denk, supported by Mehldau and Newman.

It is a lively and varied set of contemporary pieces composed and performed by some of the greatest artists of our time.

What a delight!

Moby - All Visible Objects

All Visible Objects

By Moby

Released 15 May 2020

Pod / Inertia

**---

Moby's new album opens with the power vocal "Morningside", sung by Apollo Jane - but it sounds like a leftover fragment from his 1999 breakthrough album "Play" (or from any of Moby's many albums since, for that matter). A new version of Roxy Music's 1980 "My Only Love" follows, sung by Mindy Jones and backed by Moby's cascading synths - but it's vanilla to Roxy's nutmeg. D.H. Peligro's (Dead Kennedys, Red Hot Chilli Peppers) vocal "We who hate oppression Must fight against the oppressors Power is not shared Power is taken" is not convincing, even though it is backed by powerful orchestral chords and"Refugee" is all staccato rhythms and percussion behind outspoken UK dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson's spoken word sample, but somehow fails to engage.

In these opening songs on his new album, Moby's limitations are plain to see and this represents a challenge for anyone wishing to listen to his albums on their merits: he has not broken the mould of his past successes and we're too frequently reminded of them due to similarities in approach and-or the music itself. Despite interesting choices of subject matter or collaborators on various tracks, the focus shifts continuously, so that even when the fire of conviction is sparked it is quickly extinguished by a new novelty. For me, this is a distraction and a barrier to my enjoyment of the music.

Moby's approach, effective 20 years ago, has more recently been eclipsed by edgier beats from Aphex Twin, FourTet, Burial and the like.

On the plus side, the instrumental tracks  "Forever","Separation","All Visible Objects" and atmospheric vocal "Too Much Change" are far more engaging, but they're buried deep into the album, so I'm afraid very few listeners will get to hear them.

John Balke - Discourses

Discourses

by John Balke

Released 15 May 2020

ECM

****-

Jon Balke is a long term favourite due to his work with Arabic and Andalucian musicians in the collaborative ensemble Siwan. His solo work is more experimental, as it blurs distinctions between composition, improvisation and sound design. Discourses , his third solo album, was composed "as the political climate hardened in 2019 with more and more polarized speech. The lack of dialogue pointed me towards the terms that constitute the titles for the tracks":  these include "the self and the opposition", "the facilitator", "the assumptions", "the certainties", "the suspension", "the polarization", "the second arguement", "the why", "the deliberation", "the how". "the mutuality", "the first afterthought" and "the second afterthought".

The work unfolds as a series of “layered soundscapes” of processed material which Balke describes as “distorted reflections and reverberations from the world.” Balke uses cello, piano, other keyboards, software and field recordings and is a development of the methodology introduced with the Norwegian pianist’s Warp album (2016).

Discourses was recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo in December 2019, and produced by ECM's founder and maestro, Manfred Eicher.

Lucian Ban  John Surman  Mat Maneri - Transylvanian Folk Somgs - The Bella Bartok Field Recordings

Transylvanian Folk Songs - The Bela Bartok Recordings

By Lucian Ban, John Surman, Mat Maneri

Released 15 May 2020

Sunnyside Records

*****

In the early 1900s Béla Bartók was introduced to the folk music of the Romanian people in Transylvania. His immediate infatuation with the music led him to a lifelong pursuit to record and catalog these beautiful regional pieces. Bartók spent eight years traveling the Romanian countryside recording and transcribing these pieces, which he would spend the rest of his life collating into six catalogs containing over three thousand tunes, simply entitled Romanian Folk Music.

The composer's own compositions would be influenced at every level by his folk studies. A century later, three outstanding improvisers - Mat Maneri, Lucian Ban and John Surman - draw fresh inspiration from the music that fired Bartók's imagination, looking again at the carols, lamentations, love songs, dowry songs and more which the composer collected, in the period between 1909-1917.

 

 

Further information is included on Bandcamp: https://lucianban.bandcamp.com/album/transylvanian-folk-songs-the-bela-bart-k-field-recordings.

