Reviews

BT ALC BIG BAND: The Search For Peace (Ropeadope)

Friday, 24 May 2019 18:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Bt ALC Big Band is a BIG band. Formed in 2011 by trombonist Brian Thomas and trumpeter Alex Lee-Clark, the current line up features three horns sections – fives saxes, four trumpets and four trombonists! In total the band numbers 19 players and the creators mission statement was all about dynamically re-presenting the big band sounds of the 60s and early 70s while also educating music students in how they can create their own, fresh, relevant big band sounds. You see Thomas and Lee-Clark believe there's little point in merely offering "tributes" to the past by working on familiar standards and their classic arrangements; rather, they want to use the big band format to create a new, accessible and culturally relevant music.

Recorded "live", using an omni-directional microphone in front of the horn sections, BT ALC have three albums under their belt ... 2013's 'Superhero Dance Party' and 2016's two volumes of 'The Herd Sessions' and commentators noted that on 'em their sound merged the sound of Basie and Ellington with the feel of Clinton (George, that is) and JB! "Big Band Funk" is how one eminent critic described it!

Enjoy more of the same (or simply introduce yourself to it) via their latest 7 tracker which offers the aforementioned flavours but also adds a garnish of Afrobeat and the magic of the Caribbean. Hear all that to best effect on what is essentially the album opener, 'Dance'. It comes right after a brief intro that is mostly traditional big band; 'Dance' is not "traditional".... big, brash and percussive, it weighs in at five and a half minutes and manages to get almost everything into the music mix. 'Tune For Lou' is another good 'un.... shades of soul-jazz and 60s movies (think 'The Odd Couple' or 'Charade') but in its six minutes plus it manages to push way behind those confines. And that evolutionary sound is there across all 7 tracks – using a traditional chassis, the BT ALC Big Band customize things in their own special way.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:38

 

MAVIS STAPLES: 'We Get By' (Anti-)

Thursday, 23 May 2019 10:38 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altMavis Staples just seems to get better with time. She'll be 80 in July but in the last decade she's recorded some of her best work as a solo artist. Though some singers inevitably lose their voices as they get older, Mavis's, like a vintage wine, has undoubtedly improved with time, gaining deeper textural nuances and a weathered sense of gravitas that makes everything she sings sound holy and profound. Her pairing up with alt-blues maven-turned-producer Ben Harper is an inspired alliance and together, the two have created a memorable sequence of songs that will resonate deeply with those who are acutely sensitive to the polarised world of haves and have nots that we continue to live in.

As a Civil Rights activist in the 50s and 60s, Mavis Staples knows all about division and prejudice and listening to this 11-song collection, it's as if the Trump era has taken us back to year zero and that all the victories she fought so hard for alongside Martin Luther King have been consigned to history's forgotten backpages. But the album is not just a bleak indictment of the current troubles that continue to besiege this planet but also pays testament to the spirit of simple human decency and offers a scintilla of hope in what seems a forlorn, hopeless world. From the robust and tense opener, a fuzz-toned blues shuffle called 'Change,' you know that Mavis is doing some serious preaching. "What good is freedom if we haven't learned to be free," she hollers and it's a sentiment that will resonate with many. The urgency of this call to action contrasts with the uplifting stoicism of the title track, the Staples Singers-like storytelling philosophising of 'Anytime'  and the simmering funk of 'Brothers And Sisters,' a message about the value of a togetherness in a fractured world.

The power of love is the inspiration behind the Bible-referencing 'Stronger' while 'Heavy On My Mind' is a pensive ballad where Mavis's voice is accompanied by a lone shimmering electric guitar a la Pops Staples. More rousing is 'Sometime,' which hitches a ride on a simple gospel-soul backbeat accentuated by handclaps. 'Chance On Me' is attractive with its jaunty rhythmic gait, while 'One More Change,' the closing track, is a sombre epilogue about faith, resolve and determination.  

This is not so much a collection of songs but rather a compendium of heartfelt pleas, prayers and parables whose theme is hope for a better future: a future that unlike the cover picture of the album isn't defined by barriers, discrimination and segregation. Mavis Staples has made many fine solo albums over the years but this one is arguably her best yet: it's powerful yet sensitive, nakedly honest yet uplifting and hopeful. In these benighted times, it shines like a much-needed beacon of light.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2019 18:28

 

RAHSAAN PATTERSON: Heroes And God (Shanachie)

Wednesday, 22 May 2019 12:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGood things come to those who wait.... it's been seven long years since we've enjoyed new music from smooth soul man Rahsaan Patterson – but with (at last) the release of this new long player he proves (again) that quality will always trump quantity!

We were told about this album a month or two back when Mr P issued the single 'Sent From Heaven'. Gorgeous, lazy, smooth and buttery, the track won instant favour particularly amongst the Quiet Stomers who likened it (a little) to his groundbreaking 1997 'Don't Wanna Loose It'. It was a proper teaser for the album and to whet our appetites even more that lovely ballad was followed with the more up-tempo 'Catch Me When I Fall'. The 13 track album offers plenty more goodies – both "up" and "down" moments.

