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September 2021 Highlights SunNeverSetsOnMusic

September 2021 Highlights SunNeverSetsOnMusic

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Nala Sinephro - Space 1.8

Space 1.8

by Nala Sinephro

Released 3 September 2021

Warp Records

*****

Space 1.8 is the outstanding debut album from UK-based composer and harpist Nala Sinephro, yet another prodigous new talent to emerge from the creative melting pot of the UK's  contemporary jazz scene. Sinephro is supported throughout the record by Dwayne Kilvington (aka Wonky Logic) on Bass and Sons of Kemet's Eddie Hick on drums. But the substance that underpins the album's eight enumerated soundscapes (platonically named from "Space 1" to "Space 8") is produced from the multi-layering of Sinehro's harp and modular synths. The music is evocative but restrained, demonstrating an unexpected level of creative self-control othat reveals an artist who seems to have emerged fully formed on debut.

Other artists credited as lending support on the album include: percussionist Jake Long; guitarist Shirley Tetteh; keyboardist Lyle Barton; saxophonists Nubya Garcia, James Mollison and Ahnanse; and bassists Rudi Creswick and TWM Dylan

Comparisons will inevitably be made with the ever more influential mother of the jazz harp, Alice Coltrane, who is undoubtably an inspiration and influence. These are appropriate, because Sinephro's work is similar in its approach - and overall, possibly more accessible to many listeners.

Sinephro's Bandcamp entry describes her as "fus(ing) meditative sounds, jazz sensibilities, folk and field recordings. Her musical practice is rooted in the study of frequency and geometry and guided by the premise that sound moves matter."

And in it's review of the album The Guardian noted that "Sinephro grew up in between the birdsong of Belgium and the humid tropical soundscapes of Martinique. In her early 20s she saw off a tumour, informing her interest in music as medicine."

Sinephro conjures a world of her own, with compositions that are a healing balm troubled times. 

Lady Blackbird - Black Acid Soul

Black Acid Soul

by Lady Blackbird

Released 3 September 2021

Foundation Music Productions

*****

It has been nearly 18 months since LA-based Lady Blackbird dropped her debut single and signature song "Blackbird", an impassioned new interpretation of the 1966 Nina Simone classic. It was an astonishing appetiser for a promised debut album and was followed by a string of singles and remixes to further whet the appetite - all the while cheered along by no other than WorlwideFM & BBC6 Music's jazz tastemaker Gilles Peterson. 

Titled "Black Acid Soul", the debut album does not disappoint. It opens (unsurprisingly) with "Blackbird" - an appropriate choice, not only because of the fine quality of the performance by the artist formerly known as Marley Monroe. The song has allowed her, after many decades spent around the New York and LA scenes without ever breaking through to mainstream commercial success, to adopt an entirely new persona from which to steer her career in a dynamic new direction.

The album mines the potent legacy of 60's and 70's songwriting for half of it's material but its success derives not only from these strong song choices: the other half of the material is new songs penned by her producer Chris Seefried and they hold up well. But the ultimate value that elevates this album above the "covers album" status is the voice of Lady Blackbird, supported by expert technical production, and inspiredinstrumental performances (including the magnificent Voices Of East Harlem choir on "Beware the Stranger"). 

The previously-released opening track is followed by a slow blues "It's Not That Easy" - a 1967 song originally recorded by by Reuben Bell with his backing group The Casanovas, then the first pair of the Lady Blackbird / Seegfried originals, a tenderly-delivered "Fix It" and the sultry "Nobody's Sweetheart", which features an elegant trumpet solo from the great New Orleans virtuoso Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.

A string of covers follow: Irma Thomas' "Ruler of My Heart" (1963); "Collage" (a Joe Walsh/James' Brothers 1973 composition previously covered by Three Degrees, Golden Earring and the Breeders); a slow-burning blues of Sam Cooke's "Lost and Looking", and a definitive cover of Tim Hardin's "It'll Never Happen Again" (1966). Sitting among this group  an original "Five Feet Tall", features vocal homage to Billie Holiday, and holds up well in strong company.

"Blackbird" aside, the other candidate for the most memorable song on this album is its final vocal track "Beware the Stranger" which Blackbird describes as "a re-rub of "Wanted Dead or Alive", a rare groove classic recorded by funk/gospel collective Voices of East Harlem in 1973 and co-produced by Curtis Mayfield. “It’s a version of a version!” she laughs.  “We changed the title, the gender, everything!

The album closes out with the searing instrumental "Black Acid Soul" from which the album takes its name. It speaks of both the “Jackson Pollock jams” Seefried describes in the studio and the mantric soul evocative of hot buttered soul-era Isaac Hayes. Explaining how the song became the title and then, again, the vibe, Lady Blackbird says: “We used to hashtag #blackacidsoul, as our sub-genre of music. It just encompassed everything we were doing.  It cemented all those ideas and genres in this made-up shit! “and because ‘ Blackbird’ is a great start to the album, because it gets dark and violent and goes somewhere spiritual, we wanted to tail the album with another expression of acid soul.  So that became the title track at the end".

Lady Blackbird is suppored throughout by a cracking group of musicians, particularly:

Deron Johnson playing Steinway Baby Grand, Mellotron, Casio Synth;
Jon Flaugher playing Double Bass;
Jimmy Paxson playing Drums, Percussion.

Source: Lady Blackbird

Jordan Rakei - What We Call Life

What We Call Life

by Jordan Rakei

Released 17 September 2021

Ninja Tune

*****

"What We Call Life" is influential Australian expat artist Jordan Rakei's 4th album, and is a masterful followup to 2019's "Origin", which featured in SunNeverSetsOnMusic's June 2019 playlist.

I's a personal, introspective album that deals with family life, separation and relationships but it is a;lso enjoyable as a soulful, immersive sequence.

Its lyrics concern the lessons that the New Zealand-born, Australia(Brisbane)-raised, and London-based artist learned about himself during therapy, a journey that began two years ago when he started reading about the ‘positive psychology’ movement. These themes manifest on songs like lead single “Family”, which Rakei says is “the most personal” he’s ever been with his lyrics. “I wanted to hit my vulnerability barrier and be really honest. It’s about my parents’ divorce in my mid-teens but still having love for them no matter what,” he explains.

On ‘What We Call Life’ Rakei dives deeper into his sound world, merging electronic with acoustic, and rugged grooves with ambient atmospheres, to create something richer, more detailed, and more textural than before. Rakei, already a practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, was curious about the potential of using therapy for further self-discovery. During the process, he began to learn more about his behaviour patterns and anxieties, and addressed his long-standing irrational phobia of birds – a fear often associated with the unpredictable and the unknown, and something explored in the album’s creative direction and visuals. “As we worked through it, it made me realise I would love to talk about the different lessons I learned from therapy in my music: about my early childhood, my relationship with my parents and siblings, becoming independent in London, being in a new marriage, understanding how my marriage compares to the relationship my parents had”, Rakei says.

Source: Bandcamp

Web Web, Max Herre - WEB MAX

WEB MAX

by Web Web, Max Herre

Released 27 August 2021

Compost Records

*****
The fourth album by Web Web “WEB MAX” is a great spiritual jazz work - sometimes floating, sometimes soulful, always intense, and a wonderful homage to early 70s Jazz. Web Web mastermind Roberto Di Gioia is accompanied for the first time by Max Herre as a composer, musician, and producer. Both came together with guest musicians such as Mulatu Astatke, Brandee Younger, Charles Tolliver (Strata East), and others to deliver a virtuoso masterpiece.

The album's genesis can be traced back to the winter of 2014: German rapper/producer Max Herre and Italian-German pianist Roberto Di Gioia played a tremendous show together. The two had been guest musicians at a few gigs for Gregory Porter, who in turn kindly accepted their invitation to perform at Herre’s MTV Unplugged session (produced by Herre alongside Di Gioia and Samon Kawamura as production team KAHEDI). Porter’s approach to the jazz quartet inspired Max to reflect how a rap artist could work in a more freely-flowingmusical environment. Di Gioia’s inspiration was a bit more straightforward: in the 80s, Di Gioia had played with jazz legends like Woody Shaw, Johnny Griffin, and James Moody, but he’d largely left the jazz stages of his early years behind - just one random jam session with Porter’s musicians during soundcheck relit his passion immensely. A short time later, Herre called Di Gioia saying “Let’s get a spiritual jazz session going.”

Now, six years later, the album WEB MAX is the amazing result from the spur of that moment. It is a wonderful homage to the cosmic open-mindedness of early 70s jazz, to the transcendent sublimity of spiritual sound.
WEB MAX is the fourth album in four years by the highly acclaimed Web Web quartet, consisting of keyboardist/pianist Roberto Di Gioia, saxophonist Tony Lakatos, bassist
Christian von Kaphengst, and drummer Peter Gall, all of them longtime performers of the highest virtuosity, signed to Michael Reinboth’s Compost Records.

Source: Bandcamp

Zoe's Shanghai - Lava Love

Lava Love

by Zoe's Shanghai

Released 27 August 2021

Zoe's Shanghai

****-

Led by singer Zoé Renié Harris, the band has made a splash into the crowded neo-soul scene with their debut EP ‘A Mirage (Meant To Last Forever)’ 2019 - a deeply evocative sound and Zoe’s extraordinary voice gained them immediately the spotlight as ones to watch (“a worthy torchbearer for heady and hearty soul music”- Earmilk)
‘Lava Love’ was recorded in an old stable in the French region of Auvergne - known for its mountain ranges and dormant volcanoes, this region could not have been a more apt setting.
Lava and love portray in fact a dynamic flow of memory and meaning pouring out of Zoe’s Shanghai’s heart. In and out of the metaphor, Lava and love can be powerful, frightening, beautiful, dangerous and at the same time are essential elements that create fertile change and growth.
Through the 11 songs, the band evoke memories and pose questions - inner dialogues, life stories, encounters and relationships - ‘Lava Love’ depicts a kaleidoscope of moods and feelings, prompting the listener to open to the conversation: while each song presents a microcosm on its own, the album manifests itself in the shared musical experience - immersive music to listen to and enjoy with your loved ones.
Produced with Oli Barton-Wood (Nubiyan Twist, Joe Armon-Jones, Nilufer Yanya), the sound of ‘Lava Love’ brings together hypnotic melodies, groovy rhythms and thoughtful lyrics - fusing the essence of multiple music styles and forging Zoe’s Shanghai unique contemporary soul.

Source: Bandcamp

Emma Donovan and The Putbacks - Under These Streets

Under These Streets

by Emma Donovan and The Putbacks

Released 17 September 2021

Cooking Vinyl Australia

****-

Following success with the album Crossover (Hopestreet Recordings, 2020) and on the edge of lockdown, acclaimed indigenous Auatralian vocalist Emma Donovan returned to her home in Melbourne with her two daughters in 2021, bringing her close once again to the slick rhythm combo The Putbacks. Into the studio they leapt, recording eight fresh tracks for the new release Under These Streets - a soulful, downtempo set of songs that delve deep into personal and social and emotional themes: an album of its time, perhaps.

