JAMIROQUAI: 'Automaton' (Virgin)

Thursday, 30 March 2017 10:45 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                 altIt's been a long time coming - seven years, to be precise - but finally Jamiroquai's eighth album and the follow-up to 2010's 'Rock Dust Light Star' is here. So, the crucial question is: has it been worth the wait? To this writer's ears - who confesses to have followed Jay Kay's troupe since their days as an Acid Jazz outfit in the early '90s - it certainly has, though no doubt there will be some naysayers who think the opposite is true. That's because Jamiroquai is a band that seems to polarise opinion. Despite selling millions of records around the world and having legions of enthusiastic fans, they've also got their fair share of detractors who deem them 'uncool.' Even so, 25 years on from their inception, Jamiroquai are still going strong and their timeless, immediately identifiable, sound has managed to see off many fleeting, 'here today, gone tomorrow,' pop music fads and trends. But they are more than mere survivalists - every time they return they do so in style and serve up something special. Quality is always guaranteed.

So, what of 'Automaton'? Does it cut the mustard? According to the band's talisman, Jay Kay - the original "cat in the hat" before Gregory Porter usurped his sobriquet - the album's theme was inspired "in recognition of the rise of artificial intelligence and technology in our world today" and explores "how we as humans are beginning to forget the more pleasant, simple and eloquent things in life and in our environment including our relationship with one another as human beings."  It sounds heavy but even if you don't buy into the album's central conceit, the music can be appreciated for its own sake and on its own terms. Stylistically, there's more of an emphasis on electronic effects - in keeping with the album's A.I.-referencing title, no doubt - but thankfully, all of the classic Jamiroquai features are there: Jay Kay's sinuous and soulful vocals; big infectious choruses that get lodged and looped in the grey matter; and irresistibly funky dance floor grooves

The euphoric opener, 'Shake It Up' gets things under way in fine style. It's driven by Giorgio Moroder-esque bubbling robotic sequencers over a four-on-the-floor beat. The addition of Chic-style violin swoops adds an authentic retro vibe. As mirror ball dance grooves go, it's very addictive and the refrain is a bona fide anthem that revives the spirit of the band's previous big hits, 'Canned Heat' and 'Virtual Insanity.'

Cyborg sequencers, vocoders and synths dominate the quirky title cut - already issued as a single - though it breaks out with a soaring, widescreen Euro disco chorus.  Underlining the fact that Kay is an expert at creating songs with earworm refrains are a series of memorable, dance floor, fire-starters  - namely the dirty, funked-up 'Hot Property,' 'Cloud 9,' 'We Can Do It,' and the more urgent 'Superfresh.' The tempo drops a notch for the super-catchy 'Dr Buzz' with its hint of Sly & The Family Stone in its rhythm track and Steely Dan in its chorus. 'Summer Girl' is also more laid back though it still is propelled by an effervescent dance pulse while 'Night In The Jungle' is more atmospheric, riding on a sleek, funky bass line. In acute contrast, there's a pronounced jazz feel - in terms of its sophisticated harmonic content - that defines the turbo-charged 'Vitamin,' which boasts a frantic backbeat, a wild sax solo, and sweeping orchestral strings. It's another top-notch cut on an album that doesn't have any weak or sub-standard songs and which in terms of quality is right up there with previous Jamiroquai releases.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 March 2017 19:47


TROMBONE SHORTY: Parking Lot Symphony (Blue Note)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 19:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTrombone Shorty is the working name of New Orleans' Troy Andrews. He tells us that his nickname comes from the time when, aged just 4, he played trombone in one of the many Big Easy marching bands. Must have been quite a sight, but since then our man's never looked back. He began his recording career in 2002 but it's really only in the last several years that he's broken out. Maybe it's down to the high profile New Orleans has enjoyed since the tragic floods, maybe it's working liaisons with people like Mark Ronson, Cee Lo Green or Robert Randolph, maybe it's the success of outfits like the Hot 8 Brass Band or maybe it's simply because his sound is unique, catchy and totally infectious...but right now, he's on a roll!