The best beater (after the aforementioned 'Catch Me When I Fall') is 'Silly, Love Fool' – but maybe it's just a tad too electro for the modern soul dancers. Best of the slowies/mid tempo moments are the lovely, lithe ''Wonderful Star' which features clever interplay between Patterson and the femme chorus, 'Rock and Roll' which isn't R&R at all – rather an insidious soul groove that really takes off and 'Break It Down' – a throwback to the days of 'Don't Wanna Loose It'. For extra interest, Mr P also offers a respectful cover of Luther's 'Don't You KNow That'.

Towards the end of the album there's a suite of more experimental tracks complete with electro effects and the like. The conservative soul crowd will probably pass on them but the mesmeric 'Sweet Memories' does manage (via the effects) to conjure up a dreamy, memory-seeking soundscape. And what carries all these tunes is Patterson's memorably, unusual but very appealing voice.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:40

 

LASPERANZA: SEEDS (Dome)

Friday, 10 May 2019 18:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUK soul brand leader Dome Records have been uncharacteristically quiet for a while but they're now back in real style with this much-anticipated project from Lasperanza (the word is something to do with hope). Lasperanza is the brainchild of UK producer/musician Rico Garofalo who's been on the scene since the 90s but he's long harboured a dream of recording an album of the songs that made him fall in love with soul in the 80s – the music that made him realize that he wanted a job in the business himself. Six years ago he built himself a studio in Hertfordshire and, at first just for himself, he started to record some of those influential tunes. The project grew and grew and when the Dome people got to know about it (and they know a thing or two about soul!) they decided to work with Rico and release it as a commercial album.

The album launch was preceded by two very well-received singles.... a version of Gwen Guthrie's 'It Should Have Been You' (with vocal from Izzy Chase)' and an intriguing version of MJ's 'Working Day And Night'...vocalist here is Kayleigh O'Neill. The key word in that last sentence is "intriguing". You see Rico didn't just want to do straight covers; he wanted something a little different; "I didn't want to do straightforward covers. I wanted to change the arrangements, be it from a rhythmic or harmonic aspect, sometimes both, while always keeping a soul/jazz flavor. Give the songs a new lease of life rather than just a fresh lick of paint".

And there's plenty that's different here. For instance take Lasperanza's look at that most familiar of soul songs – Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together'. Here it sounds like a different song altogether... a sort of Incognito thing going on... yes different.

Another thing that's different about 'Seeds' in comparison to other "covers" album is that many of the songs aren't that well-known. Sure we all know about 'Let's Stay Together' and 'Working Day And Night' but what about Lou Rawls' 'Early Morning Love', Angela Bofill's 'Under The Moon' and Marc Sadane's 'One Minute From Love'? If you know the Sadane song you'll know it's a brisk modern soul dancer. Here Rico turns it into a moving ballad... the inspiration, he says, was Tower Of Power.

'Seeds' is available now via Dome Records and Mr G says that the title is important: "these songs were some of the seeds that planted the roots of my love and passion for soul music." If you love soul too you'll surely want to investigate these passionate (and different) covers.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2019 18:31

 

ELAN TROTMAN; Dear Marvin (Woodward Avenue)

Friday, 10 May 2019 18:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMarvin Gaye's back catalogue (especially his work from the 'What's Going On' period) has been covered by countless artists – with varying degrees of success, I have to say. Latest to offer his own spin on the Gaye magic is Barbados-born sax man Elan Trotman. Educated at the famous Berklee College Of Music in Boston, Mr T has recorded and performed with plenty of big names – including Michael McDonald, Roberta Flack, Jonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui, Johnny Gill, Jeffrey Osborne, Sheila E, Marcus Miller, Will Downing, Earl Klugh, Jeff Lorber, Peter White and Peabo Bryson. In his own right, he's enjoyed plenty of smooth jazz chart success and this new 10 track love letter to Marvin Gaye is sure to win plenty of favour too. It's an undemanding, easy-on-the ear, slickly produced set of covers, very much in the style of Elan's heroes – Grover Washington Jr, Kirk Whaum and Najee.

And, not by coincidence I'm guessing, Najee is one of the album's featured guests. He plays flute on a fairly straight cover of 'After The Dance'. There's vocal input on this from Tim "Smithsonian" Smith who also takes lead on 'Sexual Healing'. Other album guests include Patches Stewart whose trumpet graces 'Distant Lover', Jeff Lorber who takes the keyboard solo on 'Trouble Man' and Jeff Bradshaw whose trombone beefs up 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'. Vocalist Ray Greene warbles sweetly on 'Mercy Mercy Me' while - offering something a little different - Obodele Thompson raps in old school fashion on 'I Want You'. In truth that rap is really the only inclusion that takes us away from the original Gaye versions. All the tunes are treated with respect; and why not? They're great tunes and don't need to much fussing over and great to hear 'em all over again with Elan's soulful sax taking over from those much loved, familiar vocals.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2019 18:32

 

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