Reviews

JAMES BROWN (& The James Brown Band): 'Ain't It Funky' (Culture Factory)

Monday, 06 March 2017 15:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Here's a collectors' curio from the 'Godfather of Soul's' huge canon that is often overlooked and underappreciated even by his staunchest fans.  'Ain't It Funky' is a largely instrumental 7-track album that he released in 1970 for King Records which finds Mr Dynamite getting down to it at the keys of a Hammond B-3 organ. It recycles several of Brown's totemic funk tunes including 'Cold Sweat,' the song that became the singer's blueprint for his revolutionary funk manifesto in 1967.

The album's opener is a nine-minute version of another big US R&B hit, 'Ain't It Funky Now' (which made #3 in the US R&B charts in November 1969). It's leaner and meaner than the original 45 version, with Jimmy 'Chank' Nolen's  scything guitar over the one-chord vamp creating a nail-biting sense of tension. On top of this, Brown drops some bluesy organ licks. He's patently no Jimmy Smith but he plays mighty soulfully. 'Fat Wood' is a bluesy horn-led shuffle where the Godfather enjoys an extended solo feature on the organ, his Hammond fills counterpointed by blaring brass. The instrumental version of 'Cold Sweat' spotlights guitar as the lead instrument and also features some jabbing sax from the incomparable Maceo Parker. The funk gets even harder on the driving, 'Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose,' where Brown's voice is replaced by lead guitar. 'Nose Job' is a short brassy R&B groove  while 'Use Your Mother' is a frenetic funk workout. The album's horn-drenched closing cut is called 'After You Done It' but, in fact, it's an instrumental version of Marva Whitney's single, 'I Made A Mistake Because It's Only You.'

While this is not one of James Brown's most essential LPs, if you're a funk fanatic who came across 'Soul Brother Number One's' music via the hip-hop side of town, then the much-sampled 'Ain't It Funky' is well-worth adding to your collection, especially as it spotlights the well-oiled machine that was Brown's band.

This new edition from France's reissue specialist, Culture Factory, is the first time the album has appeared on CD outside of Japan and sonically is undoubtedly the best one yet - it's remastered in hi-definition audio at 96KHz/24-bit and comes in a sturdy mini-replica cardboard LP sleeve complete with a Japanese-style obi-strip. The title, by the way, isn't a question. It's a statement of fact. Good God!  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 06 March 2017 16:22

 

STONE FOUNDATION: Street Rituals (100% Records)

Sunday, 05 March 2017 19:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altStone Foundation are a UK soul band. Originally from the Midlands, their main men are self-confessed soul freaks Neil Sheasby and Neil Jones. Their debut set (with input from Carleen Anderson) dented the top 100 and though subsequent releases were a little less successful their fourth album 'A Life Unlimited' won them lots of friends and consolidated their position as a solid soul band with their own unique, contemporary sound that had its roots in classic soul. Indeed the album's lead single, the Nolan Porter-vocalised 'Beverley' won plenty of air play and found its way into many a top DJs play out box.

Stone Foundation's new long player, 'Street Rituals', is set for release at the end of this month and it starts where 'A Life Unlimited' left off. That's to say it's stuffed with Sheasby and Jones' particular take on soul and just to keep them on their toes self-confessed soul boy, Paul Weller is on hand to help with the production. It's no secret that one of Weller's soul heroes is a certain Curtis Mayfield and amongst the ten tracks that make up 'Street Rituals' there are plenty of musical and lyrical references to the "gentle genius".

Indeed the set opener, 'Back In The Game' is just about the most perfect Impressions tribute you're likely to hear. It's sweet and gentle and you'd be forgiven for thinking that Sam and Fred were cooing the harmonies and that Johnny Pate is up in the production booth. He isn't, of course, it's Mr Weller and for good measure he helps out on the vocals too. It's quite lovely. The other album highlight also features Paul Weller. It's another wistful Mayfield tribute, 'Your Balloon's Rising' and it rivals Weller's own 'Above The Clouds' as one of his very best.

Sadly singling out those two tracks doesn't do justice to the rest of the album. There's so much to enjoy here. Let's mention a few: 'Love Rediscovered' is chock-a-block of the optimism that the title hints at; 'The Colour Of...'rides a subtle jazz-funk undertow; 'Strange People' has a cameo vocal from William Bell over a Steely Dan-tinged backdrop; 'Season Of Change' is venomous and feisty, little wonder the band asked Bettye Lavette to front it; while the album's title cut (Weller helping out on vocals again) is another throwback to 60s Chicago.

