LIVE REVIEW: Andy Sheppard Quartet @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Monday, 07 May 2018 13:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altThere was a time, some thirty years ago,  when tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard was a feted young lion of British jazz's new wave and making his presence felt in the UK pop albums chart. Those days might be long gone but this award-winning Wiltshire saxophonist, now 61, who seems to get better with age, continues to ply his trade and has been making impressive recordings for Manfred Eicher's iconic ECM label during the last decade. Sheppard's latest opus for the Munich-based company is the excellent 'Romaria' and understandably, it proved the focal point of this keenly-anticipated lunchtime concert at Cheltenham's Town Hall venue. The same multi-national musicians that appeared on Sheppard's new album were present here - Norwegian guitarist, Eivind Aarset; French-Algerian bassist, Michel Benita; and ubiquitous Scottish drummer (now shorn of his trademark Afro), Seb Rochford. Together, they created dreamy, ruminative soundscapes whose ethereal, ambient style epitomises the distinctive ECM sound.

A crucial component of Sheppard's quartet is Aarset, who, though billed as a guitar player, offers so much more sonically. With his large array of stunning effects gizmos, he was like a veritable one-man guitar orchestra, creating a cinematic world of sound that imbued the music with both atmosphere and mystery. Alternating between tenor and soprano saxophone, Sheppard displayed his masterly virtuosity though his improvisations were never too ostentatious and he always seemed mindful of preserving the mood of his compositions. Subtlety, then, was key to this performance, and it was also embodied in the sublime support work of bassist  Benita and drummer Rochford, who shined as unobtrusive team players by putting the group's needs before their own as soloists. There was a haunting lyrical beauty to 'Romaria,' while a sense foreboding was created by the filmic 'They Came From The North,' where Aarset's atmospherics dominated.

As an encore, the quartet played a shorter piece. Sheppard introduced it by saying,  "we hope it puts you in contact with the 16-year-old body that's trapped inside your current body," which elicited laughter from the audience, who then got treated to an idiosyncratic version of The Beatles' ballad, 'And I Love Her.' It brought the curtain down on a satisfying afternoon which had the punters queuing up to buy the saxophonist's latest album.   


Last Updated on Monday, 07 May 2018 18:23


VARIOUS: Southern Groove (BGP)

Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in the 70s Michael Thevis was one of Georgia's best-known "businessmen". His main business was pornography, though he dabbled in plenty of other sidelines – all of varied degrees of legitimacy. One that was strictly legit (mostly) was music. In 1973 he set up GRC Records in Atlanta which quickly grew the subsidiaries Aware, Hotlanta and Clintone. How serious Thevis was about GRC is open to debate (some commentators suggest it was a money laundering operation) and, interestingly, the label's biggest hit was a country song – 'Chevy Van' by Sammy Jones. However, based in Atlanta, GRC was also home to countless soul performers and there was minor chart success for GRC tunes on people like Ripple, Loleatta Holloway and King Hannibal. By 1975 Thevis' past was catching up on him (he was arrested on a murder charge!) and his music operation folded, leaving countless recordings in the vault.

Over the years UK reissue specialists Ace Records has released lots of excellent GRC soul material on their Kent subsidiary and now, via their BGP imprint, they offer a selection (22 generous tracks) showing the funkier, tougher side of the GRC output.

The big names on the collection include the aforementioned Ripple and Loleatta Holloway alongside John Edwards (who went on to join the Spinners) and Jimmy Lewis. One of the two featured Holloway tracks, by the way, is her classic 'Only A Fool' and for those who like these kinds of things the set also features the cut's backing track which was released as 'The Bump' and credited to Loleatta's husband, Floyd Smith.

As with most Ace/BGP albums there are plenty of previously unreleased tunes to keep the anoraks happy. Most interesting of 'em is the Family Plann's early disco workout 'Let's Dance' –not quite as unrelenting as the most of the other offerings.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:47


BEADY BELLE: 'Dedication' (Jazzland)

Saturday, 05 May 2018 09:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                              altOriginally from Oslo, Norway, Beady Belle started out as a duo comprising singer/songwriter, Beate S. Lech and bassist/producer Marius Reksjø, and made their debut back in 2001 with the album 'Home' for Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland label. Melding soul with jazz, electronica, and dance music flavours, the duo created an alluring sound and over the course of six more albums for Jazzland developed their own distinctive and immediately recognisable style. In 2016, Reksjø stepped into the background, allowing Lech - who adopted Beady Belle as her stage name - to go it alone, releasing the aptly-titled album, 'On My Own.' Now she returns with 'Dedication,' without doubt Beady Belle's most organic, soulful and satisfying long player yet.

Though intended as a homage to Lech's musical heroes and heroines - which range from old school icons like Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway to the present day's  Alicia Keys and Raphael Saadiq - it reveals what a singular talent the 44-year-old Norwegian musician possesses, both as a singer and a songwriter. In the 17 years since Beady Bell's debut, Beate has grown, blossomed, and gone from strength to strength in her evolution as an artist. She has a knack of crafting sinuous melodies that aren't necessarily immediate but which, on  repeated listens, insinuate themselves firmly in your grey matter. Her songs seduce by stealth, so that after a few spins, this album has got its hooks in you and won't let go. 'Out Of Orbit' is arguably the killer cut, where an addictive electric sitar line (which bring back memories of Philly soul group, Blue Magic, perhaps) rides on a mid-tempo groove, while the soulful interplay between Lech and her background vocalists is sublime. The confessional ballad, 'I Run You Ragged,' is similarly gorgeous while 'Traces' shows the singer's funkier side. There's even  hint of disco on the anthemic 'Last Drop Of Blood.' 'Mooring Line,' with its combination of warmly harmonised chorus and a crisp backbeat, is another winner. More reflective is the slow, introspective 'Waste Of Grace' while the mid-tempo 'My Religion' is a thoughtful examination of personal faith.