Emma Donovan grew up singing church songs with her grandparents on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia and her first secular gigs were singing in the family band, The Donovans, with her mother and five uncles. Throughout her career, she has toured and recorded with many of the mainstays of Indigenous music from Archie Roach to Dan Sultan and was a member of the Black Arm Band project. It was in this group that Emma met members of The Putbacks and their journey together began.

The Putbacks are stone cold pros, grizzled veterans of all the tours and all the studios. When they come together, they’re one of the tightest, sharpest, slickest, most dynamic musical units ever to exist. Their collaboration with Emma elevates their music and Emma’s songs to another level. 
Emma Donovan - vocals
Simon Mavin - keyboards
Rory McDougall - drums
Mick Meagher - bass
Tom Martin - guitar
Justin Marshall - percussion
Under These Streets was written and recorded on Wurundjeri Country, home of the Kulin Nation

Sources: Bandcamp

Ngaiire - 3

3

by Ngaiire

Released 27 August 2021

Dot Dash Recordings

****-

Born 1984 as Ngaire Laun Joseph in Lae. Papua New Guinea and known by her stage name Ngaiire (pronounced ny-ree or /naɪəriː/),  commenced her musical career in 2003 with an enrollment in a bachelor of Jazz Studies at the Central Queensland University (CQU). In 2004, she competed in the second season of Australian Idol, reaching semi-finalis but not the final 12 ssingers and then then worked as a session vocalist before re-focusing on her solo career in 2008.

Ngaiire's debut studio album, Lamentations, was released in July 2013 and her second album, Blastoma, was released in June 2016.

Ngaiire makes great records. But there came a point in Ngaiire's recent life where making great records wasn't enough. She needed to create a work that was a true reflection of her, no matter how it sounded.

3 is that work, and it sounds incredible.

On its surface, this is a luscious sounding modern pop/R&B record, but dig a little deeper into Ngaiire's words and the story behind the creation of the record and you'll learn this is much more than just a pop record.

"This album is about me letting go and accepting that not everyone is gonna get me," Ngaiire has said of the album.

"I don’t even want to be easily figured out anyway because being a multi-faceted woman of colour is perfectly acceptable even if it causes people to shift uncomfortably in their seats.

"For hundreds of years, we have been viewed through the legacy of white history and though this has plagued my entire career, it doesn’t make me. "I'm definitely not your normal cup of tea and as much as I've tried to pour myself into that teacup over the years, I've accepted that I'm really better suited to a brilliantly well-charcoaled aluminium kettle, full of black tea leaves cooked on a very lived-in fire, built upon the soil that smells like my mother, my Aine, my Pupu and those that came before who said 'reach for the stars but always come back to us'."

Coming back was vital for Ngaiire, who kicked off work on 3 with a trip back to Papua New Guinea. The aim was to "deconstruct people's misconceptions of what a Papua New Guinean is", the resulting work sees her sharing what really matters to her."I am full to the brim of stories that many don't have the privilege to hold within themselves; some I know quite well and some live deep in my DNA that I won’t have enough lifetimes to unpack," she explained.

"But the ones I know, I will tell how I want to because I can. So here is a collection of love letters to three entities – myself, my country and those I love both here and now departed." Ngaiire makes great records, but has never made one as great as 3.

Source: ABC doublej

Little Simz - Sometimes I MIght Be Introvert

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

by Little Simz

Released 3 September 2021

Age 101

*****

Little Simz is an artist with a lot to say and a entertaining way of saying it. On her soul-baring fourth album "Sometimes I Might Be Introvert"she backs her spoken-word monologue poetry with dynamic, state-of-the-art production from partners Inflo (Michael Kiwanuka, SAULT), MIles James (Tom Odell, Yuseff Days/Tom Misch, Cleo Sol) and remix specialist Jakwob.

Rap music is often let down by the spoken word content: too frequently a display of bellicose frustration displaces articulated rage however Simz avoids all such indulgencies with her originality, innovation, humour and flair.

The set opens with a grand military fanfare that develops into a swelling orchestral backing to the title track "Introvert" and the similarly lush "Woman" follows. Released in May, featuring Cleo Sol's guest vocal, it's powerful chorus "I love how you go from zero to one hundred/And leave the dust behind, you’ve got this/All action, no talk" will already be familiar to many but it is no less impactful when heard in this context.

Simz frequently sets her vocal against a striking background samples - on "Two Worlds Apart" she borrows Smokey Robinson's delightful 1975 cut "The Agony and the Ecstacy" and her delivery on "I Love You, I Hate You" competes with a male voice's incessant repetition of the song's title - and the album is punctuated by diverting Interludes (Little Q, Pt.1 - Interlude", "The Rapper That Came To Tea - Interlude"and "The Garden - Interlude", the latter pair delivered by British actress Emma Corrin in the voice of her portrayal of "The Queen". These technique help to avoid the monotony that is frequently a trap for spoken-word and rap albums. Interludes and innovative production notwithstanding, "Sometimes I MIght Be Introvert" is a mentally demanding set when listened to as a whole.

Surrounded by talented musicianship and production, the album might have benefited from the addition of instrumental interludes, such as those used by Simz peers SAULT throughout their series of successful albums over recent years.

Zedsix - The Shape Of Jazz

The Shape Of Jazz

by ZEDSIX

1 January 2020

ZVI Belling

****-

The Shape Of Jazz is the debut release by Zvi Belling aka ZEDSIX, producer, composer and bass player. The album is part of an ongoing experiment in re-shaping American and African jazz standards through hip-hop. An all star series of collaborations investigate the intersection of boom-bap and be-bop, it sounds like the future!

The Shape Of Jazz opens with a "Welcome To Country"statement delivered by indigenous elder  Uncle Robbie Thorpe, with
didjeridoo by Jidah Clarke.

Then follows "What You Take", a live beats mash-up of two classics from different epochs: John Coltrane’s "Giant Steps" and The Police's  "Walking on the Moon". Vocalist Cazeaux OSLO’s ‘True To The Flesh’ adds reminiscances about his family connection to ’Trane’ between Fem Belling’s spacey vocal interpretations. A live playout on these famous changes emerges to complete the tribute. 

"What You take" is typical of the approach taken throughout the album: 

Source: Bandcamp

Vika & Linda - The Wait

The Wait

by Vika & Linda

Released 1 September 2021

Bloodlines

****-

Vika and Linda Bull's new album opens confidently with "Raise Your Hand", written  by Kasey Chambers & Brandon Dodds, which becomes a song one imagines will forever on provide a lighters-raised moment for their post-pandemic live sets.

Bernard Fanning's bluesy "Love Like A Landslide" follows and it is becoming clear that "The Wait" is another set of finely crafted songs, delivered by this peerless pair of Australian vocalists.

The sisters' double-barrelled vocal attack for 'Teeth' is in parts somehow reminiscent of The Proclaimers (another pair of siblings) but this approach seems perfect for this remarkable song, written by actress Eva Seymour (daughter of Hunters & Collectors Mark Seymour) in her late teens."We wanted to sing a song from a young woman's perspective but as older women," Linda said. "We could relate to it because you can fall in and out of love at any age."

A smouldering wall of guitars sustains the Ben Salter-penned rocker "My Heart Is In The Wrong Place", of which Vika says "The thing about this song is you can’t give up. I think that's why Linda and I have had such a long career – we’ve never listened to the knockers. We just keep pushing through."

"Not The Same Girl"is the first of two songs written by Glenn Richards, leader of Australian rock band Augie March. The sisters turn it into a gentle, country flavoured, unexpected highlight of the album.

The depth of their blues pedigree surfaces for Matt Walker and Neil Murray's tub-thumping, southern roller 'Since You're Gone' which is delivered complete with stinging slide guitars and they continue with genuine Rolling Stones swagger for "Pigface And Calendula", the second Glenn Richards gem.

In a well paced set, the tempo eases for former Cold Chisel singwriter Don Walker's tender heartbreaker 'I Miss You In The Night'  but accelerates for the fierce "Lover Dont Keep Me Waiting" (by The Living End's Chris Cheney).

As the record nears its conclusion "Hand Grenade" is a piano-&-guitars slow burn written by Jemma Rowlands (of Jemma & The Clifton Hillbillies) and Mick Thomas (of Weddings Parties Anything). The song builds in intensity but doesn't explode as its title would suggest. Instead, the fireworks are reserved for the rowdy "Rabbit Hole", the second song from the team of Chambers & Dodds - a top-of-your-voice rocker delivered over the wail of honky-tonk pianos, grimy slide guitars and harmonica.

The pallete-cleansing close-out is"The Long View", a new slice-of-life narrative (and instant classic) from Paul Kelly , that sounds as if it is being sung from the back of the empty bar room the lyrics describe, over minimalist piano.

It is a fitting denoument to an extraordinarily conceived and crafted album that is a monument to a generation of Australian creative songwriters and performers, who have grown in experience and stature for three or more decades.

The Black Sorrows - Saint Georges Road

Saint Georges Road

by The Black Sorrows

Released 10 September 2021

Woodstock Music

****-

Saint Georges Road is the ninteenth studio album (and 50th album overall ) by Australian blues rock band The Black Sorrows or its charismatic bandleader, saxophonist & lead gyitarist, Joe Camilleri.

To mark the occasion the band reunited with English producer Peter Solley who worked on the 1979 album Screaming Targets for a 'Black Sorrows' antecedent 'Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons'. The album included Top 40 hits, now Classic FM staples, "Hit and Run" and "Shape I'm In".

Saint Georges Road recaptures the infectious energy and sound of classic Camillei, whose music is a hybrid of southern Americana styles including R&B, zydeco, gospel, soul and blues. The new album is also a showcase for the songwriting range of Camilleri and his long-time writing partner Nick Smith. It's 11 songs touch on the signature sounds of not only The Sorrows and Jo Jo Zep, but Camilleri's various other projects: The Revelators (Electric Country/R&B 1989-2012), Bakelite Radio (Acoustic Country/R&B 2000-2007, 2020), The Voodoo Sheiks (New Orleans Tribute, 2011-present) and Here Comes The Night (Van Morrison Tribute, 2013-present).

The album opens brightly with "What Stephanie Knows" and its memorable refrain: "There's a miracle inside a rose / That's what Stephanie knows / Time doesn't run it flows / That's what Stephanie knows".

It's the sort of song that you might imagine from early Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson.

"What's Taken Your Smile Away" is as silkily soulful as a Sade song, with a saxophone solo that could alternate for George Michael's "Careless Whispers".

"Livin' Like Kings" channels classic Springsteen, while the title track "Saint Georges Road" is delivered in the voice and arrangement of the "Saint Dominic's Preview" period Van Morrison, with lyrics even The Man would be proud of (although recent form suggests he'd likley complain).

"Another Blue Day" is a laid back blues in the style Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour", and "Chiquita" brings a snazzy zydecote vibe to the party. Joe says "it's a throwback to the Sorrow's first album ‘Sonala’. If I had this song in 1982 this would have been a classic song for this band”.

"Holy Man" recalls Falcons classics like "Chosen One" and "Chained To The Wheel" while and "Revolutionary Blues" wraps a Dylanesque narrative in the bar-band style of New Orleans. 