 

Vox Clamantis & Jaan-Eik Tulve - Cyrillus Kreek The Suspended Harp of Babel

Cyrillus Kreek - The Suspended Harp of Babel

by Vox Clamantis, Jann-Eik Tulve & Others

Released 8 May 2020

ECM Records

*****

Once again Germany's ECM label has produced an equisite concept and record opnening up to music from obscure or remote locations and composers. This album features performances of the choral music of Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). Kreek’s pieces, incorporating graceful settings of psalms and folk hymns, are juxtaposed with instrumental fantasias and interludes that were created for this recording by Marco Ambrosini, an Italian born musician, composer and arranger living in Germany. It is stunningly angelic.

For as more knowledgable description, visit the AllMusic entry for this album -

https://www.allmusic.com/album/cyrillus-kreek-the-suspended-harp-of-babel-mw0003363386

Ben Salisbury, The Insects, Geoff Barrow

Devs (Original Series Soundtrack)

By Ben Salisbury, The Insects, Geoff Barrow

Released 8 May 2020

Invada Records

***--

In great contrast to the emotional jazz of the songs that feature in The Eddy , the soundtrack for Devs, composed by Geoff Barrow (ex Portishead), Ben Salisbury and their collaborators The Insects responds to the moods and drama of the series, ranging from errie dreamscapes to sacred choral choruses, menacing buzzing gives way to vibrant jazzy passages, celestial choirs with ominous orchestral undertones to outright horror music. TM Wheedon, critic for the Santa Barbara Independent wrote "The score to Devs revs up like a chorus of souls being whipped around and lacerated by the swirling winds of Dante’s second circle of Hell, as EDM bass bombs pound in slow, stomping rhythmic eruptions. Devs is as worthwhile to hear as it is to see.” There's more than an hour and a half of it too, so if you (and the neighbours) are up to it, turn it up to 11 and strap yourself in!

 

Glenn Ballard, Randy Kerber -The Eddy (Music Fron The Netflix Original Series)

The Eddy (Music Fron The Netflix Original Series)

By Glen Ballard & Randy Kerber

Released 8 May 2020

Arista Records

****_

The Eddy is the edgy story of the survival of a post-Bataclan Paris jazz club owner, those arround him and his nightclub. It's an entertaing serial with authentic live performances at its core: this is an album of songs, not background music and it stands up as an excellent contemporary jazz album in its own right. The Glen Ballard - Randy Kerber soundtrack of original music is the star of the show, showcasing contemporary jazz in the way that David Simon'sTreme showcased the music of post-Katrina New Orleans. A teriffic band of actor-musicians was assembled for the show - drummer (Lada Obradovic) from Croatia, bass (Damian Nueva Cortes) from Cuba, sax (Jowee Omicil) from Haiti, piano (composer, Randy Kerber) from California, trumpet (Ludovic Louis) from Paris and singer (Joanna Kulig), a star in her own right in her native Poland.  Ballard's versatility as writer is remarkable: he made his reputation penning hits including Man in the Mirror for Michael Jacksoan and co-writing most of the songs on Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. More recently he's transposed the latter for the Broadway and written the music and/or lyrics for Ghost The Musical and Back To The Future The Musical . His songwriting partner for The Eddy is Randy Kerber, a prolific composer, orchestrator and keyboardist who has written and/or played on numerous motion pictures including The Colour Purple, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind and the first three Harry Potter films.

 

Teskey Brothers - Live At The Forum

The Teskey Brothers Live at the Forum

By The Teskey Brothers

Released 15 May 2020

Half Mile Harvest Records

****_

The Teskey Brothers are one of a number of vibrant funk & soul bands based in Melbourne, most prominently The Bamboos and Hiatus Kaiyote, who have not only established strong local followings but have fostered a scene with an international following, centred around the Northside Records store, in the inner suburb of Northcote.

This is 80 minutes of original soul music and features songs from the band's two studio albums, Half Mile Harvest and Run Home Slow as well as a cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy".

Commencing with Johnny O'Keefe (like Elvis, The Beatles, Stones and  many others) covering soul music hits in the 1950's, with artists like Max Merritt and the Meteors, Renee Geyer and Jimmy Barnes in successive decades, Australia has alway had a strong contingent of genuine soul artists.

Whether or not this is cultural appropriation is considered here in an excellent article for triplej, by journalist Nkechi Anele, however the music is hard to resist.

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.

