THE THREE SOUNDS; Groovin’ Hard (Resonance Records)

Thursday, 02 February 2017 16:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLed by the redoubtable Gene Harris, the Three Sounds were a hard-gigging piano trio active from the late fifties to the early seventies. Originally a foursome (the Four Sounds!), the line up was Gene Harris on piano, Andrew Simpkins on bass, Bill Dowdy on drums, and saxophonist Lonnie 'The Sound' Walker. Disagreements between Harris and Walker about musical policy (Walker was keen on an R&B route) meant the four became three and that threesome found a deal with Riverside before signing with Blue Note for whom they recorded nine successful long players.

The Three Sounds were also serial music tourists and criss-crossed the States playing multi gigs to their large fan base. This new archive recording catches the trio live at one such gig – or more specifically four gigs spanning 1964-1968. However all the music was recorded at one club – Seattle's Penthouse which, despite its name, was actually a street level, intimate jazz club. Seattle-based jazz radio DJ, Jim Wilkie, would regularly broadcast live from the club and for each broadcast he ensured that the shows were professionally recorded ostensibly for his own archive. Back in 2010 jazz reissue specialists Resonance Records were given access to the tapes and they've just made available this 10 track selection from the Three Sounds' shows. None of the music has been available before and some of the tunes were never recorded by the trio for any of their released albums.

As was the norm for 60s jazz performances the Three Sounds repertoire here consists of band originals and well chosen covers of standards and then contemporary popular songs. Amongst the covers here are treatments of 'Girl Talk', 'The Shadow Of Your Smile' and 'Bluesette'. Of the originals perhaps the best known is 'Blue Genes', the title tune to a Three Sounds 1962 long player while the most obscure is 'The Boogaloo' – not known anywhere else in the group's catalogue.

Personnel-wise the album features three incarnations of the Three Sounds. Harris and Simpkins are constant. Original drummer Bill Dowdy features on four tracks while Kalil Madi, who replaced Dowdy in 1966 (legend has it that lifelong friends, Harris and Dowdy fell out after a disagreement over money!) is on the drum stool for two cuts; Madi's replacement, Carl Burnett, drums on the remaining four offerings. So, three trios but one very distinct, easily identifiable sound... essentially the sound of Gene Harris. Harris' playing has its roots in the church but his technique also owed much to blues and R&B and he knew how to make his music swing. As one critic put it; "He got right to the meat on the bone!" Drop in anywhere here and you'll understand just what he means!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 February 2017 16:58


BINKY WOMACK; Womack Style (Gonzo)

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 14:36 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBinky Womack is the scion of a legendary soul clan. More specifically, he's the nephew of Bobby Womack and with music in his DNA he runs his own studios in Burbank, California. There his recording/production credits include work with 2Pac, George Clinton, TLC, Usher, Smokey Robinson, and Uncle Bobby. From time to time he makes his own records and this latest 12 tracker is his homage to the man.

The majority of the songs are originals but there are two Bobby Womack covers.... his 'I'm In Love' and 'Put Something Down On it'. The former is respectful and more or less tracks the original which is more than I can say for the latter. Binky sets the 'Facts Of Life' song into a rock context and, sadly, it doesn't work. I'll pass on it. The album's other cover is (oddly, I think) a version of John Mayer's 'Gravity' but it's given a Bobby Womack style treatment complete with scorching guitar and short spoken intro.

There's one more cut with a very specific Bobby Womack link. It's 'When You're Wrong' which we're told Binky recorded on Bobby just before his death but for contractual reasons Bobby's vocals had to be erased. What we get here is Binky's vocal over a rather pedestrian song.

The rest of the songs on the album shows flashes of inspiration as Binky tries to grab some of his uncle's magic but the long player lacks one big, big tune. Even the presence of Snoop Dogg on 'Love Addict' can't rescue a mundane effort, but I'm sure Bobby Womack completists will want to grab a listen. Maybe they'll enjoy 'Me And My Guitar' on which Binky relates how when Uncle Bobby gifted him a guitar it helped him cope with life ahead....aah!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2017 14:42


LUMAN CHILD: Time 2 Grow (Sed Soul)

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLuman Child is a Swiss (born Neuchâtel, 1984) music maker who is plays both drums and bass and he has the honour of fronting Sed Soul's first album release of 2017... 'Time 2 Grow'. First thing we need to say is that the sound of the 11 tracker is very different to the usual Sed Soul sound. Gone are the retro, 80s weekender flavours that Sed Soul do so well and instead we have nu/neo soul, jazzy touches and hip hop. Secondly, because of his own instrumental specialities, Luman drafts in an almost cast of thousands to help him deliver his sound, which, thirdly, is not dominated by the leader's drums or bass playing.

So how do we define the music of Luman Child? Well there's a lot going on. In places you'd pigeon hole the music as neo soul. 'Hey Brother' (Joseph Junior on vocals) for instance could be a Maxwell outtake, while the influence on 'Was It Better' is Ms Badu, though I'm not so sure that she'd be happy with the electro intro, intriguing though it is.

In other places I'm hearing the influence of those great old Guru 'Jazzmatazz' long players. Try 'Up And Down' with Joseph Junior and Ryan Marshall to hear what I mean. Like the Guru tracks, the rhyming is organic and gentle but pointed while the instrumentation is jazzy – hazy trumpets, understated vibes very much in the Donald Byrd/ Mizell Brothers tradition.

The Donald Byrd trumpet sound is all over this album... most notably on the instrumental, 'Birdsong' and 'Time To Grow' (which if I'm not mistaken steals a tiny sample of the Spinners' 'I'll Be Around' to get things started).