The album's pace slows for "My Heart Don't Feel A Thing", which features some blistering Claptonite lead guitar and its successor "Only Got Yourself To Blame", is a Luisianna slide-guitar swamp-stomp about the joys of mixing Jack Daniels with your Rock and Roll.

Finally "King Without A Throne" closes out the album in classic fashion, to the accompanyment of hammond organ and Vika and Linda's backing vocals, which have been signature-making constants throughout Camilleri's career.

There's no new ground broken musically, but no friends will be lost and I'm sure, many new ones will be made with this album: which is surely the point!

Brian Brown Quintet - Carlton Streets (1975)

Carlton Streets

by Brian Brown Quintet

Released 1975 (Reissued 28 August 2021)

The Roundtable

****-

Composer and saxophonist Brian Brown produced some of the most refined Australian jazz recordings during the 1970s. A versatile musician whose distinct impressionist music melded modern jazz with the outer limits of free experimentation. Considered to be his greatest work, the 1975 concept album Carlton Streets was an ambitious recording that romanticised the sights, sounds and the nostalgia of this once-bohemian Melbourne neighbourhood.

Released during the height of Carlton-based pop sensation Skyhooks success with  "Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)" and "Living In the 70's", Carlton Streets offers jazz impressions of the urban environment.

Comparable to other pioneering jazz-rock groups such as Ian Carr’s Nucleus and mid-period Soft Machine, the album is a mosaic of ecstatic jazz-rock groove, spirited free improvisation and expanded experimental textures.

A potent fusion that owes as much to Australian 20th-century avant-garde composers as it does to the influence of the electric jazz innovators, specifically early Weather Report and Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi.

This new edition of this landmark Australian jazz recording was restored from the original master tapes, presented in a gatefold sleeve including liner notes and rare photos and released for Record Store Day 2021.

Source: Bandcamp

Vazesh - The Sacred Key

The Sacred Key

by Vazesh

Released 25 June 2021

Earshift Music

****-

Sydney-based trio Vazesh performs long-form improvisations inspired by the Persian Radif* and renowned Iranian tar player Hamed Sadeghi's (Eishan Ensemble) music. Featuring Sadeghi alongside award-winning saxophonist-bass clarinettist Jeremy Rose (Earshift Orchestra, The Vampires) and bassist Lloyd Swanton (The Necks, The catholics) this is an exciting collaboration driven by an exploration of musical discovery. “This live album captures the spontaneous composition of the group - something that is often difficult to replicate in a studio setting. The tar is a melodically rich instrument, most often used to lead ensembles and orchestras in Iranian classical music, and as I do in my group, Eishan Ensemble. However, in Vazesh, we organically take turns at providing melodic and accompaniment roles. Whatever the music calls for in a particular moment, whether it’s providing a melody, a rhythmic part or a layer of texture, the tar is able to achieve that.”


* The traditional music of Iran is based on the Radif (Persian: ردیف‎, meaning order): a collection of many old melodic figures preserved through many generations by oral tradition. It organizes the melodies in a number of different tonal spaces called dastgah. Over time, each master's own interpretation has shaped and added new melodies to this collection, which may bear the master's name.

**The Iranian Tar is a long-necked, waisted lute family instrument, used by many cultures and countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan ( Iranian Plateau) and others near the Caucasus and Central Asia regions.


Source: Earshift Records

Eishan Ensemble - Project Masnavi

Project Masnavi

by Eishan Ensemble

Released 7 May 2021

Earshift Music

****-

Sydney-based Eishan Ensemble is the primary musical ensemble directed by Irabnian tar virtuoso Hamed Sadeghi. He utilises Eishan in a way to advance his knowledge and practice of Persian music, adding western instrumentation - guitar, double bass, clarinet and saxophone and other instuments, re-imagining traditional-inspired melody with modern jazz harmonic concepts, bringing a different life and different music to what has been previously conceived.

Project Masnavi is the third album from the group and it is inspired by the lyrical poetry of Rumi’s epic masterpiece, Masnavi - one of the most precious books in Persian literature.

The album weaves beautiful imagery and stories reflective on Rumi’s work into layered soundscapes and sophisticated compositions.

The album showcases Sadeghi's increasingly ambitious compositions alongside saxophonist Michael Avgenicos, guitarist Pedram Layegh, percussionist Adem Yilmaz, bassist Maximillian Alduca and special guests, accordion player Marcello Maio and drummer Alex Inman-Hislop.


Source: Earshift Records

Amir ElSaffar, Rivers of Sand - The Other Shore

The Other Shore

by Amir ElSaffar, Rivers of Sound

Released 10 September 2021

Outhere

****-

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santurist, vocalist, and composer, ElSaffar uses Middle Eastern and American jazz to create new techniques to ornament that are idiomatic to Arabic music. He performs classical Iraqi maqam music, and is active in the US, Europe and the Middle East as a vocalist and santur player. His compositions use microtones from maqam music to uniquely approach harmony and melody.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to make the comparison, but the rich textures created by Amir ElSaffar’s 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra recall the expansive sound assembled by Gil Evans and Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain. Composition and improvisation play equal roles on The Other Shore, to the point where the line between the two becomes irrelevant and the performance itself becomes all the more absorbing. Calling the group an orchestra is appropriate since the overall effect of their music feels symphonic.

Of course, the source material is vastly different here from that of the Davis/Evans masterpiece. Iraqi-American trumpeter ElSaffar has become skilled at combining jazz improvisation with Arabic maqam modes through several albums with smaller groups and one previous Rivers of Sound release. The Other Shore features saxophones (tenor, alto, and bass), clarinet, double-reeds, and vibraphone sharing space with ouds, mridangam, and buzuq. In addition to his rich trumpet tone, ElSaffar also sings in Arabic vocalese and solos on the santur, the Iraqi hammered dulcimer. The combination of Western and Middle Eastern instruments creates a wider spectrum of harmonies, heard best in the opening of “Transformations,” when the melody incorporates microtonal pitches.

Several tracks are like suites within themselves, lasting between 13 and 16 minutes, and moving through rubato openings, pregnant pauses, and ostinatos that groove no matter how the rhythm is divided. One of the best examples of the latter comes on “March,” where the rhythm section holds things down as virtually every other player floats to the surface to color the sound. When ElSaffar says that he wants to expand beyond ideas of culture and make a “musical model that embraces a multitude of musical expressions,” this track is clearly what he means—and he has succeeded.


Source: JazzTimes

Parvyn - Sa

Sa

by parvyn

Released 10 September 2021

Age 101

****-

Parvyn Singh is a Punjabi-Australian singer, dancer and musician, based in Melbourne, and best known for her work as the outrageously flamboyant vocalist in cult psychedlic band The Bombay Royale.

(which describes itself as "a red hot masala of surf, spy, space disco and funk inspired by the sounds and spirit of 1970s & 80s Bollywood"). However, her solo work is another thing entirely, informed by electronica and jazz, her background in Sikh devotional music and her training in classical Indian music and dance.The Bombay Royale aside, Parvyn has spent her life on stage touring internationally with her father Dya Singh, a master musical interpreter of the traditional Sikh hymns, creating music that draws upon diverse influences from around the globe.  The Dya Singh group has released over 26 CDs and performs at arts, folk, new-age, world and sacred music festivals including WOMADelaide, Woodford Folk Festival and Singapore Arts Festival.

"Sa", meaning "to breathe or inhale" in Punjabi, is also the first note in the Indian raga scale - a fitting title for Parvyn's debut. This is an ambitious release, reflecting the artists' experimentation as a solo performer. As a songwriter, Parvyn explores themes of perception and reality, love and family. Throughout Sa she explicitly reflects on her own struggles with mental health issues, growing up in Australia with immigrant parents and navigating having a young family of her own.

Parvyn sings in both Punjabi and English and her range as a singer is almost impossibly broad. She easily swings from deftly executing virtuosic Indian classical ideas to delivering disarmingly personal lyrics to ethereal improvisations and tonal landscapes. The voice and the songwriting are the threads that bind this diverse record together.
The album draws on a broad palette of styles and moods from the garage-esque bounce and 808 bass of What You See to the layered, looped choir-like Anchor and virtuosic vocal improvisations of Jara.

Guest musicians on Indian and Western instruments including bansuri, piano, violin and sitar lend acoustic timbres and fluidity to beds of beats, synthesizers and loops reminiscent of British Asian Underground and world-pop artists like Nitin Sawhney and Sheila Chandra. Across it all, Parvyn’s vocal presence is commanding and Sa is a powerful statement of intent from an artist stepping in to her power.

It's mix of musical genres, which range from Sikh heritage to soulful contemporry pop is occasionally a distraction: the jazzy second half of to "Whisper In My Ear"(although delightful) and infant's laughter in the concluding track "The Sun" are unexpected and distracting. 

The album is the result of a collaboration between Parvyn and Melbourne producer Joelistics. Parvyn also appears on two additional tracks on Joelistic's recent release "Joelistics Presents Film School".

Joelistics - Joelistics Presents Film School

Joelistics Presents Film School

by Joelistics

Released 12 March 2021

Age 101

***--

Film School is a departure for Joelistics as an artist. This is a production record, an album of beats and synths, 70’s Asian pop samples, psych-rock journey music and studio improvisations. This is some Arty business.

The album is an ode to surreal dream scapes and cinematic atmospheres. Dark in tone with instrumentation drenched in effects and soundscapes. Moody and angular, Film School is a concept album of soundtracks and atmospherics, based on the feeling of a memory of a re-occurring dream.
The roots of the album go back as far as 2016 when Joelistics took a trip to his birth place Malaysia. Whilst in Kuala Lumpur he stocked up on Canto pop records from the 70’s and 80’s.

Over the proceeding years he collaborated with artists such as Parvyn Singh, Hailey Cramer and others often writing for their projects but then delving into some of the hypnotic grooves he had put aside for Film School.

Recalling his love of instrumental hiphop from the Ninja Tunes glory days and his penchant for post rock stylings reminiscent of groups like God Speed You Black Emperor, Film School is also a record of collaborations. Pre-dominantly instrumental, the few vocalists that feature on the album are all women of Asian descent. Parvyn Singh of Bombay Royale features on the psych rock groove of Samsara and dreamy 5 rivers. HAYTCH (Hailey Cramer) of The Meltdown features on the future soul of Fool.

Film School also draws from one of Joelistics’ side projects - Garden Tiger Symphony, an instrumental group with Francesca Mountfort (cello) and Mindy Wang (guzheng)

Source: Bandcamp

Sampology - Regrowth

Regrowth

by Sampology

Released 3 September 2021

Middle Name Records

****-

With arms outstretched and legs kicking, a grandfather and grandson glide over office towers and city blocks, their flight powered by imagination, a rudimentary green screen and a VHS camera. The scene is part of a cache of footage shot by Brisbane musician Sam Poggioli’s grandfather, Merv, who passed away in 2003 when Poggioli was a teenager. The green screen flying experiment now appears in the video for his single Memories in Flight, released under Poggioli’s Sampology moniker. Finishing recutting the family footage for the single’s video, he says, “was a joyous feeling that also made me want to cry”. He was only eight years old, but precisely remembers looking back at his grandfather behind the camera, while they filmed in Merv’s shed.
“It’s like the smell of a place that you haven’t been to since you were a little kid, it just triggers something in you – and I think the footage did the same thing.”