Owen Pallett - Heartland

Heartland

By Owen Pallett

Released 12 January 2010

Domino Recording Co Ltd

*****

From Wikipedia:
As a prelude to this album, Pallett recorded an EP, "Spectrum, 14th Century". Both the EP and the subsequent full-length are set in an imaginary realm called Spectrum. The songs on Heartland form a narrative concerning a "young, ultra-violent farmer" named Lewis, commanded by an all-powerful narrator—named Owen. According to Pallett, the songs are one-sided dialogues with Lewis speaking to his creator.

In an interview, Pallett commented that the idea behind Heartland is "preposterous". I wanted to have this contained narrative that has the breadth of a Paul Auster short story." Michael Barclay of Maclean's states that the lyrics raise all sorts of theological questions about believers' relationship with a deity and the nature of fate, but the construct is just a blank canvas.  Pallett said, "Really, it's just all about me. All records are about their singer. I was trying to play with that. Pallett has noted that the album was "most inspired" by British electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark".

Writing about the Auster novel, "4321", Booklist critic Donna Seaman remarked:

"Auster has been turning readers' heads for three decades, bending the conventions of storytelling, blurring the line between fiction and autobiography, infusing novels with literary and cinematic allusions, and calling attention to the art of storytelling itself". She may well have been describing Pallett's songwriting.

Owen Pallett - Spaceship Earth (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Spaceship Earth (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

By Owen Pallett

Released 22 May 2020

Milan ***--

This is Owen Pallett's latest foray into soundtrack writing, following Anton Corbijn's "Life" (2015) and co-writing the Oscar-nominated soundtrack for Spike Jonze's film "Her" (2013) with Arcade Fire's Will Butler. This is the soundtrack to a documentary that studies Biosphere II, a bizzare communal living experiment in the Arizona desert, constructed between 1987 and 1991 and owned by the University of Arizona since 2011, where eight men and women sealed themselves off in a 3-acre complex built to be an artificial, materially closed ecological system, or vivarium. Imdb describes the movie as "...both a cautionary tale and a hopeful lesson of how a small group of dreamers can potentially re-imagine a new world". However as one reviewer notes "much does indeed go wrong, but unfortunately, nothing of the sensational variety. There is no physical rebellion. There are no monsters spawned. There are no lives lost".

And this is perhaps limits the scope for Owen Pallett's soundtrack, most of which comes through a vanilla-sounding set of mood pieces, without much drama to animate it.

Even though Biosphere II was used twice for its original intended purposes as a closed-system experiment and both attempts ran into problems, these events are short-lived and under-dramacised in the soundtrack, perhaps for good reason. But, as the remainder is spent in support of the more benign aspects of the experiment, we're left with an album of "beautiful music", albiet of the highest quality.

Air-Edel Artists - Fresh Air Breathe In
Air-Edel Artists - Fresh Air Breathe Out

Fresh Air - Breathe In / Breathe Out

By Various Artists (Air-Edel Catalogue)

Released 22 May 2020

Besant Hall Records

****_

Air-Edel is a London-based company that was founded in the late 60's by Sir George Martin (the 5th Beatle) and American Herman Edel and operates the famous AIR studios. Air-Edel provides representation and support for a stable of musicians and composers and has released two compilation albums of their work. The artists include Australian singer and composer Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance), English drummer and composer Philip Selway (Radiohead), Scottish film composer Patrick Doyle and others. All proceeds will go to Breathe Arts Health Research - a marvelous venture that collaborates equally across the three sectors of arts, health and science.

Kamasi Washington -  Becoming (Music from the Original Netflix Documentary)

Becoming (Music from the Original Netflix Documentary)

ByKamasai Washington

Released  5 May 2020

Young Turks Recordings

***--

We usually use words like "epic" and "adventurous" and "sprawling" to describe Kamasi Washington's albums and they usually run to between two and three hours in length and his EP's around 30 minutes. So this album, the soundtrack to the documentary of the life of Michelle Obama, is markedly different: it is shorter and far less musically challenging but still enjoyable as a result, not just as background to the documentary. However, this is far from epic.

It  does seem perfectly appropriate that Washington should have this honour as he, along with other African American artists including Kendrick Lamaar, Beyonce and Chance The Rapper, flourised during the Obama Presidency. The album is easier listening than Washington's mainstream offerings and this allows Kamasi to work arrangenments and areas that he would otherwise be unlikely to explore.

