Reviews

SHIRLEY ELLIS: Three, Six, Nine... The Best Of (Ace)

Friday, 29 June 2018 12:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTo most, Shirley Ellis is best known for her novelty hits - stuff like 'The Clapping Song', 'The Name Game' and the even more bizarre 'Ever See A Diver Kiss His Wife While The Bubbles Bounce About Above The Water'! The Northern fraternity still love her magnificent anthem 'Soul Time' while collectors will cite her version of 'The Nitty Gritty' (the original, by the way) as every bit as soulful as the better known Gladys Knight version. But there was so much more to Shirley (born Shirley O'Gara in Harlem in 1929) than that handful of tunes... and this new 24 track Ace collection amply makes the point.

Of course, all those novelty hits are here (the excellent sleeve notes explain their meanings – especially the names in 'The Name Game') alongside 'The Nitty Gritty' and 'Soul Time' but to get the real measure of Ms Ellis just listen to her intense version of the Clyde McPhatter-led Drifters' 'Such A Night'. Penned by her producer, Lincoln Chase, Shirley's version lost out in the chart race to someone called Elvis Presley! Other familiar songs given new and soulful treatments by Shirley include 'Kansas City', 'Bring It On Home To Me', 'Back Track' and 'Yes I'm Ready'. Those last two were produced by the legendary Charles Calello and the take of the Barbara Mason Philly song gives the original a proper soul run for its money.

Never a major "name", Shirley Ellis died in 2005 aged 76 and hopefully this long overdue retrospective will help establish a bigger and better reputation for her.

(BB) 35

 

GRANT GREEN: 'Funk In France: From Paris To Antibes (1969-1970)'/ 'Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's' (Resonance)

Thursday, 21 June 2018 10:51 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

         altGrant Green is an underappreciated jazz guitar genius. Less flamboyant than his more famous contemporary, Wes Montgomery, St. Louis-born Green pioneered his own distinctive style that was almost minimalist by comparison. Often eschewing chords in favour of single note, horn-like, melodic lines, Green played with a mixture of judicious economy and good taste. He is mostly remembered for two fertile yet stylistically contrasting stints at Blue Note Records. The first Blue Note spell, between 1960 and 1965, found Green playing bop-influenced straight ahead jazz while during the second, spanning the years 1969-1972, he reinvented himself as an R&B and funk player. Two new and exciting Grant Green archival releases from the Resonance label - first released back in April on vinyl LP as limited edition Record Store Day specials - are now available on CD.

'Funk In France...' is a 2-CD set that includes six cuts recorded in front of a live audience in a Paris studio (and broadcast on French TV) in October 1969 during a rare European tour. Green is accompanied by bassist Larry Ridley and drummer, Don Lamond, who offer sympathetic support throughout. It opens with Green serving up his own full-throttle take on James Brown's verbose-titled self-determinist funk anthem, 'I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself).' After this, though, Green's trio dig into a hard-swinging straight ahead groove, reviving a couple of Sonny Rollins' classic songs,  'Oleo' and 'Sonnymoon For Two.' Green also touches on bossa nova with 'How Insensitive' and demonstrates his prowess with delicate ballads on the lovely and subdued, 'I Wish You Love,' which features a cameo from fellow American fretboard master, Barney Kessel. Interestingly, the Paris performances give us a clearer picture of Grant Green's skills and all-round ability than most of his albums (and you probably hear him play more chords here than on all his Blue Note albums combined).  

In addition to the Paris recordings, 'Funk In France...' is bolstered with four tracks recorded nine months later in July 1970 at the Antibes Jazz Festival. By this time, Green had a different travelling band - Claude Bartee on sax, Clarence Palmer on organ, and drummer, Billy Wilson. They open up with an 18-minute funk juggernaut called 'Upshot' (originally featured on Green's 'Carry On' LP) whose style mirrors the content of Green's Blue Note albums at the time (two versions of this tune are included, the second recorded two days later). In the early 60s, Green used to cover jazz standards but by the '70s, he was covering R&B hits of the day. His inclusion of jazz-infused covers of Little Anthony & The Imperials' 'Hurt So Bad' and Tommy Tucker's 'Hi Heel Sneakers' reflect his new direction.

An even deeper R&B vibe infuses Resonance's second Green offering, 'Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's.' Though the venue's name sounds like a fictional one taken from a bad movie, it actually existed and could be found in Vancouver, Canada. 'Slick!...' captures Green and his band (comprising pianist Emmanuel Riggins, bassist Ronnie Ware - who plays a prominent role in the band - drummer Greg 'Vibrations' Williams, and percussionist Gerald Izzard) there in September 1975. By that time, Green had left Blue Note. His set here is a curious melange of differnet things - he starts off with pure bebop in the shape of Charlie Parker's 'Now's The Time,' moves into bossa nova territory (serving up an epic 24-minute version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's 'How Insensitive'), and then offers an eccentric but thoroughly absorbing 14-minute medley that fuses Stanley Clarke's short, dreamy, effects-laden fusion ballad, 'Vulcan Princess,' with the Ohio Player's high-voltage, bass-heavy funk anthem, 'Skin Tight.' It then morphs into Bobby Womack's soul groove, 'Woman's Gotta Have It.'