'Life Is Like A Cloud' is another intriguing tune. It comes in two mixes.... the original is Guru-esque while the Visioneers Remix could sit nicely on a Cafe Del Mar chill out compilation. Guess by now you've realised why we made the opening comments... very different for Sed Soul but never less than interesting.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:58


NATHAN EAST: Reverence (Concord)

Saturday, 28 January 2017 14:56 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altProdigious bassist, Nathan East is one of soul and jazz's most prolific artists. We're told that he's played on over 2,000 recordings both as sideman (supporting people like Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock) and as a member of "supergroup" Fourplay. Our man's also released a slew of fine solo albums and this new 12 tracker is right up there with his very best.

We're also told that the LP's title, 'Reverence' derives from the seriousness and respect that East put into the recording, particularly in paying homage to one of his long time musical heroes, Maurice White, who, of course, passed just 12 months ago.

In respect to White, 'Reverence' offers a couple of Earth Wind And Fire covers... 'Love's Holiday' and 'Serpentine Fire' and for both East has drafted in Philip Bailey to offer his unique "caressed" vocals. 'Love's Holiday' is just lovely while 'Serpentine Fire' is brought to us via a stellar cast. Helping out here are (amongst others) Ralph Johnson, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Greg Phillinganes, and Gerald Albright. Maurice White would be proud of 'em all!

'Reverence' features plenty more big name guests. Right now we're loving 'Why Not This Sunday' which has a wonderfully understated vocal from Ruben Studdard. There's just a hint of EWF about the tune which has "radio friendly" stamped all over it.

Elsewhere Yolanda Adams takes lead on a version of Randy Newman's 'Feels Like Home' while  Nikki Yanofsky fronts the swinging 'The Mood I'm In'. Of the instrumentals our pick is a loose and funky take on Stevie's 'Higher Ground' which proves (of you needed it) East's talents as he duels with Kirk Whalum's sax. Nathan's son, Noah plays keys on a poignant version of 'Over The Rainbow' and the whole album ends with a solo bass track... 'Until We Meet Again'. Knowing Nathan East's track record we're sure that that won't be too long!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 January 2017 15:11


DONNA SUMMER: 'I Remember Yesterday' and 'She Works Hard For The Money' (Culture Factory)

Saturday, 28 January 2017 08:57 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


In the summer of 1977, disco queen Donna Summer, then 28, ruled the UK's hit parade with 'I Feel Love,' the classic Giorgio Moroder-helmed track that topped Britain's charts for a long, hot month. With its robotic sequencer groove, sci-fi-esque synthesiser chords  and Summer's erotic vocals (which basically just consisted of her intoning the words "I feel love" over and over), 'I Feel Love,' proved to be a revolutionary record and set in motion the whole electro and Euro disco scene. Though futuristic in its sound and concept, curiously, the track belonged to the Casablanca album, 'I Remember Yesterday,' whose opening title song was slightly camp and the stylistic antithesis of 'I Feel Love' with its stylistic references to old time jazz and evocation of Hollywood's glorious heyday in the 1930s. A key entry in Summer's canon, the album - together with 1983's 'She Works Hard For The Money' - has now been reissued as part of Culture Factory's Vinyl Replica Collection and remastered in high definition.

'I Remember Yesterday's' nod to the past didn't begin and end with the title song but continued with 'Love's Unkind,' an infectious homage to Phil Spector-produced girl group pop of the early '60s and the crisp pop of 'Back In Love Again.' Different again - and further proof of Summer's versatility during a time when she was typecast as a disco diva -  is 'Black Lady,' a collision of rock and funk flavours. By contrast, 'Take Me' finds Summer in a more typical dance floor mode while 'Can't We Just Sit Down (And Talk About It)' reveals that the Massachusetts-born singer could bring an emotional gravitas to storytelling ballads. But it's the album final cut, 'I Feel Love,' which is the album's keystone, despite the fact that it stands out like a sore thumb because it sounds so different compared to what preceded it. It remains Donna Summer's crowning achievement and changed the whole music landscape at the time - and its reverberations can still be felt in contemporary dance music. 

By 1983, the disco bubble had burst and Donna Summer's popularity was on the wane. She had left Casablanca under a cloud in 1980 and signed with the Geffen label but couldn't recapture past glories. An album for Warner Bros (1982's 'Donna Summer' helmed by Quincy Jones) followed and improved her chart fortunes but then the singer was ordered by a court to fulfil the terms of her original contract with Casablanca (which had then been acquired by Polygram) and give the company an album that she owed them. So in 1983, Summer went in the studio with composer/producer/pianist Michael Omartian and came up with 'She Works Hard For The Money' which Polygram decided to release via Mercury rather than Casablanca. It's a slick, Hollywood-recorded album that shows Summer searching for a musical identity and a new direction in a post-disco world. The hit title song is a catchy and archetypal slice of '80s pop-rock. 'He's A Rebel' is even rockier and more anthemic while 'Woman' - one of the set's best cuts - is a sassy chunk of Prince-esque funk. The biggest hit that the 'She Works Hard For The Money' album spawned was the upbeat, tropical-flavoured 'Unconditional Love,' featuring the UK's own then juvenile reggae group, Musical Youth.

Sonically, these two albums - which come stylishly-packaged in sturdy mini LP sleeves complete with Japanese-style obi strips - have never sounded better in the CD age. They reflect two different junctures in Summer's life and career - the first captures the singer at the height of her fame as a disco goddess while the second finds her reinventing herself and trying to find her feet in the brave new world of 1980s pop. Together, these albums reflect the versatile nature of Donna Summer's unique talent.

(CW) 4/5




Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2017 16:42


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