In interview he has said thet when composing the soundtrack he tried to imagine the songs that Michelle Obama might have written. Perhaps his scope might have been broadened and a more dynamic soundtrack might have resulted,  had he drawn from the songs that Michelle Obama may have heard coming up, instead.

That might have been epic.

JK Group - The Young Ones

The Young Ones

By JK Group

Released  24 April 2020

La Sape

****-

JK Group is a powerhouse nu-jazz band fronted by Melbourne saxophonist Josh Kelly, best known for his work with future soul-jazz collective, 30/70, and being the 2019 PBS Young Elder of Jazz. 
They sit in the crossover of raw, live jazz and electronic/dance production. At times synth-heavy, effected and soundscapey, while at other times hard hitting groove laden with spiritual jazz overtones and no-holds-barred improvising. Their sound nods respectfully to classic jazz traditions, whilst carving a path that unashamedly looks towards the future, embracing modern influences and production techniques. 
Their debut release, ‘The Young Ones’ sees Josh Kelly in full flight alongside longtime 30/70 collaborators, Matt Hayes and Ziggy Zeitgeist with keys player/producer Lewis Moody (Z*F*E*X, Sex on Toast) and special guests Audrey Powne, Javier Fredes and James Bowers. Quite the Melbourne supergroup!

KeiyaA - Forever, Ya Girl.webp

forever, Ya Girl

by KeiyaA

Released 27 March 2020

****-

The Guardian rates this album by KeiyaA as one of the top 20 albums of 2020 so far and I have to agree. It's one of those smouldering, soulful albums that can be played with volume way down in the background , but stands closer scrtiny as the dial is turned louder. The Guardian's critic wrote"(it's) a soul album that uses impressionism with great focus – one of the toughest paradoxes to conjure in music – and is coloured throughout with bright snatches of melody. The result is a stunningly rich, beautiful tableau of personal and social liberation, that just keeps on unspooling. Fans of J Dilla and Erykah Badu will fall in love with it, though the New Yorker very much has her own particular voice. 

Rob Luft - Lifed Is The Dancer

Life Is The Dancer

by Rob Luft

Released 17 April 2020

Edition Records

****-

His Bandcamp entry sums it up thus: "British guitarist Rob Luft returns with Life Is The Dancer, his second album following acclaimed debut Riser (2017). With the same line-up Life Is The Dancer confirms all the praise and promise of an artist of the moment and commands attention for its brilliance and originality. Rob Luft is a superstar in the making - a virtuoso, a band-leader, a composer of vibrant, original music and a captivating communicator.

Life Is The Dancer is an eagerly awaited and anticipated release from a future star".

He's a superstar already, in my opinion. This is a lyrical, virtuosic performance of all-original material that places him firmly in the company of the leading contemporary jazz guitarists including Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel (who coincidentally has released a new album of his own this month, "Angels Around")

Ainsle Wills - All You Have Is All You Need

All You Have Is All You Need

by Ainslie Wills

Released  3 October 2019

Ainslie Wills

****-

It seems that Melbourne singer songwriter and guitarist Ainslie Wills dropped this arresting new album late last year while nobody (well, I at least) was not looking. This is her second full-length album, following a strong and critically well-received four track EP "Oh The Gold" (2015) and debut album "You Go Your Way, I'll Go Mine" (2013).

This is the work of an artist in full stride, with complex songs and confident arrangements. Highlights include the opening track "Running Second", "Society", "Mountains" and "Unlock The Vault". Her vocal delivery compares favorably to Pretenders' Chrissie Hynd and is supplemented by exceptional depth and originality in songwriting and musicality. Wills is well-respected in Australian musical circles, but deserves international acclaim alongside the likes of fellow nationals Courtney Barnett, Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly, all of whom have been widely recognised over the past few years.

Ausecuma Beats - Ausecuma Beats (22 Nov  2019)

Ausecuma Beats

by Ausecume Beats

Released 22 November 2019

Music In Exile

*****

Ausecuma Beats demonstrate what can happen when a group of artists come together based on an idea - in this case, the idea of place, of transplanting cultural heritage into a contemporary city. The band showcase what happens when people from the farthest flung corners of the world find themselves living shoulder to shoulder in a new environment. The result - nine unique individuals, each masters of their own craft and with their own personal histories, working together to create something that can be called their own.