Highlighting those tunes is not meant to disparage the remaining 3 cuts.... they all have plenty to offer. Like everything here, they're subtle pieces of work with lovely horn charts, sweet strings and provocative lyrics that speak of the times in which we live yet offer a degree of optimism. That sounds a lot like what dear old Curtis Mayfield did, doesn't it?

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 March 2017 20:01

 

DONALD BYRD: 'Love Has Come Around: The Elektra Records Anthology 1978-1982 (bbr)

Thursday, 02 March 2017 14:50 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

 

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The late Donald Byrd was one of the biggest selling jazz artists in the 1970s. He hit the jackpot with the landmark album, 'Black Byrd,' for Blue Note Records in 1973, which found the Detroit trumpet maven joining forces with producers/writers Larry and Fonce Mizell to mastermind a commercial type of pop-fusion that was littered with catchy hooks and found favour with the wider general public. In the eyes of the jazz purists, though, Byrd had cynically sold out for commercial gain and when he switched from Blue Note to Elektra in 1978 and started chasing the disco dollar, they were even more enraged. It's not hard to see why the jazz police saw Byrd's defection to funk and pop as a heinous crime - after all, he'd been one of bebop's brightest stars in the late 1950s and early '60s. He was a virtuoso trumpeter and gifted improviser who had made a string of classic LPs for Blue Note before being seduced by fusion at the dawn of the '70s. But if anything, Byrd - who was a feted academic as well as a musician - was an astute realist who saw that bop-based jazz was dying and tied his colours to the newly-emerging fusion mast. Purists cried 'treachery' but Byrd found a bigger audience for his musical endeavours as a result. And he produced some great music...but it wasn't really jazz, at least not how the mouldy old figs viewed it.

This superb new double CD anthology focuses on Byrd's most controversial period, when the trumpeter had renounced improv - the backbone of jazz - for fresh, funky, mirrorball grooves played by top session musicians (including Wah Wah Watson, Paul Jackson Jr, Greg Phillinganes and Ernie Watts). He cut four albums for Elektra - 'Thank You...For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life),'  'Donald Byrd And 125th Street N.Y.C.,'  'Love Byrd' and 'Words, Sound, Colors, And Shapes' - all of which provide the source material for this 31-track set. Byrd's biggest US R&B chart entry during this period was 'Love Has Come Around,'  which with its pumping four-on-the-floor groove, catchy horn motif and soulful vocals is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this set. It was produced by Isaac Hayes, who also was responsible for 'Sexy Dancer,' the compilation's vocoder-led, disco-fuelled, opener. Other notable dance floor material includes the romantic-themed 'Loving You,'  'I Love You,' and a funked-up version of Cole Porter's classic jazz standard, 'Love For Sale.'  If that upset the jazz purists, then so did Byrd's revamp of his own classic mid-'60s tune, 'Cristo Redentor,' which is featured on the set's ballad-heavy second CD. It gets a slick, mirrorball makeover complete with cooing female  backing vocals. Having said that, it's one of the few tracks (the lovely ballads, 'Marilyn,' and 'Everyday' are two other examples) where Byrd gets to demonstrate his jazz chops with some elegant trumpet lines. But jazz, for the main part, is conspicuous by its absence in these here grooves - but if you appreciate this music for what it is and not for what it isn't, then that shouldn't matter. It's a mighty fine collection of soulful jazz-funk that can still light up any dance floor.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 March 2017 15:09

 

CARMEN LUNDY: 'Code Noir' (Afrasia)

Thursday, 02 March 2017 12:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Such is her reputation, that just the merest mention of Carmen Lundy's name is likely to elicit a frisson of excitement from hardcore connoisseurs of female jazz vocalists. She debuted back in 1985 with the sensational Blackhawk LP, 'Good Morning Kiss,' which established the Florida-born chanteuse as one of the brightest young talents in the jazz firmament. Since then, Lundy, who's 62 now, has been carving out her own unique niche in the jazz world as a songwriter and pianist as well as a singer with a series of acclaimed albums. Since 2005 she's been releasing her recordings on her own label Afrasia and this 12-track new opus - the fifteenth long player of her career - is the sixth for her own imprint, following in the wake of 2014's 'Soul To Soul.'