Another, longer, medley closes the album: an unlikely marriage of Stevie Wonder's jaunty 'Boogie On Reggae Woman' and the O'Jays' Gamble & Huff-penned funk classic, 'For The Love Of Money,' which is rendered at an insanely frenetic pace. Stylistically, these are two very different, contrasting songs, of course, but Green and his cohorts convincingly fuse them together in an energetic and enjoyable way.

Both of these live Grant Green albums are mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman, which guarantees optimum high quality sound, and like all Resonance releases, they are projects that have been lovingly put together.  The artwork and packaging are both superlative and for those listeners wishing to delve into the history of Grant Green and the provenance of these two rare recordings, copious, forensically-detailed liner notes from various music experts will give plenty of insight and information. So, if you're into Grant Green, these two albums should be at the very top of your shopping list - and even if you're not a fan, if you have a taste for jazz-funk or funky jazz, then these are seriously worth investigating.  

(CW)   4/5

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 June 2018 18:51

 

KAMASI WASHINGTON: 'Heaven & Earth' (Young Turks)

Monday, 18 June 2018 20:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altFour years ago, the world was largely unaware of KAMASI WASHINGTON. He was an unsung sideman whose name was an unfamiliar one except to avid readers of album credits, who would have spotted his name on the small print of a slew of albums, including some by Ryan Adams, Robin Thicke, and Snoop Dogg.  But all that changed with the release of 'The Epic' in 2015, a game-changing triple album that transformed a journeyman saxophonist from California  into a world-famous jazz superstar. The fact that the music industry hype machine has gone into overdrive to promote the baby-faced gentle giant as jazz's new saviour would seem to put a ton of pressure on the 37-year-old but on the evidence provided by his stupendous second album, 'Heaven & Earth,' he's riding the tsunami that 'The Epic' engendered with grace and nonchalant ease.

The curse of second album syndrome isn't a factor here on an album that is brimming with ideas and creativity. Never one to do things by halves, Kamasi together with his stellar band, The Next Step, serves up a grandiose double album that is thematically more focused than his sprawling debut but which also offers a wider tonal palette. It also affirms that Washington is an accomplished storyteller, using his music to etch vivid aural narratives that feeds our imagination.

The album's divided into two diametrically-opposed  parts - 'Heaven,' and 'Earth,' each composed of eight tracks.  The former begins with a majestic arrangement of 'Fists Of Fury,' the soundtrack theme to an old Bruce Lee martial arts movie. Rhythmically, it's dynamic and funky, with lead vocals provided by the Patrice Quinn and resonant-voiced Dwight Tribble. 'Can You Hear Him' takes us on a journey into the cosmos with its ethereal choir but it's kept grounded by pulsating Latin-style rhythms, which are even stronger on the propulsive, conga-driven 'Hub-Tones,' with its snaking horn theme. As well as tight but fluid, ensemble work, the music is notable for its stunning solos - not just from Washington's tenor sax, but also from trumpeter Dontae Winslow, and trombonist, Ryan Porter. The uniqueness of Washington's sonic vision is encapsulated by 'Connections,' mostly a simmering, low-key ballad but which is periodically enhanced by a full choir together with orchestra and swirling harps, which give it a larger-than-life, widescreen feel.

The cinematic dimension of Washington's music is even more apparent on the opening cut of the 'Heaven' part of the album. 'The Space Travelers Lullaby' is gorgeous beyond words - an immersive, supremely imaginative, interstellar tone poem that is beautifully arranged (with lush orchestration and a celestial choir) and demonstrates that the saxophonist could easily begin  a new career as a composer of movie scores. By contrast 'Vi Lua Vi Sol,' propelled by Miles Mosley's bass, is tinged with contemporary R&B - in a similar way to what Robert Glasper has been doing with his Experiment band - and features Brandon Coleman singing an infectious melody through a vocoder.  Though grittier, 'Street Fighter Mas' exemplifies Washington's penchant for anthem-like melodies while the driving 'Show Us The Way' sounds like a slower, less frenetic, and more considered version of 'Change Of The Guard,' from his first album.  The album closes with 'Will You Sing,' a rousing slice of choral jazz.

Despite the arresting cover photo, Kamasi Washington can't really walk on water - but he does perform miracles on 'Heaven & Earth,' a deeply impressive collection of songs that will cement his place in the jazz history books. 'The Epic' was no flash in the pan. Rather, it was a bolt of lightning and the start of something deeper and more momentous.  He's made jazz exciting, relevant and more appealing again to the wider general public. Anyone who doubted Washington's ability to reach the creative peaks of 'The Epic' will have to think again. 'Heaven & Earth' is masterly in its execution and consistently breathtaking in its beauty. It's a hugely significant record, not only for jazz, but popular music in general - a masterpiece, in fact.  Jazz has a new messiah ...and his name is Kamasi Washington.