The band on this recording includes Bassidy Kone, Yusupha Ngum, Mohamad Camara, Boubacare Gaye, Luke Koszanki, William Larsen, Rodolfo Panga, Sonu Sangameswaren and Ed Croker. Recorded, mixed and mastered in Melbourne, Australia by John Lee at Phaedra Studios, 2019.

‘Aida’, the first single from nine-piece afrobeat ensemble Ausecuma Beats, is a celebration of love between two people that sees no divide. The song, sung by Gambian-born Yusupha Ngum speaks of a love that grows as new lessons are learned.

Daggy Man - Yawn

YAWN

by Daggy Man (aka Thomas Calder)

Released 3 April 2020

Daggy Man

****-

Daggy Man is the solo moniker of Australian singer, songwriter. producer, film-maker, photographer Thomas Calder, who describes “YAWN” as an exploration, "digging deep into the question of why I make music in the first place". He is comfortable with the fact that these songs jump around in genre, in form, in mood and in attitude, and  that "in listening to these songs, in some ways I still have no idea where they came from. And that's exactly why I’m so proud of it". I must agree. This is a gentle album, in the mould of Sufjan Stevens or Justin Vernon, but is is quirkier than either of them would release. In the Australlian vernacular it's just a bit daggy really, which is just fine.

Note: 

the word "dag" refers to the little bits of shite that cling to a sheep's baxckside.

the word "daggy" is colloquially used in Australian & NZ english as a term of  gentle endearmant (or disparagement) to refer to someone's unfashionable, often eccentric or idiosyncratic style or demeanor. together with poor social skills and amusing manner.

Avishai Cohen - Big Vicious

Big Vicious

by Avishai Cohen

Released 27 March 2020

ECM

*****

Israeli master trumpeter Avishi Cohen leads an electro-acoustic ensemble that includes guitarists Uzi Ramirez and Yonatan Albalak (also on electric bass) and drummers Aviv Cohen and Ziv Ravitz (who also did the live studio sampling), delivering a program of nine originals and two covers.

Cohen's writing is songlike and the band plays in a space that owes as much to rock as it does to jazz: most songs run less than five minutes and the melodies are often hummable. Along the way, there are stylistic forays into psychedelic rock, R&B and funk, Hebrew folk, and sound system electronica. Cohen's trumpet cuts in and out with a certainty of voice and tone that is unmatched in contemporary music, possibly since Miles Davis. Oh ... and this may be the best album cover we'll see this year.

Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte - Atlas

Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte

by Atlas

Released 1 November 2019

Soundway Records

****-

This album is the unique result of a one-off 2018 meeting in Marrakech between Belgrade-based tribal/techno/industrial outfit Tapan and the nomadic Touareg electrified desert-blues group Generation Taragalte. A potent collision of the electronic drone-jazz of Belgrade and the windswept, desiccated psych-guitar riffs of the Moroccan Sahara.

The reviewer from Twistedsoulmusic noted: "Opener ‘Jbit Aala Khiam’ is the jewel in the crown, with Generation Taragalte’s funky guitar riffs, vocals and immersive percussion taking the lead while TAPAN’s dark electronics nestle moodily in the background. The pounding beat, saxophone wails and chanted vocals of ‘Aha Yazine Kaymaltou’ are deeply entrancing, and you won’t be able to resist the sleazy uptempo groove. The pace slows down a touch as they go deep into Saharan desert with the psychedelic blues sounds of ‘Hyatti.’ The musical roller coaster ride ends with ‘Yogi Yamahssar’ which feels more in step with GT’s signature amped-up desert blues music, with TAPAN adding a tribal touch to keep things fittingly different.

This brilliant and adventurous collection of improvised workouts is a real breath of fresh air".

Vanessa Perica Orchestra - Love Is A Temporary Madness

Love Is A Temporary Madness

by Vanessa Perica Orchestra (VPO)

Released  27 February 2020

Vanessa Price

****-

Vanessa Perica is yet another emerging talent on the Melbourne music scene, this time in the form of a band leader with fresh new take on big-band music.  Vanessa hails originally from Perh WA and is a home grown, 2003 graduate of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, where she majored in Jazz Composition and Arranging. Her careeer has really taken off since 2018, when her composition "Dance of the Zinfandels" (included here) was a finalist in the Big Band International Composition Competition.