Whatever the reason, 'Parking Lot Symphony' – Shorty's debut for the iconic Blue Note label – is sure to please all those who tuned in to the grooves of his last long player, 2013's 'Say That To Say This'. Like that album, this new set is a clever mix of originals and well-chosen covers. The two big covers are what, I guess, we could call New Orleans standards.... Allen Toussaint's 'Here Comes The Girls' and the Meters' 'It Ain't No Use'. A son of the city, Shorty takes no liberties. His versions are respectful.... but not po-faced respectful. They're full of the optimism and the laissez faire attitudes that New Orleans specialises in.

The album's other major homage to New Orleans is the melancholy 'Laveau Dirge'. There are two versions here.... topping and tailing the long player and they're a not just a proper throw back to the city's famed funeral processions but also an opportunity for Shorty to show his virtuosity.

Elsewhere, the album's title cut is another brassy slice of optimism ... totally contemporary soul/funk while 'Where It At?', after an harmonic opening, mines a deep funk groove – one of many varied flavours on display here.


(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 March 2017 19:11


CHRISTIAN SCOTT A TUNDE ADJUAH: 'Ruler Rebel' (Stretch Music/Ropeadope)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 11:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

altChristian Scott A Tunde Adjuah is one of several American cool cats - the others include Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Marcus Strickland - who are making jazz hip again. Now, the 33-year-old, Big Easy horn blower follows up 2015's superlative 'Stretch Music' album with this, his eleventh long player (and the first of three LPs that the award-winning trumpeter has collectively dubbed 'The Centennial Trilogy' - two more albums are scheduled to appear later this year).  Conceived as a concept album inspired by today's most pertinent and pressing issues - ranging from political polarisation and racial division to sexual orientation and internecine strife - 'Ruler Rebel,' with its kaleidoscopic hues and layered tone colours, reflects the composer trying make sense of the complex and fractured world that we live in.

Sonically, 'Ruler Rebel' continues from where 'Stretch Music' left off, fusing post-bop jazz tropes with hip-hop flavours and African rhythms as well as assimilating influences from rock music and movie soundtracks. The net result of this cross-cultural fusion is an unclassifiable panoply of sound that pushes boundaries but which remains accessible rather than esoteric. The opening title cut is an atmospheric  overture, combining Miles-esque muted trumpet over a cinematic backdrop comprising shimmering keyboards and a beat box rhythm track. 'New Orleanian Love Song,' by contrast, comes in two guises - the first, the original iteration, finds Adjuah's imperious trumpet blowing molten, magisterial phrases over a galloping Latin-infused groove while the second version is a remix that is more direct and exudes a hip-hop feel in relation to its rhythm track. Both versions work tremendously well.

Different, again, is 'Phases,' which finds Adjuah using looped electronic effects while Sarah Elizabeth Charles's ethereal voice intertwines with his trumpet's burnished lyrical emissions. A greater sense of urgency propels 'Encryption,'  one of the album's stand-out tracks. It's a moodier piece where pattering trap drums underpin sustained throbbing bass notes while above, eerie synth effects and Elena Pinderhughes' darting flute coalesce to create a thrilling sense of sonic drama. Pinderhughes' flute also plays a pivotal role on the jaunty, hip-hop-infused 'The Coronation,' while on the album's eighth and final track, 'The Reckoning' - an Hispanic-influenced cut that evokes echoes of Miles Davis' 'Sketches of Spain' - Adjuah plays harmonised horn parts in addition to some fine solo lines.

All in all, 'Ruler Rebel' is another scintillating example of Christian Scott A Tunde Adjuah's brilliance as a composer, musician and forward-thinking jazz conceptualist. It offers stunning confirmation that he is, without doubt, one of the most exciting figures in contemporary jazz right now.

'Ruler Rebel' is available from March 31st.

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF's 2016 interview with Christian here:

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 March 2017 12:08


MAJOR LANCE: Ain’t No Soul (RPM)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 10:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altChicago's Major Lance was never a premier league soul player in the US. In the UK, however, it's a different story. In the mid sixties he became a mod cultural icon (and not just in London, as the sleeve notes would suggest) while a little later he became a revered legend on the Northern soul scene. Given that almost saintly status, it's odd that there aren't that many Lance quality compilations and reissues out there. Thankfully, Cherry Red imprint, RPM Retro is set to rectify that with a wonderful two CD, 53 track collection that pulls together (for the first time, I believe) all the recordings Major made for the fabled Okeh label... the high watermark of his career.

