Reviews

DAYMÉ AROCENA: 'Cubafonia' (Brownswood)

Saturday, 22 April 2017 09:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Many people imagine that given Cuba's isolation and insularity in the long reign of Fidel Castro, that its music and culture essentially remain unchanged, as if they had been trapped in a time bubble for fifty or so years. But 24-year-old vocal phenom, Daymé Arocena - who always dresses in white and sings barefoot - instantly dispels this notion as a fallacy with a sensational new album that shows that some of Cuba's younger performers are hip to what's going on musically in the rest of the world. This entrancing album - which follows on from her previous Brownswood releases as part of the label's Havana Cutura series - functions as a bridge between eras: between the old Cuba of Castro, referenced by some of the traditional musical styles (like the Rumba) that Arocena grew up with, and the post-Castro, forward-looking Cuba of today. The latter is represented by the influence of jazz, R&B, neo-soul and even classical music on Arocena's unique sound, which is a piquant fusion of different flavours but which remains quintessentially Cuban in character.

The soulful young singer - whose voice is both powerful and pliable - gives us a glimpse of a different Cuba with the eleven songs on this offering. The opener 'Ellegua' is richly dramatic; a hypnotic minor key jazz groove rising on a ostinato bass line over which the young singer contributes some soaring vocals. La Rumba Me LLamo You is more traditional in feel, factoring in the traditional, see-saw montuno piano rhythms. 'Mambo Na' Ma' is one of the set's killer cuts, which comes over like a Havana version of Incognito with its blend of jazz-infused dance rhythms with an infectious chorus and punchy horns. 'Como,' sung in English, is another standout  cut. It's an elegant mid-tempo ballad with a Sade-esque groove, where Arocena's exquisite voice is framed by orchestral strings.  Even slower is the gorgeous 'Angel,' where Ms. Arocena turns down the volume and instead shows shows great sensitivity and a quiter mode of emotional intensity.

Different again is the more exploratory is 'It's Not Gonna Be Forever,' which integrates transitional Cuban music with jazz and funk. Overall, this is an exciting, new style of Latin fusion that should appeal to aficionados of traditional Cuban music as well as the modernists. In short, 'Cubafonia' is a delicious revelation.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 April 2017 09:24

 

ALICE COLTRANE: 'The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda' (Luaka Bop)

Friday, 21 April 2017 07:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       

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Many people will be aware of Alice Coltrane via her association with jazz deity, saxophonist John Coltrane. A classically-trained pianist, young Detroit-born Alice McLeod (her maiden name) studied in Paris with noted bebop keyboard maven, Bud Powell, before playing with west coast vibraphonist, Terry Gibbs, in the early '60s. She met John Coltrane, fell in love with him and they married in 1965. Alice became the pianist in Coltrane's group a year later but in 1967, her husband died from liver cancer. After that, Alice Coltrane began her solo career aged 31 in 1968, recording the first of seven albums that would be released via the Impulse! label during a fertile five-year period. Featuring her on harp and organ as well as piano, the albums showed her developing a unique style that blended modal jazz with eastern-influenced sounds and spiritual themes. She then joined Warner Bros in 1975, where she cut four well-regarded albums before dropping off the jazz radar completely until 2004. This collection focuses on a crucial but overlooked time in Alice Coltrane's musical evolution when had left the music industry behind and was an active member of an Ashram in California. She continued to record music but her efforts were released as limited private pressings (on cassette and later CD).

The eight 'songs' on this Luaka Bop collection cherry picks some of the outstanding moments from four albums that she released under the name Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda via her own Avatar Book Institute label and which are now very collectable and hard-to-find. If you're familiar with Alice Coltrane's Impulse! and Warner Bros. oeuvre, you'll be able to follow and appreciate  the unique stylistic trajectory she embarks upon with the music on this collection. Its sounds are fervent and deeply spiritual, influenced by her interest in Hinduism and Indian culture. 'Om Rama' opens the collection, a mesmeric, percussion-driven, vocal chant supported by kaleidoscopic and otherworldly synth glissandi that bring an astral dimension to the music. Coltrane's own husky vocals front both the delicate, organ-accompanied song, 'Om Shanti,' as well as the dreamy 'Rama Rama,' where droning sitars, tablas and cosmic synth lines create a haunting soundscape.

