Reviews

DEXTER WANSEL: 'Stargazer' (bbr)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 09:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Originally a member of a short-lived Philly band dubiously dubbed Yellow Submarine in the early '70s, keyboardist and synthesiser maven, Dexter Gilman Wansel, went on to play on sessions for Blue Magic and Major Harris before landing at Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label in 1976. That was the year that he wrote and produced a couple of tracks on The Jacksons' best-selling self-titled Epic LP, helmed a cut on Lou Rawls' 'All Things In Time' album and also, unleashed his own solo, album, 'Life On Mars.' The latter was the first of four LPs for P.I.R. (the others were 'What The World Is Coming To,' 'Voyager,' 'Time Is Slipping Away'), which provide the source material for this superlative 2-CD 32-track compilation.

Kicking off with Wansel's truly and irresistible cosmic dance floor classic, 'Life On Mars'  - no, it's not the David Bowie song - the collection brings together every track that the keyboard maestro recorded for Gamble & Huff in what was undoubtedly an incredibly fecund four-year spell. As well as serving up fusion-esque, space-themed, soundscapes like the cinematic title song , the atmospheric 'Rings Of Saturn' and stupendous 'Voyager,' the versatile Wansel delved into disco ('Disco Lights' and the Chic-tinged, Studio 54-referencing 'I'll Never Forget'), jazz ('Ode Infinitum'), funk ('All Night Long' and the George Clinton-esque 'Funk Attack'), reggae ('Going Back To Kingston Town') and soul. In regard to the latter, the mid-tempo ballad, 'The Sweetest Pain' - co-written with lyricist Cynthia Biggs and covered by Brit soul trio, Loose Ends, on their 1986 album, 'So Where Are You' - provides one of Wansel's finest moments with its sensual vocals (from Terri Wels) and addictive groove. It was also his biggest - and sadly, final - chart entry, peaking at #40 in Billboard's list of top-selling R&B singles in November 1979.

As the '70s gave way to the '80s, Wansel continued to be in demand as a writer and producer but his solo output dwindled to nothing until 1986, when he released 'Captured' for Virgin's 10 imprint. Though he's seemingly not done much in the last 30 years, the much-sampled music on this collection assures Dexter Wansel of a place in the pantheon of all time great R&B songwriters and producers. As 'Stargazer' reveals, his music, with its varied stylistic hues, knew no bounds.  A supremely stellar collection.

(CW) 4/5

 



Last Updated on Thursday, 26 January 2017 14:10

 

OMAR; Love In Beats (Freestyle)

Monday, 23 January 2017 12:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOmar Lye-Fook MBE, no less, will, I guess will  forever be remembered for his 1991 hit 'There's Nothing Like This'. The tune is totally timeless and sadly many people (mainly in the mainstream) think (quite wrongly) that that's all there is to Omar. When told that our man has achieved much since then – notably a string of fine albums – those "mainstreamers" express surprise and when exposed to those albums they're usually more surprised to learn that Omar's art extends way beyond the feel-good, easy accessible, pop soul vibe of his signature sound. "Eclectic" is the word they reach for and Mr Lye-Fook would be happy with that. In SJFs recent interview with Omar he admitted that he strived to make a music that was eclectic and "ahead of the curve" and this new 12 tracker is certainly that.

Helping Omar keep things innovative, interesting and, yes, eclectic, is a whole crew of special guests. Soul-wise, then biggest "name" helping out is Leon Ware. Ware's there on 'Gave My Heart' a stately, mid-tempo groove with lush orchestration and that special ethereal quality that's always there when Leon Ware's involved. Jazz fans will be delighted to see that Robert Glasper's in there too. The piano man adds his distinctive playing to the album opener, 'Vicky's Tune', which, we're told, was originally conceived back in 2003! Another instantly recognizable contributor is Natalie Stewart, "The Floacist". She's there on the neo-soul meander that is 'Feed My Mind', offering her very special, meaningful rhymes.

Maybe less well-known is Cape Verdean singer, Mayra Andrade. The Mayra/Omar collaboration is the Euroepan waltz, 'Déjà-Vu'. Partly sung in French, it brings us right back to that word "eclectic". Speaking of which, try 'Girl Talk Interlude'. Little more than three minutes of eavesdropping, it offers unusual insight into where Omar is right now.

Maybe more accessible is 'Insatiable'. With input from Natasha Watts, this is a gentle head-nodder while 'Hold Me Closer' is a lovely Latin shuffle and those Latino rhythms are repeated on the closer, 'Destiny' on which the guest is Guadeloupe soul singer Jean-Michelle Rotin.

Add to that largish guest list, Omar's brother, Roland (Scratch Professor) and you have lots of those proverbial "cooks" in this particular mix. The broth, though, is never spoiled. Omar's dedication to his art, his elegantly crafted grooves and that distinctive voice give 'Love In Beats' its sense of unity and completeness. Between them Omar and team have created one of the first big soul sets of 2017. Go to our interview archive for an in-depth conversation with Omar and his thoughts on the album

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 23 January 2017 13:02

 

THE 360 BAND: 360 (i2)

Monday, 16 January 2017 14:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Average White Band is Scotland's finest soul export. Tunes like 'Pick Up The Pieces', 'Cut The Cake', 'Atlantic Avenue' and 'Let's Go Round Again' are, despite being over forty years old, still vital... great tunes from a great band! True classics, and occasional looks at gig guides will tell you that AWB are still recording and touring. Of course over such a lengthy life span there have been numerous personnel comings and goings and we're informed the the "original AWB brand" is currently being kept alive by founding members Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre. Good on them! However three other original "bandsmen"... Hamish Stuart, Steve Ferrone and Molly Duncan are again working together and, dubbed the 360 Band, they've just released their debut long player... and the nine tracker is a lovely return to the brassy, classy, groove-laden soul sounds on which AWB built their reputation.