Unlike most contemporary R&B songs, Beady Belle's tunes aren't obsessed with sex and characterized by banal, disposable lyrics. Beate Lech writes songs about love and life that are intelligent without being too cerebral and eloquent without being wordy. She strikes the perfect balance between expressions of the heart and mind, resulting in songs that make you think while touching the heart. You can catch Beady Belle at Ronnie Scott's in London on May 6th.

(CW) 4/5


Last Updated on Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:47


LIVE REVIEW: Randy Crawford @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival May 3rd 2018

Friday, 04 May 2018 11:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                                          altWith thirteen UK chart entries to her name, including the Top 5 hits, 'One Day I'll Fly Away' and 'Almaz,' Randy Crawford has enjoyed a long and warm relationship with the British public. The huge ovation she received when she walked out on the stage in Cheltenham's Big Top (following an instrumental medley of her hits played by her band as an overture) underlined just how popular she is here, even though she's not a had a new record out for well over a decade.  Though the years have visibly taken their toll on the appearance of the 66-year-old Georgia singer, who's been battling with weight gain (something she alluded to during her in-between-songs chatter), time has not deprived her of her voice, which remains as beautiful and ear-caressing as ever.

Backed by a four piece band (including ace guitarist, Allen Hinds, who played superbly throughout), Crawford delivered a crowd-pleasing set that began indelibly with her gorgeous take on Brook Benton's atmospheric 'Rainy Night In Georgia.' Then followed a silky 'Rio De Janeiro Blue,' driven by sensuous Brazilian rhythms. She then served up three cover songs  that had appeared on her last album , 2006's 'Feeling Good' with Joe Sample - namely the Nina Simone-associated title song, which was propelled by a gentle, funkafied groove; a bittersweet version of Fred Neil's 'Everybody's Talking,' and a super-soulful rendition of Buddy Johnson's late night blues ballad, 'Save Your Love For Me.'

Elsewhere, Crawford - who was in a bubbly, loquacious mood and told stories and laughed a lot - served up succulent versions of some of her biggest hits and most well-loved material, ranging from plaintive ballads like 'One Hello,' 'One Day I'll Fly Away,' 'You Bring The Sun Out'  and the haunting 'Almaz,' to more upbeat material exemplified by 'Last Night At Danceland,' where the singer, who was seated for most of the evening, got up from her stool to briefly strut her stuff. The venue erupted when the opening chords to 'Street Life' were heard, which allowed the band to really groove while the anthemic 'You Might Need Somebody' was saved for the encore.  

Time affects all of us so those who expected Randy Crawford to look as she did 30 years ago should take a reality check and perhaps look at themselves in the mirror.  None of us stays the same and we all age. And in that respect, Randy Crawford is no different from the rest of us. During the concert, she reminisced about seeing footage of herself in the '80s on the UK's Terry Wogan Show andTop Of The Pops on YouTube. "I thought, wow, she's so cute," she laughs, but follows it by singing the line from Phil Collins' song, 'Take A Look At Me Now.' The audience laugh at the irony and also, her candour. "All of a sudden I had two tons of fun," she laughs, pointing to her midriff. One senses, though, that behind the mirth and self-deprecation there are sensitive issues. But that's not for me to ponder. The most important thing is Randy's voice and it's in great shape. In fact, time has imbued her tone with a deeper lustre but she can still hit all those sweet notes and move us with her special gift. And that's all that matters really. Go and see her while you still can. You won't be disappointed.


Last Updated on Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:48


DAVE GRUSIN: 'The Friends Of Eddie Coyle' (We Want Sounds)

Wednesday, 02 May 2018 11:59 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                             altDave Grusin's name is synonymous with smooth jazz, a polite, sometimes anodyne and anaemic kind of jazz-fusion that his label GRP helped to establish in the 1980s and '90s.  But as this stupendous soundtrack album shows, Grusin could make tough and edgy music if he wanted to. Never officially made available to the public until it was issued on CD a few years ago, Grusin's highly-sought-after score to 'The Friends Of Eddie Coyle' - an uncompromising crime thriller starring Robert Mitchum based on George V. Higgins' book - is now available on vinyl for the very first time and presented in a gatefold sleeve adorned with an eye-catching Oliver Barrett movie poster design.  

For those listeners who appreciate jazzy, funk-infused soundtrack albums from the late-'60s and early-'70s by the likes of Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin, then 'The Friends Of Eddie Coyle' will make a strong impression.  Interestingly, the original 1973 movie was the work of Peter Yates, the British director behind the 1968 Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt, which yielded  a memorable score - arguably the first of its kind - from Lalo Schifrin.  The atmospheric percussion on Grusin's soundtrack (especially prominent on the tracks, 'Guns To Artie/Artie Examines Guns' and 'Partridge Robbery/Take A Walk') shows unequivocally that the Colorado-born pianist/composer was acutely aware of Schifrin's groundbreaking soundtrack work.  

But aside from tense, atmosphere-building action cues, Grusin serves up a fabulous main theme, which after a dreamy beginning of chimes, mellow Rhodes chords and resonant flutes, evolves into chunk of  strutting street funk garnished with sweet strings.  The funk gets deeper on the driving 'Clean Cut' and 'Mr Connection,' and as a bonus track, an alternate version of the latter tune is included. Grusin's music has been completely remastered and the package is completed by liner notes from writer, David Toop. Though not as well-known, perhaps, as Grusin's ace 1975 score to the Robert Redford-Faye Dunaway conspiracy thriller, Three Days Of The Condor, it proves to be an equally enthralling listen. Essential listening for soundtrack buffs.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 May 2018 15:56


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