Less serene is the more strident chant, 'Rama Guru,' and the joyous 'Hari Narayan.' Alice also updated her own classic song, 'Journey To Satchidananda' - which she first recorded on an album called 'Journey In Satchidananda' (note the subtle change in the title) in 1971 - where dark yet luminous synthesiser chords are eventually augmented by a chorus of plaintive voices, which help to create an inspiring, celestial sound. Alice Coltrane was also a brilliant harpist, and her talent is best illustrated here on the shimmering 'Er Ra,' where she accompanies her plangent voice with dazzling cascades of notes.

Coltrane expert, Ashley Kahn, sheds light on Alice Coltrane's life and music post-1978 with his illuminating liner notes, which together with the music makes for a profoundly rewarding package that will engage those looking for sounds that go beyond the conventional pop and jazz music norms. Inspirational stuff.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 21 April 2017 07:32

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Thank God It's Friday' (Culture Factory)

Thursday, 20 April 2017 11:16 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Some movie critics have contended that the 1978 disco-era film, 'Thank God It's Friday' - bankrolled by Neil Bogart's Casablanca company in tandem with the film division of Berry Gordy's Motown empire - is one of the worst movies to ever be associated with the Academy Awards. What got it into the history books was Donna Summer's 'Last Dance,' which picked up a well-deserved  Oscar for Best Song. While the movie - a sprawling disaster starring a young Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger that I once fell asleep to while watching - is risible, the soundtrack is something else altogether. Originally a double album that included a bonus 12" single by Donna Summer, it's now been resurrected on CD by France's Culture Factory label as a 2-CD set that replicates the original LP's cardboard gatefold sleeve.

The 'Thank God It's Friday' soundtrack album is arguably a more accurate representation of the late-'70s disco scene than the epochal 'Saturday Night Fever' LP. Its elongated mirrorball grooves (there are nineteen tracks in all) with slurping hi-hat figures and lush instrumentation encapsulates the over-the-top hedonism of the era, immersing the listener in a tsunami of platform soul that's like taking a trip in a time machine back to 1978. Disco goddess, Donna Summer, who also stars in a movie whose action revolves around a club called The Zoo, is represented by three cuts, including the aforementioned 'Last Dance.'  She also appears on 'With Your Love,' and producer Giorgio Moroder's  15-minute disco revamp of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's erotic, heavy-breathing classic, 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus),' a song that was added to the LP as a bonus 12" (in this Culture Factory reissue it's appended to the end of the second CD).

There are also some super-funky cuts by The Commodores ('Too Hot To Trot') and Cameo ('Find My Way') plus some gems by three golden-throated female vocalists - namely Pattie Brooks ('After Dark'), Thelma Houston (the Hal Davis-helmed 'Love Masterpiece'), and Diana Ross ('Lovin,' Livin,' and Givin''). Male singer/songwriter, Paul Jabara - who wrote 'Last Dance' for Summer - is present on a brace of his own songs: 'Disco Queen' and 'Trapped In A Stairway.' Other highlights come in the shape of 'Take It To The Zoo' by the group Sunshine and the engaging instrumentals, 'Leatherman's Theme,' by the Wright Bros. Flying Machine and the Latin-tinged 'Sevilla Nights' from Santa Esmeralda.

Though the film has understandably been long forgotten, this excellent soundtrack album deserves another life. Now remastered in high-definition, it sounds more vibrant than ever. Time to put your dancing shoes on and get on down.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 April 2017 11:24

 

TEENA MARIE: 'Ooo La La La: The Epic Anthology' (Soul Music Records)

Thursday, 20 April 2017 09:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Teena Marie's controversial departure from Motown in 1983 resulted in a lawsuit being fired at her from Berry Gordy's company (who didn't want her to leave) for breach of contract. Marie countersued and, against the odds, won her case, beating the corporate machine into submission. It was a landmark case that resulted in a congressional bill being passed that reduced record companies' contract demands.  After that triumph, the Californian singer/songwriter went back to making music and landed at Epic Records where she enjoyed more success than she had at Motown. The undoubted highlight of her time at the Columbia subsidiary came in 1988, when she scored her first and only US R&B #1 with 'Ooo La La La,' the title track of this ace 2-CD/25-track overview of her 7-year Epic tenure.

