KIRK WHALUM; Humanité (Artistry/Mack Avenue)

Thursday, 24 October 2019 18:18 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altGrammy award winning sax man Kirk Whalum's music has always been imbued with a certain spirituality. Hardly surprising, he's a minister's son and, growing up in Memphis, the sounds, the messages, the rituals, and the Christian ethos were never far away. An adage of the Jesuits "give me a child till he's seven and I'll give you the man" might well be apposite in Kirk's case. That spirituality was there from the start. When he began his musical odyssey in Texas in the early 80s, his sound fused the blues and soul of his home town with the gospel of his family heritage. Soul-drenched, emotional and melodic, little wonder his playing was soon in demand from people like Barbra Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston (anoraks will know that it's Kirk's sax on her 'I Will Always Love You'.

Kirk's solo career has taken him all over the world (he now divides his time between Paris and Memphis) and brought him into contact with all kinds of artists from all kinds of genres. He says: "I kept bumping into these amazing artists from all over the world and I wanted to make some crazy music with them and prove this point – that we are all one." Hence the title of Whalum's new long player, 'Humanité'. Amongst the guests on the 14 tracker are Japanese jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, the young bass phenomenon Barry Likumahuwa, gifted singer/songwriter Grace Sahertian and global pop star singer/actor Afgan, all hailing from Indonesia; vocalist/guitarist Zahara, one of South Africa's biggest stars; Kasiva Mutwa of Nairobi; and the veteran UK jazz vocalist Liane Carroll. Ms Carroll fronts the emotion-tugging ballad, 'Wildflower'. Kirk and Liane turn Doug Edward's 70's pop standard into a stirring soul anthem. And there's plenty more soul power on 'Humanité'. Indeed the album kicks off with a vibrant reading of Curtis Mayfield's 'Move On Up' (Brendan Reilly on vocals) while soul folk will also enjoy the visit to the Philly classic 'Wake Up Everybody' with Afgan's vocals melding beautifully with Kirk's mellifluous tenor. 'Get Your Wings Up' (featuring vocals from the song's writer, South African-born Andrea Lisa) is another soul gem. And of course, all three of those songs perfectly suit the album's message.

Jazz fans will enjoy 'Korogocho' – essentially a heavy duel between bassists Marcus Miller and Barry Likumahuwa. Miller needs no introduction here; Likumahuwa is an Indonesian bassist for whom Miller is an absolute hero... props to Whalum for bringing them together! There is though much for all to enjoy here including the closer, 'East From The West' which musically and lyrically underlines 'Humanité's' theme and overt spirituality.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 October 2019 18:26


THE PENDLETONS; 2 Steps Away (Bastard Jazz)

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 18:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTHE PENDLETONS are am experimental soul and funk duo working in and around San Francisco. They are E da BOSS and TRAILER LIMON and they debuted in 2010 with the well-received single 'Coming Down'/'Waiting On You'. They won themselves a cult following – amongst those - fans Gilles Peterson - who licensed some their music for his 'Brownswood Bubblers' compilation. Always a sign of quality!

Then this spring the soul world enthused mightily over a Pendletons single 'You Do You'/ 'Life To Me'. The former became particularly popular on the modern soul scene and featured a wonderful guest vocal from Howard Johnson from Niteflyte; the latter had a lovely 70s/80s vibe to it and though we were told there was a full album on the way, we've had to wait till now for '2, Steps Away'. The good news though is that the concise 9 tracker delivers what that single promised – that's to say a thoroughly contemporary soul album with its roots in soul and dance's rich heritage.

As with that exceptional single, the duo use special guests to help them flesh out their other ideas. First up there's Gizelle Smith, the front woman of The Mighty Mocambos and daughter of a band-member of the legendary Four Tops. Her pedigree shines through on the busy, bustling 'Keep Working'. Long time collaborator K-Maxx is upfront on 'No Regrets' – which channels that lovely 80s weekender vibe, Feli's at the mic for the bumpy, jazzy 'There Goes My Mind' while Ishtarr storms the barricades on the soulful house tune '19 Flavours'. To catch the essential Pendleton sound, though, try the opener, 'Blessings For The World' an intoxicating jazzy, R&B/soulful cocktail. Album highlight though is the set's title track. It begins with sweet, harmonic scatting before developing into a smooth and sophisticated modern soul, sedate dancer... little wonder the band chose it as the album's title and focus and it even has a spine tingling monologue!

Pendleton, E Da Boss has said "With this album we have tried to take boogie/modern soul back to its essence. We were happy to create with a room full of the Bay Area's top musicians, who took our direction and turned our thoughts into magic." I think they've succeeded magnificently.... another great 2019 album to add to the list!

(BB) 4/5


RANDY NAPOLEON; Common Tones (Detroit Music Factory)

Sunday, 13 October 2019 18:11 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altMichigan guitar man Randy Napoleon was once described as "the forward thinking, tradition loving jazz guitarist" and listening in to 'Common Tones', his just released 13 tracker, you can hear why. The set is a well-balanced mix of pop covers, Napoleon originals and takes on the Great American songbook ... traditional and contemporary in equal parts but all delivered in a thoroughly 21st century manner.