'Mighty Fall' is the album's lead single and, sonically, it sets the tone for the whole album... slinky, and jazzy, it oozes soulful quality and like many of the great soul and funk sounds of yesteryear it comes in parts 1 and 2...though radio programmers will be delighted to know that there's a radio edit too. If they need more incentive to play the tune then they'll also need to know that the song is the trio's homage to the 20th Century's greatest sportsman, Muhammad Ali- "a man with a mission".

It is a great tune but our favourites at the moment are the album's two mid way tracks... 'Some Other Time' and 'Too Hip'. Both are jazzy, brassy meanders that betray the experience that the trio has under their collective belt!

Elsewhere 'Loose Change' is a bit if an oddity... a sort of funk and reggae hybrid; 'Cherry Blossom Time' is sweet and smooth while 'Just For A Thrill' is a throwback to a whole different era. That song was written way back in the late 30s and is probably best remembered in its Ray Charles' version (check out the Bill Wyman/Georgie Fame version too). Here, 360 give it a sort of early ("authentic") R&B feel.... lovely stuff.

Helping the original trio deliver are Steve Pearce (bass) Adam Phillips (guitar), Ross Stanley (keyboards), Andy Caine (guitar & vocals), Jim Watson (keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Tom Walsh (trumpet and flugel), Neil Sidwell (trombone) and Hamish's daughter: Emma (backing vocals) and between them they concoct a quite lovely album... proper grown up music. If you like mellow moment Tower of Power, Van Morrison... oh, yes and the Average White Band, you'll love this!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 16 January 2017 14:59

 

GORDON CHAMBERS; Surrender (Chamber Music)

Sunday, 15 January 2017 21:02 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGordon Chambers began his pro music career as a songwriter. He's written countless soul and pop classics – most notably Anita Baker's Grammy winning 'I Apologise'. Soul fans still relish his work with Brownstone; while others to benefit from Chambers' talent include Angie Stone, Brandy, Tamia, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, the Isley Brothers, Beyonce and, of course, Whitney Houston. Indeed it was Ms Houston who encouraged Chambers to get in front of the microphone himself. That encouragement led to three solo long players, the last being 2011's 'Sincere'. Since then Gordon's undergone something of a personal crisis. He's suffered loss in a house fire, seen the passing of close friends and family members and, sadly, Whitney herself.

It's taken Gordon Chambers over five years to get back into the studio and here he presents 'Surrender' – an album he calls "A soul-searching musical sojourn from heartbreak to hope". He uses the long player to re-establish a context for himself after such a challenging period and it's clear that the album's key note track is his treatment of the gospel standard, 'I Surrender All'. Those who know the song will understand why Chambers has selected it and gone on to use it for the album title. If you're not familiar with it, then accept that the song is an affirmation of hope (for believers, that is) in times of tribulation. Production-wise, it's lush and dramatic and that drama is the overriding musical template of the album. Songs like 'Unconditional', 'Love And Help Somebody' and 'One Voice' are overwrought builders. Indeed they're the kind of songs that Whitney Houston seemed to specialise in and listening here, the spirit of the tragic diva is never too far away. As if to hammer home the point there's even a very specific tribute to Whitney, 'My Way'. Naturally, it's a poignant moment, especially when you consider what kind of job Ms H, might have made of the song.

Other album highlights include the opening cut 'The Diamond Inside' (a busy, soul beater), 'Back To Love' (a sweet duet with Lalah Hathaway) and 'I Made It' (a collaboration with Eric Roberson and Steff Reed); that last one of course (look at the title) sums up the mood of the whole album. Gordon Chambers has truly made it.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 January 2017 21:08

 

STEVEN DAVIS: The Way You Look Tonight (First Second)

Friday, 13 January 2017 19:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Tis the season to swing, or so it seems. Curtis Stigers is all set to release his tribute to the classic Sinatra/Basie 'Live At The Sands' album while American lounge jazz/MOR entertainer, Steven Davis is busy promoting his own tribute to the Golden Age of Swing... 'The Way You Look Tonight', an album Steven calls "a beautiful homage to an incredible group of artists from that wondrous era when songs had soul, arrangements swung powerfully and poetic lyrics penetrated the heart."

To give authenticity to his work Steven recorded the long player with a 17-piece big band while the recording took place at Hollywood's iconic Capitol Studio A, yep, the same studio where Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and other masters of the genre cut their classic sides. The team was completed by producer Josh Charles, Grammy Award winning mixer/recording engineer Ed Cherney and conductor/arranger Andy Farber, who has arranged for, among others, Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Bob Dylan, B.B. King and Ray Charles. They selected 8 classics from the Great American Songbook and between them they've crafted a perfect swing album.

Amongst the repertoire are three songs rightly "owned" by Frank Sinatra – 'The Way You Look Tonight,' 'Come Fly With Me' and 'Luck Be A Lady' and Mr Davis and producer Charles treat them with the right amount of respect while arranger Faber, though not aping the charts of Riddle and Jenkins, has clearly studied those maestros in considerable detail. Only on a version of the Platters' 'Only You' can you expect something a little different to the original. Here the doo-wop ballad is given a classic swing treatment perfectly suited to Steven Davis's rich, expressive voice. The genre clearly suits where the singer is now at. Indeed to be where he is now is a remarkable story. Steven Davis began his music career in gospel. Then a few short years ago, he almost lost his ability to sing altogether. Making his comeback, he suffered a severe vocal bleed with the possibility that he might never sing professionally again. After nearly a year-long period of intense steroid therapy and weeks of forced silence, he was given a clean bill of health and on the evidence of this collection he's now set to join the ranks of the great swing "names".

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2017 19:17

 

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