Whereas her Motown work was organic and featured human rhythm sections with real horns and strings, Marie's Epic work (much of which she wrote, arranged and produced herself) reflected the brave new world of '80s technology - synths, drum machines, and sequencing. As a result, some of the music on this anthology doesn't quite cut the mustard in 2017. It sounds a tad dated and therefore hasn't been able to transcend time in the way that some of her glorious Motown sides have. Even so, this is a fine compilation and without doubt is the best retrospective of her Epic years on the market.

The set mostly comprises Lady Tee's Epic singles - many in their 12" form - but also features key album cuts. CD 1 spotlights the dance-oriented cuts. 'Lovergirl,' her first Top 10 US R&B hit for Epic, still sounds mighty fine, as does the more urgent 'Jammin'.' Both 'Starchild,' and 'Fix It' are heavy slabs of rigid, machine-tooled, techno-funk but cuts like 'Playboy' are better because they use a real rhythm section, which allows subtlety and nuance, two qualities that you couldn't get from '80s drum machines. Even on a fluid dance cut like 'Work It'  the backbeat is too stiff and unwieldy, revealing the limitations of the time's technology. That can't be said for all of the tracks, though, especially on the ballad-focused second CD.  'Ooo La La La' still retains its '80s charm and 'Since Day One' - Teena Marie's sensational collaboration with Soul II Soul's Jazzie B - still grooves. The slow ballads hold up well, too - like 'Out On A Limb,' 'Dear Lover,' and the gorgeous jazz-infused 'Casanova Brown,' which uses a string orchestra, and is arguably the best cut on the entire collection. And who can forget 'Dear Mr. Gaye,' Lady Tee's heartfelt homage to Marvin Gaye, a song she co-wrote with the late Leon Ware.

As an overview of Teena Marie's Epic work, this fine collection can't be beaten though my rating reflects '80s technology getting in the way of some good songs and performances (particularly on CD 1).  

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 April 2017 09:25

 

VARIOUS: Virtue Recording Studio (Tramp)

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 19:28 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMost soul collectors know how important Philadelphia is/was in soul's evolution; said soul collectors can probably reel off all the big names and labels associated with the City of Brotherly Love, but it's my contention that it's only the really serious Philly soul buffs who'll be able to tell you about the city's Virtue Records. The label and its associated studio were set up in 1962 by Frank Virtue, who joined the crazy music biz after his release from the service in 1947. A talented guitarist, he formed the Virtuoso Trio who later morphed into the Virtues. The band enjoyed a 1958 hit with 'Guitar Boogie Shuffle' and with the profits he set up a studio and label. The studio located at 1618 North Broad Street, was used by Virtue's own artists and by anybody else who could afford $500 to cut their own 45... two songs of your very own which you could either issue yourself or lease to the Virtue label. Amongst the top tunes cut at Virtue's decidedly lo-fi facility are Cliff Nobles' 'The Horse' and Fantastic Johnny C's 'Boogaloo Down Broadway'.

As has become the way with rare labels, Virtue recordings are now eminently collectable and to oblige, Germany's Tramp label has just issued this lovely 21 tracker that collects together an eclectic selection of tunes cut at Virtue.

Because these are Philadelphia recordings, you can be sure that are plenty of sweet soul ballads and dancers that echo the sound of, say, the Intruders in the early/mid 60s. Amongst the best are Gene Faith's 'When My Ship Comes In', the RDM Band's 'Give Up' and The Creations' Take These Memories' which features a typical Philly falsetto lead. In truth, they're a little rougher and readier than the more polished work of Gamble and Huff, but none the worse for that.

The album also features a number of tough funk cuts – things like Bob Marshall's 'Big Ladies Man' while Richard Rome (a name familiar with Philly experts) offers a bizarre instrumental 'Ghost A Go Go' – part soul/jazz, part Northern soul.... very strange but it kind of works. Yes, this fine collection proves what proper Philly collectors know; that there was a whole lot more to Philadelphia soul than the glossy, sweet and smooth oeuvre of Gamble and Huff.

Released on 5th May, this album is absolutely essential for all Philly soul folk!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 19:47

 

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