'Heaven & Earth' is out on Friday June 22nd.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 June 2018 18:51

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Soul Vibration' (New Continent)

Saturday, 16 June 2018 11:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                               altWhen Ray Charles released 'I Got A Woman' in late 1954, which was based on a gospel song but had sexualised lyrics, it sent seismic shockwaves through African American church congregations throughout the USA, who decried it as an unholy marriage of the sacred and profane. The controversy surrounding the record only helped to propel it to the #1  position in the US R&B charts. More significantly, the record birthed what came to be known as soul music, where the demarcation line between gospel and rhythm and blues became irrevocably blurred.

The evolution of soul can be traced  on this excellent 3-CD set, which spans the years 1954-1962 and includes, appropriately enough, Charles's seminal 'I Got A Woman,' which provided soul's Big Bang moment. Another of soul's pioneers was James Brown, whose 1956 cut with The Famous Flames, 'Please, Please, Please,' established him as an early R&B star. Sam Cooke renounced gospel music for a secular pop career path but the sound of the church never left his music, as '(What A) Wonderful World' and 'Twistin' The Night Away' reveal. The same can be said of vocal gymnast, Jackie Wilson, whose 1957 hit, 'Reet Petite,' put him on the map. The song was co-written by Berry Gordy, who, two years later would establish Motown Records in Detroit and go on to found a music empire that conquered the world. Early Motown hits can be found on this compilation, including Barrett Strong's 'Money (That's What I Want),' Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' 'Shop Around,' Marvin Gaye's 'Stubborn Kind Of Fellow,'  The Marvelettes 'Please Mr. Postman,' and Stevie Wonder's Fingertips,' the Supremes' 'Time Changes Things,'  Mary Wells' 'The One Who Really Loves You,' and The Temptations' 'Check Yourself.' This was before Motown blew up big with the Holland-Dozier-Holland sound, which would come to define the label's style a few years alter.

Down in America's deep south, in Memphis, Stax Records was also making its presence felt in the early 1960s, with the label's house band, Booker T & The MGs, setting fire to the R&B charts with the organ-led instrumental, 'Green Onions.'  You also get early Stax cuts from Otis Redding ('These Arms Of Mine,) Carla Thomas ('Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)' and William Bell ('Don't Miss Your Water).' Also represented on this album are Etta James, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, The Isley Brothers, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Alexander, The Crystals, The Coasters and countless more, including some lesser-known singers. They all contribute to painting a vivid, varied, and colourful picture of soul music during its formative years. For some listeners, these seventy-five songs will bring back memories of their youth, perhaps, but if you're a newcomer to the genre, then 'Soul Vibration' functions as a great introduction that is guaranteed to get you hooked.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 June 2018 14:23

 

JOHN REID; The Nightcrawlers Soul Sessions Album (Absolute)

Friday, 15 June 2018 15:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altScottish singer John Reid has enjoyed a properly varied career. He started off as a soul DJ, and then in 1992 he formed his own band, the Nightcrawlers who enjoyed plenty of action with 'Push The Feeling' and 'Surrender Your Love'. John then focused on song writing, penning songs for a mixed bag of artists – amongst them Westflife, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis.

At the back end of 2017 'Push The Feeling' enjoyed some reactivated action which, I'm guessing, prompted Mr R to make some new Nightcrawling music and the result was a lovely 3 track EP. All three tunes were produced by Michael J McEvoy and Ernie McKone so you know we're talking soul quality.... reflected in the number of airplays and spins the cuts won for themselves.

Now those three tracks form the centrepiece of John's latest album and the new tunes maintain the high soul standard set by the EP's three. The lead single off the set is 'All Night Long' (no not that one... it's a new song!) and soul radio listeners will already be familiar with it – a classy, tight modern soul groove; the kind of thing that Cool Million do so well. In fact it has a flavour of their recent work with Kenny Thomas.

John clearly has a penchant for penning songs with familiar titles. Apart from 'All Night Long', there's a cut here called 'Stop Look Listen'. No, not the Stylistics' song; rather a new pleasant pop/soul confection. It does actually reference the Marvin Gaye/ Dina Ross version of the soul classic in the lyrics and to show that he has a soul pedigree, on 'If It's Love You Want', he runs through a litany of soul "names" in the clever lyrics. It's one of the many album highlights. 'Push The Feeling On' is another top tune – a classic modern soul groove.

Ballad-wise 'Right Where I Belong' is the big one, while the three original EP tracks still sound fresh and exciting despite their familiarity. All three 'I Need Your Love', the cooler 'Love Comes Round' and 'Watchin' You Watchin Me' are destined to be amongst 2018's top tunes. I'm predicting too that the album will also find its way onto year end "best of" lists.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 15 June 2018 15:42

 

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