Under lockdown, Poggioli digitised and recut Merv’s hours of holiday and family footage into three music videos supporting his new album, Regrowth. The bulk of Merv’s video is rendered in the nostalgic hues of Super 8 film, shot in the late 70s on trips to New Zealand, China and Norfolk Island. He predominantly points his camera at natural scenes: alpine ranges, schools of fish, birds in flight and waterfalls.
Building on two solo EPs, 2016’s Natural Selections and 2018’s Mt Glorious – and two collaborative EPs Middle Name Dance Tracks, Vol 1 & 2, with Sam Stosuur, Kuzko and Megan Christensen – Regrowth is a lush arrangement of orchestral strings, downbeat house music, jazz and soul. It’s connected both in spirit and association to the Melbourne neosoul scene championed by beloved UK DJ Gilles Peterson, with guest spots from that scene’s mainstays – Laneous, Allysha Joy and Silent Jay. Since 2019, Poggioli has hosted a monthly online radio show on Peterson’s Worldwide FM.

On Regrowth you can still hear Poggioli’s early influence, the Avalanches’ first album, Since I Left You. But where the Melburnians plundered thousands of samples from dusty records, Poggioli employs just two: the voice of Uruguayan musician Mariana Ingold on the opening track Peace Lily; and a vocal line by 70s Memphis soul singer Darryl Carter, rerecorded by Jace XL, on Running Around. Despite his own thousands-strong record collection, Poggioli instead applies the cut-and-paste techniques of sample-based music to his original recordings of live instrumentation. But it is in Regrowth’s videos, more so than in its music, that Poggioli’s interest in recontextualising found materials shows itself most clearly.

“A lot of this footage, [my grandfather] hadn’t actually finished editing. I kind of collaborated with [Merv] in this weird way,” he says. Other family members contributed to Regrowth too. Poggioli’s father plays double bass on several tracks, including Memories in Flight, and his aunt plays viola in the album’s orchestral sections. His mother Sue created Memories in Flight’s animations on an old, disintegrating, chipboard lightbox made by her father Merv, an electrical engineer. Sue has collaborated on Poggioli’s cover art in the past, and imagery in his live audiovisual shows, too..

Source: The Guardian

Aida Victoria - A Southern Gothic

A Southern Gothic

by Aida Victoria

Released 20 September 2021

Atlantic Records

****-

Nashville based singer-songwriter Adia Victoria is back once more. Returning for her third studio album, and the follow up to 2019’s Silences, an album is soaked in blues and soul, this time Victoria has tapped into a rich vein of melancholy and moodiness for A Southern Gothic.

Opening with the aptly titled “Magnolia Blues”, Victoria wastes no time in showing off her vocal talents. Nailing her style perfectly, weaving blues, americana and elements of modern pop for a healthy dose of righteousness.

“Mean Hearted Woman” is a considerably moodier cut, a slow and curlish stomp - only intersected by a fuzzy guitar solo. From the opening tracks, Victoria’s tallent is evident, but the production shines through.

Blending Victoria’s influences and passion into an undeniably spotless blues record, T Bone Burnett’s high quality production allows Victoria to express her songs with aplomb.

Embodying the American blues/country image well, she's deft at spinning wistful stories over simple yet effective guitar and rhythm.

“You Was Born To Die” and “Whole World Knows” follow this pattern almost to a tee - Victoria drawing you in effortlessly with her lyrical ability - with the former track also featuring modern country legends Margo Price and Jason Isbell (who provides a particularly searing guitar solo).

“Troubled Mind” is a standout, a track that is once again moody and embodies a lounge lizard vibe - but building to an epic that would make for a decent Bond theme. “Please Come Down” is a track that expresses Adia Victoria’s pop influences - finally unleashing her voice after threatening to do so throughout. It is the furthest that Victoria strays from the americana style, but she wears it well.

“My Oh My” makes up for it, a banjo lead number and another slow burner, where her voice is the centerpiece, telling a story whilst flexing her lyrical muscles - Stone Jack Jones lending a hand, his southern drawl contrasts nicely.

A Southern Gothic toys with the possibility of being a different record once more on “Deep Water Blues” - minimalist percussion and rhythm make the track sound almost Portishead like, which is another shining example of wonderful production.

Closing out A Southern Gothic with two more perfectly serviceable tracks, once more Victoria combines her array of influences - “South For The Winter” is a sugary slow ballad so sweet you’ll need to brush your teeth after listening, although I suppose that could be thanks to the more American elements of this album bristling against any British cynicism.

Overall, Adia Victoria has created an album that paints a picture of her influences and shows her clear talent for blending the old with the new.

Source: Line Of Best Fit

Jose Gonzalez - Local Valley

Local Valley

by Jose Gonzalez

Released 17 September 2021

Imperial Recordings

****-

José González never sounds like he’s in a hurry. He takes his sweet time both in song and in life: The gap between the Swedish songwriter’s third solo album, 2015’s Vestiges & Claws, and fourth, Local Valley, was long enough to encompass the entirety of Trump’s presidency, several Lorde rebrands, and some 13 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard albums.

Empires rise and fall; celebrity marriages come and go. Yet the basic elements of González’s sound have been more or less preserved in amber since 2003’s Veneer: sparse arrangements, intricate acoustic fingerpicking, gently philosophical lyrics, and a plaintive voice that’s halfway between a murmur and a croon. Never freaky enough for the freak-folk movement nor chronically chill enough for the Jack Johnson dudes, González carved out his own niche, imbuing his music with a sense of timelessness that’s impervious to trends but also susceptible to a sameness that can be stifling.

Recorded at González’s bucolic home studio near the Swedish coast, Local Valley brings no grand reinventions, but does gently tweak the songwriter’s approach and inject a little rhythmic bounce into his songwriting, making for a livelier, more playful album than Vestiges & Claws. The record opens on a sleepy note, with home-recorded birdsong ornamenting the new-age reveries of “Visions” and guitars rustling like a delicate forest in the hymn-like “Horizons.” None of the first four songs rise above a pleasant murmur. But somewhere around “Head On”⁠—a standout track that’s as close as González gets to a protest song, with stomping handclaps egging on his jabs at “corrupt oligarchs” and “power snatchers”—Local Valley picks up the pace.

An English-speaking songwriter born in Sweden to Argentinian parents, González has always been a cross-cultural talent. In interviews, he has emphasized the fact that Local Valley is his first album to contain songs in each of his three languages. First single “El Invento” combines Spanish lyrics with one of his trademark open tunings, while both “Tjomme” and the album’s sole cover, “En Stund På Jorden,” a song by the Iranian-Swedish pop singer Laleh that he has pared down to its barest essence, are sung in Swedish. Covers are a longtime González tradition, but for an American listener unfamiliar with Laleh, the latter song could easily be mistaken as one of his own.

Yet the album’s most surprising element lies in the uptempo rhythms and electronic pulses that spice up the album’s back half. González spent some time tinkering with a DM1 drum-machine app on his iPad, which livens up the tempos and brings a welcome bounce to mantra-like grooves like “Lasso In.” “Lilla G,” written for González’s young daughter, is a dreamy folktronica reverie buoyed by lovely, soft-focus harmonies and well-deployed whistling. And “Swing” is the biggest departure for the songwriter, owing both to its goofy lyrics (“Swing your belly, baby,” he exhorts over and over) and its prominent reggaetón beat.

González has said the song’s Caribbean style reflects the music he likes to listen to at home. But his foray into beat-making—particularly on “Swing” and “Tjomme”—feels perfunctory at best. He has dabbled in electronic textures before; “Cello Song,” his 2009 Dark Was the Night collaboration with the Books (covering Nick Drake’s song of the same name), was excellent. These new songs are energizing for González, but they lack that sense of genuine discovery, of a songwriter being lifted away from his usual comforts. Instead of letting the drum machine reshape his songwriting, he mostly uses it as a metronome.

Local Valley returns to pastoral quietude in its final moments, with the tranquil “Honey Honey” essentially serving as a duet between González and more chirping birds. It’s a lovely little sendoff, even if the main emotion it provokes is a desire to visit the Swedish countryside. For González, I imagine, it sounds like home.

Source: Pitchfork

Lil Nas X - Montero

Local Valley

by Jose Gonzalez

Released 17 September 2021

Imperial Recordings

****-

Lil Nas X’s debut album Montero arrives accompanied by not one, but two huge advertising tie-ins. In the first commercial, he shills Taco Bell’s Toasted Breakfast Burritos in a pink pompadour wig. Then there’s a series of adverts for Uber Eats, in which his comic foil is Elton John, one of Montero’s guest stars, albeit a low-key one, contributing piano.

They’re the kind of big-money gigs you only get if you’re in pop’s upper echelons, which Lil Nas X undoubtedly is. Since he bought a beat online for $30 and turned it into Old Town Road – which became the longest-running No 1 single in US history, sold 18.5m copies and provoked a debate about genre boundaries and country music’s attitude to race – the 22-year-old has been a constant presence at the top of the charts: five more platinum singles, and so many awards and nominations they require their own Wikipedia page.

He’s become such a familiar presence that it’s easy to forget what an extraordinary phenomenon he is. It’s not just that one of the biggest rappers in the world is an out gay man – an enlightened attitude to homosexuality has never ranked high on hip-hop’s list of virtues – but that he’s an out gay man who places his sexuality front and centre in his music. His last single, Industry Baby, came with a video set in a prison in which Lil Nas X leads a troupe of naked men in a dance routine in the showers. Its lyrics add being gay to the list of Things Rappers Brag About amid the usual stuff about racks and plaques and suggestions that rivals should bring their soldiers: “I’m a pop nigga like Bieber,” he swaggers, “I don’t fuck bitches – I’m queer”. Should you require confirmation of the climate he’s saying things like that in, Industry Baby was produced by Kanye West, whose current album features a collaboration with the openly homophobic DaBaby.

A cynic would say that Lil Nas X has been a beneficiary of the ongoing culture war; that liberal voices would feel duty-bound to praise his work to the skies. What Montero proves is that he requires absolutely no special pleading. It hits an impressively eclectic sweet spot between hip-hop and pop, leaping confidently from trap beats and martial horns to grinding, distorted hard rock; from music that recalls early 00s R&B to stadium ballads.

The genre-hopping is unified by melodies. Song for song, Montero has more hooks – and stickier ones – than any other big rap album thus far released in 2021: the indelible chorus of That’s What I Want, the luminous tune at odds with Tales of Dominica’s disconsolate lyrics;

Dead Right Now, which is rich and luscious enough to get listeners checking the credits to see what 70s soul track it samples, only to discover it’s original.