Born in either 1939, 1940 or 1941 (depending on what sources you use) Major Lance came to Okeh with the help of his long time pal, Curtis Mayfield. The pair had grown up together in Chicago's Cabrini-Green projects and indeed it was the "Gentle Genius" who helped kick start his friend's success at Okeh. Curtis supplied many of Lance's songs; he played guitar on the recordings; the Impressions sang BVs ( sometimes they were replaced by the Artistics); and he encouraged producer Carl Davis and arranger Johnny Pate to bring out the best in Major's quirky voice and to replicate the sonic template that the Impressions were enjoying success with. In essence Major Lance's early period Okeh recordings were Impressions records with a different lead voice; though, none the worse for that. Lance's big hits ... 'The Monkey Time'. 'Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um', 'The Matador' and 'Rhythm' all featured sophisticated shuffle beats, sweet harmonies and insidious brass riffs but it was Major's unusual voice that proved the ultimate attraction.

By 1966, things started to change for Major and indeed Okeh. Curtis Mayfield was too busy with the Impressions and other projects to work with his old friend and master producer, Carl Davis left the company. Now teamed with New York's Ted Cooper, the Major Lance sound changed. It became more up-tempo and aped the Motown template. And why not? Through 1966 and '67 Motown were massive... why even Curtis had a go at the "sound" (grab a listen to the Impressions' 'You've Been Cheating'). So it was that Lance's recordings from this period ('It's The Beat', 'Investigate', 'Ain't No Soul (In These Old Shoes)', 'Too Hot To Hold' etc) became the stuff of Northern soul mythology.

All those fabulous tunes are here, naturally, but you get an awful lot more.... B sides, album tracks (many covers of Impressions songs) and hard to find collectables. The set's a must for anyone who really cares about proper soul music and though Major Lance went on to record for labels like Dakar, Curtom and Stax/Volt he never again created anything as magical and intoxicating as he did at Okeh. That was his time and place!

Major Lance died in 1994. He'd been in ill health for some time and after a ten year jail sentence for narcotics offences, he was relegated to the second division oldies circuit.... a sad end for a major soul talent!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 March 2017 10:59



Thursday, 23 March 2017 12:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

            altVirtuosic pedal steel guitarist, Robert Randolph, who'll be forty in August, learned his craft playing in church in his native New Jersey as a juvenile. Though he's familiar to many people for his myriad cameo roles on other people's albums (as a guest artist, he's played alongside some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including  Ringo Starr, Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John and Santana) it's as the leader of his own Family Band that he's made his most significant recordings. This new album - from a fretboard maven whom Rolling Stone magazine considers "one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time" - is his seventh outing so far and proves to be an enthralling high-octane fusion of blues, gospel, rock and soul flavours.

At the heart of Randolph's music is his distinctive guitar playing, with its sustained, soaring, soul-searching sound. Though traditionally associated with both country and Hawaiian music, Randolph has found an exciting new context for the pedal steel guitar and demonstrates his absolute mastery of the instrument over twelve tracks. Among the highlights is an original tune called 'Shake It,' driven by a turbo-charged rhythm section enhanced by a horn section. R&B singer, Anthony Hamilton, fronts  'She Got Soul' and another guest singer, Darius Rucker - of Hootie & The Blowfish fame - takes the lead on 'Love Do What It Do.' Even better is a stomping version of dynamic soul duo Sam & Dave's Hayes-Porter-scribed Stax tune, 'I Thank You,' which features Snarky Puppy's keyboard wizard,  Cory Henry. More seismic grooves come in the guise of the strutting 'Lovesick' and a locomotive, riff-laden instrumental called 'Travelin' Cheeba Man.' It's not all flat-out, pedal-to-the-metal, blues-rockers, though, as the chugging anthem, 'Be The Change,' the blissful 'Gonna Be All Right,' and a wonderful, celestial solo guitar interlude dubbed  'Heaven's Calling,' all attest. Got soul? He certainly has - and the proof, here, is super-abundant.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 March 2017 18:37


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