Nowhere is that best illustrated than in the opener – a swinging version of Brian Wilson's 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'. Like the jazz guitar greats before him (notably Wes Montgomery), Napoleon shows that a great tune transcends genre. Here he makes the Beach Boys' classic really swing in the manner of the best soul-jazz. Amongst the other covers are versions of Rodgers and Hart's 'I Married An Angel', Hammerstein and Kerns' 'The Song is You' and Donald Walden's 'Signed Dizzy With Love'. The late Walden in fact was one of the guitarist's teachers and the track is included in homage to him as is the poignant ''If DW Were Here' – six minutes plus of gentle guitar and piano (courtesy of Xavier Davis) duelling. Here Randy avoids, as Walden regularly advised, the obvious.

Napoleon was also tutored by the bebop trumpeter Louis Smith and homage his paid via the track 'Mr Smith' - a cheerful bebop outing that recalls the great Grant Green. The delightful trumpet part here comes from Etienne Charles. Not sure whether Mr Charles was a student of "Professor" Napoleon (Randy is indeed a respected music teacher) but we're told that many of the players on 'Common Tones' have had the benefits of his teaching. Thus to get back to where we came in, these new, young players collaborating with their tutor keep the evolutionary process flowing... yes, plenty of tradition here but also plenty of movement and contemporary flourish.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 October 2019 18:23


CORNELL CARTER; Absoulutely (CDC Entertainment)

Wednesday, 09 October 2019 19:04 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altWe've said it plenty of times this year already, but we need to say it again. 2019 has been a vintage year for modern soul albums. We've enjoyed a bumper harvest of fine, new material and now adding to the crop is the long awaited new LP from Cornell CC Carter... aptly titled 'Absoulutely'.

As is the modern music marketing way the album was flagged up nice and early... July to be precise when Mr C released the set's first single - a lovely, smooth and gentle sophisticated modern soul dancer 'I See Love'. That single absolutely whetted our collective appetites but to keep us in suspense the single was beautifully remixed by the Metlife team (Michael Gray/Jon Pearn). Now, the waiting is over and the album is amongst us and the good news is that there are plenty more potential modern room floor fillers amidst the ten tracks. 'I See Love' still sounds good but 'Say Yes' and 'I Could Never' are cut from the same cloth. If you want something a tad more frantic then try the interesting 'Ghosted'... proper pace here.

However, the album's big focus cuts have to be the two covers and by his selections, Cornell shows that he's confident to tackle the giants – Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. CC offer his perspective on Curtis' 'We're A Winner' and Marvin's 'Come Live With Me Angel' and he treats both with respect – these new versions aren't too far from the originals and vocally Mr C's close to both maestros. Indeed the spirit of Gaye, in particular, can be felt in numerous places around the album. For instance the track that precedes 'Angel' is a seven minute plus, sensual 'Earn It' that could've come right out of the Marvin Gaye and/or Leon Ware songbook. We all know that Marvin was a master of duets too and here there's a corker of one... 'Morning Touch' on which Cornell teams up with Naté Soulsanger.

That particular track, by the way is produced by James Day though the bulk of 'Absoulutely' was produced by Carter himself in tandem with Kirk Crumpler. Also helping out is Cornell's old pay master and mentor Narada Michael Walden who must be "absoulutely" delighted by what his protégé has achieved here. Yes, another fine album in vintage year!

(BB) 4/5


HANNAH WILLIAMS; 50 Foot Woman (Record Kicks)

Thursday, 03 October 2019 11:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBig voiced UK soulstress HANNAH WILLIAMS first came on our radar back in 2012. At that time she was fronting a funk combo, the Tastemakers and together they were promoting their debut long player, the enigmatically titled 'A Hill Of Feathers'. Craig Charles championed it and most other soul commentators gave it the thumbs up!

That early success was followed by a string of gigs here in the UK and over in Europe. Then came another long player - 'Late Nights & Heartbreak', which was credited to Hannah Williams and The Affirmations and it was never fully explained if they were a totally new bunch, remnants of the Tastemakers, or indeed the Tastemakers with a new name! The constant was Ms Williams' fiery, full-on, take-no-prisoners vocals and that voice carried the day on the hit 'Tame in the Water' and the LP title track that went on to be sampled by Jay Z.

And it's THAT remarkable voice that dominates the lady's new album.... '50 Foot Woman'. The title track opens proceedings and with its furious Northern soul tempo, blaring horns, chinking guitar and frenetic backing vocals, the tone is set for what follows... a fierce, unrelenting take on old school soul. There are plenty more wild flavours on offer so the slightly more sedate 'I Can't Let This Slip Away' offers some (a little) respite.

The album also boasts some fine bluesy, emotional ballads like 'Sinner' ( a nod to her upbringing... her father was a vicar?) and 'Please Be Good To Me' while if you like sweet harmonies then try the opening to 'What Can We Do' (another nod to her upbringing... Hannah was a church chorister and worked in the University of Winchester University music dept.for 10 years?)

Produced by Shawn Lee (credits include Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys and Young Gun Silver Fox), Hannah says that she's never been as proud of anything in her life as she is with '50 Foot Woman'. You can hear if that pride's misplaced when the album is released on Italian label Record Kicks on October 18th

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2019 11:51


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