It seems appropriate that the aforementioned Taco Bell ad shows him performing That’s What I Want accompanied by a band staffed by multiple versions of himself in a nod to the video for Outkast’s Hey Ya! – not just because That’s What I Want’s breezy rhythm and acoustic guitar riff is audibly influenced by it but because Lil Nas X himself recalls Outkast’s André 3000, both in his ballsy approach to matters sartorial and in his disinclination to be artistically hemmed in. “Just stick to what you’re good at,” he advises a rival, witheringly, “I suggest you make another one like that”. Frankly, it would be a fantastic album whether or not it featured Lil Nas X snapping “I ain’t talking guns when I ask where your dick at” on Scoop, or opened with a track berating a publicly straight man he’s been shagging on the quiet.
There is a real confidence about its variety – presumably bolstered both by his success to date and the fact that he can sing as well as he can rap – and a confidence, too, about its structure. It’s front-loaded with tracks that strut and boast, before the emotional temperature suddenly plummets. Out go the crowing and the guest appearances from Megan Thee Stallion, in come more bleakly affecting songs. These are about depression, loneliness – Void appears to be addressed to Lil Nas X’s stylist Hodo Musa, and appears to suggest theirs is the closest relationship in his life – and his grim adolescence, marked by parental abuse and struggles with his sexuality, and enlivened only by his life online, “stanning Nicki morning into dawn”.

You expect the album to collect itself and end on an optimistic note, but it doesn’t. Instead, the closer is Am I Dreaming?, a troubled ballad featuring a wracked-sounding Miley Cyrus. “Never forget me and everything I’ve done,” he sings, as if he expects his current flush of success to be fleeting. On the evidence of Montero – an album from which you could excerpt pretty much any track and be rewarded with a hit – he needn’t worry. The advertisers look likely to be beating a path to his door for a long time yet.

Source: The Guardian (Alex Petridis)

Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine  - A Beginner's Mind

A Beginner's Mind

by Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine

Released 24 September 2021

Asthmatic Kitty Records

****-

"Shoshin" is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "a beginner's mind". It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject.

Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine brought the concept to bear on this collaborative work. Using cinema as a touchstone, and referencing films as diverse as The Wizard of Oz, Point Break and The Silence of the Lambs; the film-song interplay acts as a skeleton, but the record is really an exploration of how we cope in a broken world.

Opening cut "Reach Out" encourages us to use history to stand against the empty posturing of the 21st century: “I would rather be devoured than be broken”. Complemented by acoustic impulses and electronica flourishes, it is both defiant and lovely.

"Lady Macbeth in Chains" takes us into a joyful space, then onwards to the yellow-brick tambourine rush of "Back to Oz".

The celestial searching of "The Pillars of Soul" is codified in "You Give Death a Bad Name", with its discordant logic, eerie harmonies, sloping guitar and lushly realised drums.

Stevens and De Augustine’s voices chase each other to resolve a central conflict, asking us to see “lessons in metaphors” and to “drink from the holy ghost”.

The title song, with its affecting piano melody and sense that “life was just a new way to die”, brilliantly prefaces the lonely guitar of "Olympus", which again references Oz (“there’s no place like home”), identifying patterns, not only of our individual lives, but of civilizations.
The meditative piano of "Murder and Crime" foregrounds the philosophical question “where does everything go when everything’s gone?”, which in turn anchors the elegant (This is) The Thing, with its theme of loss of innocence – reaching back to Stevens’s devastating Fourth of July – and its stark and surprisingly comforting acknowledgment that we’re all going to die.

This record is about something just as fundamental, putting the flesh back on the skeleton. “Shall we all talk paternal?” we are asked. on the guitar-led "It’s Your Own Body and Mind".

"Lost in the World" is all cosmic nostalgia and the wry "Fictional California" makes surviving the fallacy of the American dream sound positively aspirational.

"Cimmerian Shade", with its hazy sonic wash and references to Greek mythology and autogynephilia, provides apposite allusions, harnessing the kaleidoscopic nature of this record.

These references are at once historic and modern, as on the folk-song-meets-wall-of-sound of the final track "Lacrimae", which takes its title from Latin (roughly translating to “tearful”).

In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote that “the world breaks every one”. This exceptional, empathic record reshapes that idea into a call to arms for the broken, and the devoured, so that a kind of purity might yet triumph over dissolution

Source: The Irish Times

Australian Art Orchestra, Peter Knight - Crossed and Recrossed

Crossed and Recrossed

by Australian Art Orchestra, Peter Knight

Released 25 September 2021

Australian Art Orchestra

****-

With an emphasis on improvisation, the AAO explores the meeting points between disciplines and cultures, and imagines new musical forms to reflect the energy and diversity of 21st century Australia. Led by trumpeter/composer Peter Knight, the AAO explores the interstices between the avant-garde and the traditional, between art and popular music, and between electronic and acoustic approaches.

Crossed & Recrossed presents two works composed by Peter Knight & inspired by mappings of imagined places by iconic Australian novelist, Gerald Murnane & Italian master, Italo Calvino.

Simultaneously celebrating & deconstructing the tropes of minimalism, Crossed & Recrossed creates a series of musical mirages that form on an endless sonic horizon, reflecting & reimagining the wide open spaces described in Murnane’s iconic novel, The Plains & the labyrinthine streets of Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

“Peter Knight’s work sets up a post-minimal logic that refracts & disintegrates as we listen. The instrumentation of the chamber jazz orchestra is expanded with the unexpected additions of turntables, a reel-to-reel tape machine & live laptop signal processing. The sounds of acoustic instruments & voices are interwoven with field recordings cut onto vinyl & are filtered & augmented as Knight plays with our perceptions of what we hear & what we imagine we have heard. Time folds into itself in a very Calvino-esque manner, leaving us with the trace residue of moments half remembered.”

The Plains:
Premiered National Forum of Music, Wroclaw Poland
Jazztopad Festival 2018
Finalist ‘Performance of the Year’ APRA/AMC Art Music Awards 2020 for performance at Berlin Jazz Festival 2019

Diomira:
Premiered at Metropolis New Music Festival 2016,
Melbourne Recital Centre
Winner Albert H Maggs Composition Prize 2017
Finalist ‘Work of the Year’ APRA/AMC Art Music Awards 2017

Source: Bandcamp

Gurrumul - The Gurrumul Story

The Gurrumul Story

by Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu

Released 10 September 2021

Decca

****-

For those unfamiliar with the late Indigenous Australian artist, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island, off the coast of North East Arnhem land in Australia's Northern Territory in 1971. A member of the Gumatj clan, a speaker of the indigenous Yolŋu languages, and blind from birth, he incorporated much of his heritage into his music, singing in multiple Yolŋu languages as well as English.

Yunupingu released four studio albums on Skinnyfish Music, all of which won ARIA Music Awards.

Yunupingu died in 2017 at the age of 46, following health issues with his liver and kidneys. He was posthumously signed to Decca Australia in November 2020

“The Gurrumul Story” is the first ever anthology of the artist's  most enduring and popular songs.and the first release on the new label.

The collection contains alternate versions of two of Gurrumul’s most popular tracks. ‘Wiyathul (Longing For Place)’ is a brand new, orchestrally-augmented version of ‘Wiyathul’ – the song that thrust Gurrumul into the limelight back in 2008.

Also included on the album is a rare duet version of the song ‘Bayini’, from Gurrumul’s sophomore album Rrakala, featuring a touching contribution by Australian singer/songwriter Sarah Blasko.

While it does not break new ground, the album is a perfect introduction to his legacy.

Source: Wikipedia and Readings

Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo - El Arte Del Bolero

El Arte Del Bolero 

by Miguel Zenon & Luis Perdomo

Released 8 January 2021

Age 101

*****

Miguel Zenon is a saxophonist, composer and educator born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and living in NYC. He is a multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow.

Luis Perdomo is an American jazz pianist and composer,  born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved to NYC for his Music Degree. He is a long standing membee of Miguel Zenon's and Ravi Coltrane's quartets, sought after sideman and has released nine CD's as band leader.

For the album's Bandcamp entry, Zenon writes:

As an instrumentalist, I spend a lot of my time working on making the saxophone an extension of my creative process. This process is always filtered through interpretation and expressiveness, and more often than not I find myself looking up to some of my favorite singers (people like Ismael Rivera, Cheo Feliciano and Andy Montañez) as sources of inspiration. In their individual voices I can hear a reflection of their unique personalities, all manifested at the highest level through their interpretation of songs. These melodies become vehicles for their creativity—a canvas on which they’ll portray their feelings and states of mind.
But these are not just any songs. These are songs they have heard hundreds of times, familiar pieces of music they know very well, and that is sort of the way I feel about the repertoire on this album. We chose compositions from the Bolero era that we could just play right away, without giving it a second thought: songs from the times of our parents and grandparents that somehow stuck around long enough for us to get to know them and truly love them. They are all as essential to our development as the music of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk, but perhaps even more familiar. When we play these songs, we can hear the lyrics in the back of our minds—something that provides a very deep connection, one that is hard to replicate in any other situation. It really is almost beyond familiar. These songs are part of us.
We recorded this music as a live show, all in one take, without much preparation other than discussing tonalities and some basic elements on form. We were more than pleasantly surprised with the results and decided that they deserved to be shared. There is nothing like making music with someone else, finding a common language we can grab onto and then just going and exploring that together. We hope this comes across here, and that you enjoy the music.

This is delightful, melodic music from an extraordinarily gifted group of musicians at their peak, payonh homage to the bolero form, their musical predecessors and their heritage..

Sources: Wikipedia and Bandcamp

Saint Etienne - I've Been Trying To Tell You

I've Been Trying To Tell You

by Saint Etienne

Released 24 September 2021

Saint Etiamme / PIAS

****-

From the beginning of their long career, Saint Etienne have excelled at bringing together nostalgia and futurism in one stylish package that has always felt fresh, no matter how many old parts were salvaged in the creation process. Along the way, many of their most memorable moments have come about on the dancefloor, whether a glittering new wave disco or a past-its-prime Northern Soul discotheque. Looking past the shiny surfaces, it was always clear that the trio have just as much skill at crafting heartbreakingly pretty ballads that could be as epic as "Avenue", elegiac as "Teenage Winter", or painful as "Hobart Paving." After a couple of records in the 2010s that were bright and shiny examples of disco-driven pop at its best, the band have shifted gears dramatically to delve exclusively into their sadder, softer side. 2021's I've Been Trying to Tell You is a concept album that looks to extract the optimistic sound of late '90s mainstream pop and twist it into a suite of songs that feel like the half-remembered afterimages of a dream. Built around samples of artists like Tasmin Archer, Lighthouse Family, Lightning Seeds, and Honeyz, to name a few, the band snatch little bits of acoustic guitar, strings, and keyboards, add their own instrumentation, then drape snatches of vocals over the top. The end results aren't songs as much as they are moods, or dub-like versions of songs that never existed. The circular melodies spin around like a record on a turntable, the keyboards drift and swell like ships lost at sea, and Sarah Cracknell sings like she's making up bits of songs to be sung only to herself. It's mesmerizing and peaceful, uplifting and heartbreaking all at once, especially when the revolving sounds resolve into something resembling a chorus, as on "Penlop" when all the elements of the song come together, and the melody breaks through like the sun on a cloud-filled afternoon. "Pond House," too, comes alive when the Natalie Imbruglia vocal sample shifts into a wonky synth bass breakdown, then slides back into a hazy swoon that plays on and on. There are moments like this throughout the album as the band mixes sounds like mod scientists to come up with something magical. While early albums sought a similar sample-based path that often deviated into eddies of calm despair, the band have never dived in as deeply as they do on I've Been Trying to Tell You. Fans of the group more interested in songs might feel short-changed at first, but further listens only intensify the cohesive power and pocket grandeur of the record. It's rare for a band to have a new idea after being together for five years, let alone thirty. That Saint Etienne not only had a brilliant idea but also made it come to life so fully and so beautifully is nothing short of miraculous.
Source: AllMusic

Brandee Younger - Somewhat Different

Somewhere Different

by Brandee Younger

Released 7 June 2021

Verve

****-

Brandee Younger is a performer, composer and educator. She leads her own ensemble and has worked with such musicians as Pharaoh Sanders, Lauryn Hill, John Legend, and Common. Somewhere Different was recorded in New York City and at the legendary Van Gelder Studios. The record evokes nostalgic Black soul, informed by pioneering harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby as well as '90s R&B groups like SWV and Xscape. The album features appearances by legendary bassist Ron Carter, and Tarriona "Tank" Ball.