The VPO features an exceptional line up of Australian jazz players including Andrea Keller (piano), Carl Mackey (alto & soprano sax), Julien Wilson and Jamie Oehlers (tenor saxes), Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Sam Anning (bass), Paul Williamson and Ross Irwin (trumpets & flugelhorns), Jordan Murray, Nick Mulder, Will Pethick and Joe O'Callaghan (trombones), Theo Carbo (guitar), Phil Noy (bari sax), and Ben Vanderwal (percussion). 

`Pat Metheny - From This Place

From This Place

by Pat Metheny

Released  2 February 2020

Nonesuch

****-

It's been six years since guitar great Pat Meteny's last release of new studio material (2014's "Kin (<-->)" so this is quite the occasion. The sepia coloured album cover, featuring a powerful tornado ripping across an open rural setting, suggests a movie soundtrack or at least music of cinematic scope. The set opens quietly, with the languid piano, cello and cymbals opening of the 13 minute "America Undefined". After a while, repetitive percussion (rail sleepers?) and (level-crossing?) bells clearly signal a cross-country rail journey. This idea is sustained as guitar replaces keys as lead instrument for the mild blues of "Wide and Far". A serene, solo piano motif opens the following track "You Are" but soon percussion takes over, suggesting a storm.  However, "Trans Europe Express" this is not. To my relief the "journey" narrative is not sustained literally and I began to appreciate the music for itself. 

Although indeed cinematic, this is not the blood-pumping, stadium-filling music of the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) of the 1990's. This is a music (or movie) lover's Pat Metheny Quartet, featuring Metheny on guitar, Gwilym Simcock on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums, supplemented by string orchestra and some subtle keyboard fills, samples and production tweaks.

Quality listening - worth taking the ride.

Issie Barratt's Interchange - Donna's Secret

Donna's Secret

by Issie Barratt's Interchange

Released 17 January 2020

Fuzzy Moon Records

****-

Donna’s Secret is a collection of eight new works from UK composer/arranger Issie Barratt’s all-female big band Interchange.

Issie describes herself as an "internationally active composer, arranger, conductor, baritone player, record producer and educator". Here she brings all of that, as she curates and contributes to a showcase of the works of an array of award winning women improvisers and composers, drawn from 200+ members of the UK Women Jazz Collective. The core ensemble includes Issie Barratt on baritone sax, Rosie Turton trombone, Karen Street accordian, Laura Jurd trumpet, Helena Kay alto sax, Shirley Smart cello, Charlie Pyne acoustic & electric bass and Katie Patterson & Jas Kayser percussion.

Melt Yourself Down - 100% Yes

100% Yes

by Melt Yourself Down

Released 27 March 2019

Decca

****-

South London's exciting six-piece jazz-punk outfit Melt Yourself Down kick off their new album with the song "Boot and Spleen", an energetic romp that features a barri-sax riff for the ages, matched by one of the most over-the-top lead vocals you will ever hear. With the energy and attitude of the post-punk British bands of the 80's, MYD add the spirit of the Stranglers, Blockheads and Clash to contemporary combo jazz.

“Jazz was the wild, dirty music of the 20s, 30s,” says lead vocalist Kush Gaya. “It was not a sit down, polite, experience.”

Founder and sax innovator Pete Wareham adds: “I love jazz best when it feels dangerous.”

MYD delivers accordingly.

Lage Lund - Terrible Animals

Terrible Animals

by Lage Lund

Released 15 February 2019

Criss Cross

*****

Lage Lund, accompanied here by pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, is the relatively young Norweigan born (1978) but New York based, wunderkind guitarist. This, his 10th album as leader or co-leader, is an album of exquisite musicianship, reminiscent of Bill Frisell. Throughout the production, individual instruments are set in clear space, allowing sometimes complex musical ideas and studio effects to be followed clearly. This has resulted in one of the most accessible, entertaining and satisfying contemporary jazz albums in recent years. I think it will come to be considered a modern classic. I just wish I'd first caught up with it when it was released, more than a year ago.