Lundy's voice has acquired a darker lustre as she's matured as well as a deeper soulfulness and on 'Code Noir' she offers a stunning showcase of her unique artistry. Here, she's accompanied by pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Ben Williams, guitarist Jeff Parker, and drummer, Kendrick Scott, who provide simpatico support throughout. 'Another Chance' is a meditative opener complete with slightly eerie atmospherics that accompany Lundy's sonorous vocals but if that's too mournful and introspective for some listeners, then the fluid, mid-tempo 'Live Out Loud' is much brighter and more extrovert. Another side to Lundy is shown on the more strident 'Black & Blues,' which seems pugnacious in comparison to the delicate ballad, 'Whatever It Takes,'  featuring some lovely nylon-stringed, Hispanic guitar from Jeff Parker. On the excellent, hard-swinging, 'Afterglow' - which is driven by Ben Williams' fast-paced walking bass line - Lundy shows her true jazz credentials with some athletic scatting. 'The Island, Sea & You,' is another highlight with its rolling groove and so too is the Latin-flavoured 'Have A Little Faith.' All in all, this is a fine return from Carmen Lundy and one that will undoubtedly please her long-time fans.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Monday, 06 March 2017 15:14

 

VARIOUS: The Early Motown EPs Volume 2 (UMC)

Friday, 24 February 2017 20:08 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn the olden days (I mean the 60s) record buyers regularly had the option to buy "EPs" - "extended play" records that were vinyl 7" discs (like "singles") but which offered four (sometimes 6) tracks. They were, I guess, midway between an album and a single and served two purposes. The punters could explore a favourite artist's repertoire without having to shell out for a full long player while the record labels could showcase new material hoping to tempt buyers to go on and buy full albums.

Here in the UK EMI led the way in the EP stakes and through their deal with Berry Gordy, they regularly released Motown product in EP format in the early 60s. Anyone who bought those Motown EPs back then is now sitting on a potential goldmine. Collectors are hot for original copies and they fetch big, big bucks. They are, though, hard to find. Not too many were ever pressed and even fewer were bought. Back then the record buying public were more interested in Beatle EPs than something from an obscure Detroit (where?) label.

Cutting to the chase, UMC, keen to satisfy collectors' demand, have reissued various Motown EPs in original vinyl format and this month they are issuing a new set.... imaginatively titled 'The Early Motown EPs, Volume 2'. The seven 7" EP records (packed in a nifty box) feature music from The Contours, The Marvelettes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, The Supremes and Kim Weston.

The original discs were released through 1965 and though these new artefacts are reissues they are still hugely nostalgic and significant for serious Motown collectors. All are real memory jerkers and individual Motown buffs will each have their own favourites. The Temptations' four tracker is particularly strong. The tunes on their disc are 'My Girl', 'I'll Be In Trouble'. 'Girl Why You Wanna Make Me Blue' and 'The Girl's Alright With Me'. Those last two are treasured my Motown fans and represent the group at their 60s peak. Sadly they are often neglected. Here's the opportunity to reacquaint yourself!

The rarest and maybe most interesting EP is the one that features Kim Weston. Never a household name, even the sleeve notes writer wonders why EMI issued an EP on her in the first place. Well, I'm guessing it was because the Beatles had said they were fans and they'd even chosen her to support them on their '65 US tour. EMI cleary wanted to promote her music on the back of those Beatle connections. Her four songs, by the way, are 'A Little More Love', 'Another Train Coming', 'Looking For The Right Guy' and 'Go Ahead And Laugh'. Incredibly I did have a copy of this EP. I bought if for about 10 bob (50p) brand new in '65 from NEMS in Liverpool. I also had EPs on the Impressions and Major Lance. When times became hard (the kids needed shoes!) I was forced to sell some of my records. Kim Weston went (I kept the Impressions) and I often wonder where it is now and what it's worth. So from a personal point of view I'm delighted to have the EP again.... yes a reissue, but still a fabulous soul artefact... like all the EPs herein!

The box set, by the way, is a limited edition and comes, as is usual, with a voucher to download the music is that's your wont!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 February 2017 17:20

 

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