The album covers an impressively wide range of genres and sounds from classical to hip-hop to jazz, all whilst placing her beautiful instrument in various roles; both through collaborating with other soloists and taking centre stage.

Somewhere Different aims to capture the transition of darkness to light during the Winter months of the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout these dreamy sound worlds, however, the music remains grounded and Younger’s artistic voice never fails to shine through.

What binds all eight tracks together is their ability to transport you to a different realm for a short while. Whether that’s lying in a park on a sunny day or letting sound wash over you in a dimly lit jazz club, Brandee Younger and her music can effortlessly recreate any atmosphere. Each of these extensive tracks are cleverly titled and artistically executed, with a clear degree of care and thought going into the finer details and overall sound world.

Sources: Darkside Records and Vinyl Chapters

Arlo Parks - Collapsed On Sunbeams

Collapsed In Sunbeams

by Arlo Parks

Released 29 January  2021

Transgressive Records

****-

I'm re-posting links to Arlo Park's exceptional January 2021 debut album "Collapsed In Sunbeams" and The Guardian's review, to mark her Mercury Prize win this month.  

"She may be saddled with being the Voice of a Generation, but the London singer-songwriter’s warm, conversational and observant debut justifies the hype.

Lyrics are clearly Parks’ thing – so much so that she opens the album with a burst of spoken-word poetry. But as you listen, you realise she could be singing almost anything, and Collapsed in Sunbeams would still work. She has a lovely voice: airy, natural and unshowy, with a London-accented conversational tone that occasionally recalls a less flippant Lily Allen. Her writing with collaborator Gianluca Buccellati has an unhurried melodic fluency – Green Eyes and Eugene drift charmingly along – and they’ve hit on a sound that works: commercial without submitting to current pop cliches or blandness. There are crisp, looped breakbeats and subtle shadings of vintage soul, as when an organ rises gently into the mix on Too Good. Reverb-heavy electric guitar ranges from funk riffs to icy, Radiohead-esque figures to the heaving shoegazey textures of Caroline and crackly samples that betray her love of Portishead’s Dummy. Stripped of its vocals, the bass-heavy For Violet might have slotted neatly on to Mo’ Wax’s mid-90s trip-hop compilation Headz.
The lyrics, meanwhile, tackle distinctly 21st-century anxieties. An lot of pop in recent years has attempted to deal with body image, mental-health issues or problems with sexual identity; so much so that you don’t have to be a terrible cynic to make out the sound of boxes being ticked. That isn’t the case here: Parks writes with a diaristic tone that suggests lived experience rather than a self-conscious desire to tackle the burning issues of the day. Collapsed in Sunbeams feels like a warm breeze in the depths of a miserable winter."

Source: Alex Pedris, The Guardian

Jazzmeia Horn - Dear Love

Dear Love

by Jazzmeia Horn and her Noble Force

Released 10 September 2021

Empress Legacy Records

****-

Singer Jazzmeia Horn wraps herself in richly textured big band arrangements on her third studio album, 2021's vibrant Dear Love.

The album, which follows her Grammy-nominated 2017 album, Love and Liberation, finds her joined by her 15-member big band, Noble Force, featuring pianist Keith Brown, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Anwar Marshall, alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, trombonist Corey Wilcox, tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis, and others.

Horn is a dynamically gifted performer with a commanding, authentically soulful style that evokes the in-the-flesh artistry of singers like Betty Carter and Dee Dee Bridgewater. One second she's sinking into a dusky vocal melody with ease, the next she's soaring to the sky with an elongated, shimmering falsetto as on her dazzling rendition of the standard "He's My Guy." She also offers several of her own adept original compositions here, including the languid "Let Us (Take Our Time)" and the forceful, Afro-Cuban influenced "Strive (To Be)." That latter track also details Horn's holistic, socially conscious world view, as she takes on such heady issues as climate change, mass incarceration, and the need for people to free themselves from standard ways of being in the world. Other transformative moments, artistic and otherwise, pop up throughout Dear Love. She mutates the Beatles' "Money Can't Buy Me Love" into a swooning, orchestral R&B ballad and includes several vocal interludes featuring her multi-tracked vocal harmonies that spotlight her immense control as both a singer and arranger. In fact, Horn arranged all of the music on Dear Love, framing herself in organic, harmonically engaging horn parts that bring to mind the work of trumpeter Thad Jones in the '60s and '70s.

More than just a transcendent jazz vocal album, Dear Love is a masterful amalgam of Horn's all-encompassing artistry.


Source: AllMusic

Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge Run The World TV Series Soundtrack 2021

Run The World (TV Series Soundtrack)

by Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge

Released 7 June 2021

Lions Gate Entertainment

****-

Run the World is an American comedy television series set in Harlem, NYC, that centres on a group of Black women – vibrant, fiercely loyal best friends – who work, live and play in Harlem as they strive for world domination.

Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist with a knack for mellow, harmonically complex compositions that also reveal a subtle hip-hop influence. Since debuting as a leader during the mid-2000s, the Houston native has been crucial to the enduring relevance of Blue Note Records, blurring genres and regularly topping Billboard's Jazz Albums chart with highly collaborative recordings such as the Grammy-winning Black Radio (2011) and Black Radio 2 (2013), as well as ArtScience (2016), all credited to the Robert Glasper Experiment. In addition, Glasper has guided projects such as the soundtrack for Miles Ahead (another Grammy winner) and R+R=Now's Collagically Speaking and contributed to dozens of other albums, most notably Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. The mixtape Fuck Yo Feelings (2019) best exemplifies Glasper's obstinate resistance to expectations and devotion to spontaneous interplay.

Derrick Hodge is a celebrated composer, producer and bassist, equally adept on both electric and upright instruments. While he is perhaps best-known as a member of the Robert Glasper Experiment, he is an accomplished session musician who has worked extensively across the jazz, cinematic, and R&B genres.

For the Run The World project, the dynamic duo opts for a contemplative jazz approach on most of the songs – the kind you might use as a backdrop for a wine down with friends or get lost-in-thought during solitary moments. But the soundtrack retains their signature compositional flair, always subly engaging and offering more than just a sentimental mood.

Alex Isley, the daughter of the Isley Brothers' Ernie Isley and Amber Navran mesmerize our ears with their ethereal vocals on "Main Theme"  and "Dreaming" while "What Did You Mean," "I'm Sorry" and "Mine In Time" feature searing vocals from Kenneth Whalum, delivering slow-burning heat.

The soundscape shifts even further on chillwave grooves like "Face The Facts" featuring Lightchild (aka Mitsuko Alexandra Yabe, an American/Japanese musician, composer and music editor), while tunes like "Fucking Up" and "Afrobeat Renaissance" offer rhythmic bursts of vibrancy that are downright infectious.

Sources: AllMusic, and SoulBounce

Amaro Freitas - Sankofa

Sankofa

by Amaro Freitas

Released 25 June 2021

Far Out Recordings

****-

From the slums of Recife in Brazil’s North-East to international jazz icon, Amaro Freitas has worked tirelessly to become the artist he is today. Gaining international attention for “an approach to the keyboard so unique that it’s startling” (Downbeat), his debut and sophomore albums Sangue Negro (2016) and Rasif (2018) arrived on a wave of instant acclaim.

His new album Sankofa - a spiritual quest into the forgotten stories, ancient philosophies and inspirational figures of Black Brazil - is his most stunning and sincere work to date.

But for Amaro Freitas, work isn’t just playing the piano, his art delves far deeper than music theory and practice. Explaining the impetus behind Sankofa, Amaro elucidates the imperative behind his music:“I worked to try to understand my ancestors, my place, my history, as a black man. Brazil didn’t tell us the truth about Brazil. The history of black people before slavery is rich with ancient philosophies. By understanding the history and the strength of our people, one can start to understand where our desires, dreams and wishes come from.”

Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol depicting a backward-facing bird. After stumbling upon the symbol on a robe at an African fair in Harlem, New York - perhaps auspicious considering it’s the home of some of the great jazz pianists like Monk and Tatum, it sparked a curiosity in Amaro. He soon came to understand what it represents, and it became the foundational concept for his new album: “The symbol of the mystical bird, which flies with its head back, teaches us the possibility of going back to our roots, in order to realize our potential to move forward. With this album I want to bring a memory of who we are and pay homage to neighborhoods, names, characters, places, words and symbols that come from our ancestors. I want to celebrate where we come from.”

With the help of Jean Elton (bass) and Hugo Medeiros (drums), who have formed the Amaro Freitas Trio since the very beginning, Amaro employs intricate rhythmic patterns and time-signature variations as if reimagining the ancient designs of his ancestors, and every track is imbued with a message or a story Amaro is compelled to tell.

Source: Bandcamp

Theo Croker - BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST

BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST

by Theo Croker

Released 24 September 2021

Star People Nation

****-

The ongoing astral connections between the fragmentary lineages of neo-soul and the experimental fringes of jazz has resulted in some of the 21st century’s most breathtaking projects. Theo Croker should know – he’s played on some of them, and composed several more. An anomaly within the major label system, he’s managed to earned mainstream success and Grammy recognition while still playing music that is recognisably Out – both pan-genre and genre-less, it’s very much within the spirit of American improvisatory arts, while pursuing personal ends.

‘BLK2LIFE // A FUTURE PAST’ could be his finest moment yet. It’s certainly the most overtly soulful, plugging Theo Croker’s work into R&B circuitry laid out by guests such as the divine Ari Lennox, the magnificent Charlotte Dos Santos, and a magical turn from Malaya. Envisaged as a complete work of art, there’s a rare unity on display with this album – from the introductory passages on ‘4KNOWLEDGE’ to the closing ‘Pathways’ its never less than riveting.

The highs are almost too many to mention. The stunning ‘Soul Call // Vibrate’ is technically gifted, but imbued with deep emotional resonance; the glinting synths on ‘Imperishable Star’ underpin some wonderfully breathy passages from Theo Croker himself, his instantly recognisable trumpet notes becoming one of the album’s foremost creative weapons. - Yet often it’s the most subtle elements while linger longest in the imagination. The fingersnaps on ‘Every Part Of Me’ offset a truly exquisite vocal from Ari Lennox, while the deep, cavernous arrangement on ‘No More Maybe’ is soul presented in an afro-futurist setting.

‘Hero Stomp / A Future Past’ seems to thrive on the distance between tradition and possibility, resulting in one of the project’s more thrillingly abstract moments; ‘Lucid Dream’ however is a rolling, punchy, jazz-leaning piece of neo-soul that puts Clash in mind of the approaches used by inter-planetary cousins Children Of Zeus.

A riveting, fascinating experience, ‘BLK2LIFE // A FUTURE PAST’ is a gorgeous listen, one peppered with unexpected sonic detail. Theo Croker’s aural paintings have rarely been so developed, and so defined; jazz meets soul, future meets past, it’s a record that seems to conjure possibilities at every turn. A vital experience.

Source: Clashmusic

Pat Metheny - Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)

Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)

by Pat Metheny

Released 10 September 2021

Metheny Group Productions

****-

Playing and working with artists as different as Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie takes a fluid musical mind and a technique to match. Pat Metheny, the 67-year-old Missouri-born guitarist and composer, unveiled both back in 1976.

Metheny has long entertained a mainstream audience and often surprised an experimental one, written contemporary classical and movie music, lyrical songs sounding unjazzily like singles, and welcomed the provocations of gifted players much younger than him. From the latter impulse comes Side-Eye – a headlong reinvention of the popular 1960s Hammond organ/guitar/drums trio lineups pioneered by funky organists including Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, on a repertoire of new Metheny music and old hits.
The album launches a 100-date world tour (the UK leg is at the Hammersmith Apollo on 12 June 2022). This is a 2019 live New York recording, juggling Metheny’s signature country-lilting lyricism, boppish swing, and some rousing rock-guitar muscle.

On keys is the astonishing 26-year-old Houston-born jazz/R&B/hip-hop virtuoso James Francies (whose own album "Purest Form" is included in this months listing and whose employers have ranged from saxophonist Chris Potter to Questlove), with the astutely powerful Marcus Gilmore on drums.

Two extended new compositions lay jangling, running-feet electronics under typically sensuous ballad motifs, or trumpet-like synth-guitar arias, bookending Metheny classics such as the dreamy Better Days Ahead (from 1989’s Letter from Home), a stunning Francies organ break of skid-turns, swirls and squeals on the percussively bluesy Timeline, and a shapely makeover of the leader’s 1976 debut tune Bright Size Life. But the most freely spontaneous playing boils up on Ornette Coleman’s irresistibly grooving Turnaround, to the rapturous roars of the New York crowd.


Source: The Guardian (John Fordham)

Fire! - Defeat

Defeat

by Fire!

Released 25 February 2021

Rune Grammofon

****-

Fire! has emerged as prolific Swedish hornsman Mats Gustafsson's key power trio – and an equally fertile vehicle for experimentation.

Since their debut in 2009, Fire! have collaborated with unlikely fellow travellers including Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, and have formed the bedrock of the improbably swollen Fire! Orchestra.

On their seventh album – the first since 2018's The Hands – the core trio is joined by two guest brass players – trumpeter Goran Kajfes and trombonist Mats Aleklint – for a neat, streamlined set of jams that feels like a surprisingly mellow return to basic principles. Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin lay down simple, deep grooves over which the horns do their thing, coming together to enunciate warm, laidback charts that almost have the feel of a good natured New Orleans band strolling down the street. Gustafsson is clearly having fun, whether blurting and honking on baritone sax or stirring up wasps' nests of raw electronics. On a few tracks, he turns his omnivorous attention to flute – a relatively recent addition to his arsenal – bringing forth yelping breaths, yowling Roland Kirk vocalisations, and haunting shakuhachi-style calls. It's a very welcome return from a reliably heavy ensemble.


Source: Jazzwise

Hannah Peel - Fir Wave

Fir Wave

by Hannah Peel

Released 26 March 2021

My Own Pleasure

****-

The ability of electronic music to paint pictures and stir emotions has often been questioned, but the lockdown conditions of the past year have given artists ample opportunity to quash those reservations from their bedrooms and home studios. It was in the latter environment that Hannah Peel wrote her new album Fir Wave, approaching it from the position of a composer with a great deal of experience in both analogue and electronic means. For this is a piece of work that has no confines, existing way beyond the four walls where it was written.

While sourcing her original material for Fir Wave, Hannah turned to the library music label KPM. They gave her permission to reinterpret music from their 1972 anthology of the music of Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop, a rare privilege - giving an idea of the esteem in which Peel is held these days. She got to work re-sampling and generating new digital instruments from the sounds, feeding the results directly into Fir Wave. She brought in TJ Allen (Mixer, Recording Engineer and Producer based in Bristol, UK whose clients include Bat For Lashes, Portishead, Laura Groves and Anna Calvi) to work on the beat-based tracks Emergence In Nature and Ecovocative.

As these track titles imply, Fir Wave is an exploration of large-scale natural patterns and cycles, translating them into musical forms – a kind of extended set of symphonic poems for electronics. An immediate and lasting connection is formed with the Earth for the listener, making a release date of early Spring the ideal timing.

 

The album is structured with a natural ebb and flow that begins with the scene-setting of Wind Shadow, the ‘ahs’ of the implied vocal blossoming seamlessly into the beat-based workout of Emergence In Nature, an energising portrait of spring awakening. The beatific sounds of the following Patterned Formation are surely the rich blooms resulting from that process.

By contrast, the title track – representing a cycle within fir trees on mountainsides that takes place over hundreds of years – moves through several phases, the first of which somehow portrays the branches shedding snow. It culminates in a stately loop with gorgeous shading. Carbon Cycle is another slower moving beauty, where we get to fully appreciate the analogue-sourced colours of Derbyshire, who would surely have revelled in this music. When the beats return, as they do with Ecovocative, Peel has the riffs to match them.

The album functions on the one hand as a tribute to the electronic music pioneer, and on the other as a piece of music with primal connections that become ever stronger with repeated listening. A lasting admiration for Peel’s ear with colour and tone sets in, crafted as it is by an experienced and expert orchestrator. For the keyboard here really is a self-enclosed orchestra, and TJ Allen’s work in the percussion section sets it off perfectly.

To use an oft-heard cliché, Fir Wave is a life-affirming album – in the broadest possible sense. It celebrates natural phenomena that exist beyond our own life spans, to be present (we hope) long after we have departed. In that case it is an immensely reassuring piece of work, a reminder of how small we are in the bigger picture, and to fold the work of Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop into the illustration is a stroke of genius. Now, who said synthesizers don’t have feeling?


Source: MusicOMH

James Francies - Purest Form

Purest Form

by James Francies

Released 21 May 2021

Blue Note Recordings

****-

The Houston-born, New York-based pianist/composer James Francies has been earning critical acclaim not only backing the saxophonist Chris Potter in his Circuits Trio, the drummer Jaimeo Brown and the vibraphonist Stefon Harris but also conceptualizing his own project where he cuts deep on forward-thinking jazz and groove, meaningful message and a plethora of musical genres. The follow up to his debut full-length album Flight (Blue Note, 2018) is Purest Form, an eclectic set of compositions with many interesting paths to cross among a flux of style that feels both very tight and very loose, thoughtful and adventurous. Similarly to his previous outing, Francies summoned the groove-adept rhythm section of bassist Burniss Travis II and drummer Jeremy Dutton to shape most of his compositions. Yet, on good time, he enjoys the presences of guest artists such as vibraphonist Joel Ross, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and guitarist Mike Moreno, as well as several vocalists.

The nearly 2-minute opener, “Adoration”, sets the tone, featuring a poem written and narrated in Spanish by James’ wife, Brenda Francies, over slightly distorted soundscapes and religious chants. But it’s on the kinetic “Levitate” that the trio blooms in full force, pointing to rhythmic digressions and keen harmonic movements where a wide-ranging piano solo and laser-focused keyboard beams erupt.

Immersed in celestial poise and joyful emotion, “Transfiguration” is propelled by an exuberant trap beat and boosted by Wilkins’ burnished solo. The alto saxophonist excels on the irresistible odd-metered rendition of the standard “My Favorite Things”, here dressed in new clothes and including conversational lines bouncing back and forth between Francies and Ross. A transitional 4/4 vamp accommodating a sax-vibraphone ostinato leads to a danceable final section during which Moreno’s guitar is in the lead, adding colorful dimension.

“Where We Stand” is another highlight, showcasing the rhythmic virtuosity of Dutton who engages in skittering beat fluxes and colorful cymbal splashes. The improvisations are by Ross, who applies his cultivated technique in the interest of the tune’s spirit, and Francies, whose soloing capabilities comes to the fore.

The vocal tracks are diverse, with “Eyes Wide Shut” being my absolute favorite as it exposes a heavier texture when compared with other numbers. The riffing, rock-solid backing of the quartet (with Moreno on board) handles well the mix of poignancy and energy delivered by the alternative R&B singer Bilal. Eclecticism reigns, and if “Blown Away” chills you out via Peyton’s voice and a mellow boom trap beat, then the drum-less “Rose Water”, co-written with and featuring the contemporary vocalist Elliott Skinner, drives us into the pop music universe.

Francies is a force to be reckoned with, and if you seek other influences in jazz, this might be a project to invest your time in.


Source: Jazztrail

Jan Lundgren, Lars Danielsson, Emile Parisien - Into The Night

Into The Night

by Jan Lundgren, Lars Danielsson, Emile Parisien

Released 17 September 2020

ACT Music

****-

The trio format has always been something of an ideal for Jan Lundgren. That particular buzz when communication between the musicians in a trio is direct, immediate and ever-present...when the trio keeps a constant sense of forward motion and development...when the players collectively remain open to the inspiration of every millisecond. These are the virtues which Lundgren sees as the recipe for the kind of openness, freedom, subtlety and excellence of a trio at its best.

Lundgren has had a trio in the classic piano/bass/drums format ever since 1995. In addition, since 2007, he has also broken the mould with the Mare Nostrum project, a congenial alliance with Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and French accordionist Richard Galliano. Critics hailed it at the time as the "first European supergroup". And Mare Nostrum has brought him even closer to his ideal. But, there again, Jan Lundgren is nothing if not driven and determined, and is probably at his most fulfilled when setting himself new challenges... "I have always been on the look-out for strong voices in the European jazz scene, musicians who have a similar sense of adventure to mine and who can move in any direction," explains the 55-year-old. And he also happens to have a good platform to make that happen, in the form of the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival. Lundgren founded the festival in 2010 and has been Director of it ever since. The "Ystad Concert '' from 2015 with bassist Mattias Svensson and the Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet, a tribute to the Swedish jazz pioneer Jan Johansson, is a case in point. As Lundgren expresses it: "There's always something new waiting for me in Ystad, something I've never tried before..."


Source: Rough Trade

Nikolaj Hess - Spacelab & Strings

Spacelab & Strings

by Nikolaj Hess

Released 18 June 2020

Subnnyside Records, New York

****-
Pianist/composer Nikolaj Hess has found much to say utilizing the piano trio and the string quartet over his career. Recently, it was his idea to interweave a string quartet together with a piano trio to create a septet, thus multiplying the colors and dynamism of sound that can be produced.
Hess grew up in the musically rich environment of the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, an area well known for its rich musical legacy and a regular destination for touring jazz musicians visiting Denmark. His study of piano and violin gave him a wide exposure to classical and jazz music and Hess eventually settled on piano as his main expressive voice. However, he continued to love the sound of the violin, even going as far as trying to emulate the violin’s sound on the piano.
While growing up, Hess developed long standing musical relationships with bassist Anders Christensen and his brother, drummer Mikkel Hess. The regular partnership led to a trio that switched leadership depending on projects but has ultimately come to be known as Spacelab. The ensemble’s time-honed rapport makes it an ideal amplifier of Hess’s folk-inspired, Scandinavian-tempered music.
Nikolaj Hess has found a way to capture a very particular Scandinavian identity on his compositions that walk the line between classical and jazz repertory. The cinematic breadth of his musical talents can be heard on Spacelab + Strings, a wonderful meeting between musical entities of tremendous expressive capabilities. 


Source: Bandcamp

Rodrigo Amarante - Drama

Drama

by Rodrigo Amarante

Released 18 March 2021

Polyvinyl Records

****-

When the LA-based Brazilian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Rodrigo Amarante, delivered his first solo album Cavalo in 2014, it announced a new and genuinely original talent. Amarante had been a part of the rock group Los Hermanos, the samba big band, Orquestra Imperial, and the American trio Little Joy, but Cavalo made a more international audience really sit up and take notice. An NPR Music review pinpointed its impact in noting how “every instrument breathes and every sound blends, yet every moment is distinct”.

If anyone missed the album, Amarante’s theme tune ‘Tuyo’ for the following year’s Netflix series, Narcos, would underline this former journalist’s ability to write a memorable song.

Drama, his sophomore release, is packed with memorable melodic songs. It’s an apt title, since together, these 11 bittersweet numbers could serve as the soundtrack for something as exquisitely melancholic as, say, Hector Babenco’s Kiss Of The Spider Woman. As a fitting prelude, the opening title track’s strings, and disembodied sounds of audience appreciation, underline such theatrical associations. The melodies that follow are so catchy and deceptively simple that you could categorise Amarante’s songs as pop music of the highest class. But they are more than this: it’s enough to listen to the second track, the single “Maré”. On the face of it, an upbeat singalong song for pop-pickers everywhere, it’s actually based on the Spanish proverb that the tide will fetch what the ebb brings. “Things that arrive in your hand by destiny,” Amarante explains, “they are just as easily swept away.”
Roughly half of the songs are in Portuguese and half are in English, and he writes with equal fluency about the haphazard drama of existence. As he puts it, “Staring at the absurd while remaining kind, being open to the gifts of confusion, that’s why we create these tools that are stories and songs, to help us see each other.”

While “Maré” conjures up the best of Britpop from the 1980s – Orange Juice’s “Rip It Up”, say, or The La’s “There She Goes” – a darker side is always a mere scratch beneath the surface and Amarante’s song-writing sensibility seems (to these ears at least) similar to that double-edged songster’s, John Cale. There are faint shades of, say, “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy” in the delicious “Tango”, for example, with its jaunty beat and sweet “ooh-ahh” chorus. The following “Tara” reminds you that this current denizen of LA is still at heart a native of Brazil: the gentle bossa feel is underscored by the entrance of a tenor sax, evoking a certain cool American saxophonist on the classic Getz/Gilberto. Next up, “Tanto” marries the ever-inherent quality of saudade in Amarante’s affecting vocals with some mournful horns and delicate strings. Subtle shuffling bossa-like percussion gently pushes the gorgeous, understated “Um Milhão” towards an ethereal climax. And in “Eu Com Você”, the trusty cuíca makes an appearance on a song that amounts to one continuous melodic vamp. Two of the English-language songs, “I Can’t Wait” and “The End”, hark back to “Fall Asleep”, “Tardei” and similar world-weary numbers that stood out so strikingly on Cavalo: the former using a repetitive guitar motif and ponderous percussion to create an effect reminiscent of a slow-moving goods train; the latter employing a trademark piano sound, seemingly tuned to sound like a pianist playing after hours in an empty club, to hint at “The End” of Abbey Road.
Every song, in fact, hits the mark and none outstays its welcome. This is an album full of beautifully crafted songs, all beautifully sung, performed and produced. Drama is drop-dead gorgeous; my album of the year so far.


Source: SoundsAndColours

Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The News

The News

by Andrew Cyrille Quartet

Released 27 August 2021

ECM

****-

The new album from the quartet led by one of jazz’s innovators, drummer Andrew Cyrille, carries the story forward from the 2016 release "The Declaration of Musical Independence", a recording which Down Beat hailed as “an unabashed exploration into time, pulse space and atmosphere…ambitious yet simple, rich yet stripped-down, challenging yet infinitely satisfying.”

Guitarist Bill Frisell and double-bassist Ben Street remain from the Declaration line-up with David Virelles replacing Richard Tietelbaum in the piano role. Each of the players has space for improvisational expression – and Frisell and Virelles also contribute material -  but it is Cyrille’s communicative sensibility and what the New York Times called his “watchful, flowing pulse” that guides the band.

In his review of the album for The Guardian, critic John Fordham wrote "Cyrille’s hidden-hand presence is glimpsed in taps, ticks and quietly crisp cymbal grooves, hushed snare rolls and offbeat accents – and the whisper of brushes on a newspaper spread over the drumheads on the title track. Frisell’s delicious country-chiming Mountain has its chord melody and luminous harmonics slowly dissolved into Virelles’ darkening low tones. Leaving East of Jordan develops a walking groove and then a Spanish tinge after its slowly anthemic opening, and Go Happy Lucky (one of three very songlike Frisell tunes) is a dissonant blues. The brushes-on-paper title track turns from caustic free-improv pluckings to fluid trills and ambient hums, while With You in Mind – introduced by the leader’s sonorous spoken-word recitation – confirms this unusual band’s slow-burn lyricism. Quiet, this News may be – but it’s right up there among ECM Records’ entrancing understatements".

Considering the quality and depth of ECM's catalogue, what higher praise could a critic bestow?


Source: ECM

Nils Frahm - Graz

Graz (2009)

by Nils Frahm

Released 29 March 2021

Erased Tapes Records

****-

Piano Day 2021 saw Nils Frahm surprise the world with his Erased Tapes debut.

Wait, what? How?

Anyone who has seen the trail blazing sonic pioneer live will know Nils likes to deadpan a joke. Graz is in fact the first studio album he recorded for the label back in 2009, that somehow remained a secret... until now.

Nils Frahm has quietly changed the musical landscape, reincarnating the centuries old figure of a pianist-composer for a new generation of music fans.

As Nils’ word-of- mouth popularity grew and grew, so did the pop-culture profile of his instrument.

He founded Piano Day with a team of like-minded friends in 2015 to help that process, some years releasing an album of piano recordings to celebrate one of humankind’s greatest inventions.

Graz is one such record; an unheard snapshot of a young Nils recorded at Mumuth, the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, in 2009 as part of the thesis Conversations for Piano and Room produced by Thomas Geiger. Whilst at the time it was decided to keep the grand piano recordings from the Graz sessions locked away and instead focus on his close mic’ed, dampened piano explorations which would become his acclaimed studio album Felt in 2011, two of the pieces — most notably Hammers — lived on as part of his live set, and were expanded on and re-recorded as part of his breakthrough 2013 record Spaces (a collage of field recordings from concerts which broke the Fourth Wall and included audience coughs).

Over his mercurial career, Nils has pushed and pulled at the boundaries and parameters of his prolific work like that. He’s physically changed his piano (the softened prepared strings of Felt) played with a modified body (Screws recorded with 9 fingers and a broken thumb) played with scale (Solo recorded on the 3.7 metre high Klavins M370) and with the different layers of formats (last year’s Tripping with Nils Frahm nested his studio setup inside a live performance, concert film and live album). Now with Graz he has found the final frontier for play: time itself and his own discography.

Graz is a moment of time at the very beginning of Nils’ quiet revolution. The essential genius is already evident; the harmonic language of classical, and the immediacy of jazz. Nils seems to pull down each idea moment by moment, gently, to not scare away the muse.

 

He describes: “sometimes when you hear a piano, you might think it’s a conversation between a woman and a man. At the same time, it can hint at shapes of the universe and describe how a black hole looks. You can make sounds that have no relation to anything we can measure.”

A grand piano is a particular kind of beast to play, which will only sound refined and beautiful if you command a strong control over the keyboard. Each slight change in touch results in a different timbre, which will be rewarded when used wisely and will be your trapdoor when you fail to hold the horses. I remember how I had to squeeze the music out of the grand piano in the Graz sessions, and while I enjoy listening to it now, I kept these recordings secret for a good while – they sound like a much younger version of myself to me, and a lot of the musical expressions from that time would be impossible for me to replicate today. Close friends whom I had shared the record with reminded me of it once in a while, and some of the pieces got released in other versions on the album Spaces in the meantime. But somehow, any piece of music you create wants to get out there in order to find you, which is why I’m glad to share this beast with you and do hope you enjoy listening to it too! Love, Nils 


Source: Bandcamp

Devendra Banhart - Refuge

Refuge

by Devendra Banhart & Noah Georgeson

Released 7 June 2021

Friends Of / Dead Oceans

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"Refuge" is a peaceful, contemplative set of a dozen compositions that marks a majoor shift in musical focus for Banhrt, stepping away from his signature folky fare, and his frequernt collaborator Noah Georgeson.

Commenced in the northern Spring of 2020, he album is intennded as a haven from a suddenly terrified world and a heartfelt musical dialogue between two artists who have been friends and collaborators for over two decades. But its roots go back much further - all the way to the start of their friendship and, beyond that, to the shared sounds and ethics of their childhoods.

Devendra grew up in Venezuela while Noah, six years older, is a native of Nevada City, California. But as they got to know each other, they realised that they had a similar history in the New Age subculture of the 1980s: a world of meditation, Eastern music, the Bhagavad Gita and The Whole Earth Catalog. Childhood memories were coloured by the aromas of health food stores and the sound of New Age labels like Windham Hill Records. Noah, whose production and mixing credits include Joanna Newsom and the Strokes, came on board as co-producer of Devendra’s 2005 album Cripple Crow and they have been working together ever since.

It was while making Devendra’s 2019 album Ma that the pair finally decided to make their ambient record. Despite complicating logistics, 2020 created an emotional craving for music with this contemplative, therapeutic quality. Inspired by both memories of the past and the needs of the present, Refuge is an act of companionship and generosity which gives the listener room to breathe. “We’re hoping to create a sense of comfort and coming back to the moment,” Devendra says. “It’s really important to have a little bit of space between us and our anxieties and impulses. What you do with that space is up to you.”

The album straddles fanmiliar ambient musical territory: at times recalling "ambient" works by Brian Eno, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter at others straying into Buddhist devotional and even Spa music territory.

While none of that detracts from the achievenent of the artists' goals in making this record, it does distract from the simple enjoyment of an original work, without such associations.

Nevertheless, Refuge is likely to find a permanent place in the ambient collections of many music libraries.


Source: Devendrah Banhart/SecretylyStore