Often Dark, Brooding and Dreamy. Jazz at It’s Finest?
I can only apologise for being so late with this review; it certainly arrived in time for the Release Date but …. you know; life just got in the way …. and this needed time and patience; which have both been in short supply recently. First of all; in some ways this is an odd release, as the middle six tracks are Live Recordings from 2017 when Smith celebrated his 75th birthday; and they are bookended by two tracks with the Bad Boy of Punk, Iggy Pop supplying vocals ….. in itself; something well worthy of my time and patience. Opening song; the Soul Classic; Why Can’t We Live Together? is quite dreamy; especially the way Smith plays the Hammond and Iggy; much to my surprise adds his part straight down the middle; who knew he could do crooning? Well, he can and the combination must surely beckon a full album in this mode one day? Then comes Dr Lonnie Smith and his band; guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, drummer Johnathan Blake, as well as an expanded septet featuring John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, and Robin Eubanks on trombone, and they moved me in such a way I thought I might cry like a baby when I first heard track #2 Bright Eyes (no, not ‘that’ one!) ….. it is simply beautiful; Jazz at it’s finest? A matter of opinion of course ….. but hey; the way these cats come together as one? It’s not that what follows is inferior; far from it but Smith ‘challenges’ the listener at times; ok this isn’t the most dangerous Jazz I’ve ever heard (thankfully) but you have to invest time (and patience) to let the wonders of Too Damn Hot and Epistrophy unravel to get the best from the intricate musicianship from the players …. and it is worth it. Smith and the compilers have a bit of fun at our expense too; adding Track 9 at #4 in the running order; but this noire instrumental could come at any stage and still send a shudder down your spine. The album closes with Iggy Pop making his second appearance in the studio; this time on a cool reworking of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman; and KERPOW! It’s absolutely wonderful in a soulful groove; and was an early contender for Favourite Track; but two more fitting other tracks actually scrap for that title. The 12 minute opus, World Weeps, first appearing in 2014 couldn’t be a more fitting soundtrack for where we are in 2021 after one of the worst years in the world’s history. Dark, brooding and almost ‘Prog’ in the way the piece plays out; with individual musical interludes segueing from one to another to create something that was heart stopping that night in 2017. This is Jazz; but not as I know it. The other track; and the one that possibly tips the balance is the only actual song from that night, Pilgrimage, featuring Smith’s daughter Alicia Olatuja on vocals; which with me not reading the bio or notes; came as quite a surprise and a rather lovely one at that, as Smith’s playing already had me mesmerised so when Alicia makes her appearance after a couple of stunning minutes; I actually gasped ……. much to my wife’s amusement; as I was listening on headphones! Oddly enough; between immersing myself in this recording and now typing up my thoughts, I’ve been part of a playful ‘spat’ on the Twitter regarding Jazz. Much like my friends there, there’s a lot I’ve tried to get my head around over the years; and failed miserably to understand, with too much being the musical equivalent of the Emperors New Clothes; and far too many Jazz Buffs being ‘holier than thou’ when it comes to discussing this style of music; but I’m really, really enjoying and appreciating what I’m receiving these days; and long may it continue.
Hasaan Ibn Ali METAPHYSICS: THE LOST ATLANTIC ALBUM Omnivore Records
Modernism From 1965 Still Sounds Fresh and Exciting in The 21st Century.
As the name of the website implies; I’ve always been a bit of a Magpie where music is involved; and while I’ve tried several times over the years to sit among the Cool Kids and ‘like’ Jazz; it’s always been hard work. Bits and pieces have certainly took my fancy; but in general too much I’ve listened to has been high brow for the likes of me, and I tend to go back to what I know. Then along came Omnivore Records last year with a couple of releases that I became fascinated with and now, there’s this ‘great lost album’ from Hasaan Ibn Ali. Being totally honest, the name didn’t mean a thing; but I trust the source implicitly and played it one night as I was reading a long form article in GQ Magazine …… and it was the perfect accompaniment. With that under my belt; I’ve now played METAPHYSICS: THE LOST ATLANTIC ALBUM six times and each time enjoyed it more than the last. Recorded in August/September 1965 in New York the album was shelved by the label (Atlantic) because Ali was in jail on drugs charges! Different times indeed. Subsequently the original tapes were lost in a warehouse fire; but a second copy mysteriously turned up a couple of years ago and …. here ’tis. Not being any form of expert it’s always going to be difficult reviewing an instrumental Jazz album; but opening track Atlantic Ones simply oozes Class, with a capital C. Ali’s piano playing is breath-taking; but first and foremost, Odean Pope’s tenor sax playing simply sizzles in a way I’ve never heard before. While I wasn’t wrong using this as ‘background music’ that night; but heard on headphones; or my favourite …. late at night in the car (a very early foggy morning was pretty fine too)…… WOW! The darkly brooding El Hasaan could be from a Hitchcock soundtrack and the 11 minutes plus of True Train have held me totally transfixed twice; as the music smothered me like a warm blanket. To my untutored ears, this is as close to Classical Music as I’m ever going to get and the interplay between Ali on piano and Pope, Saxophone on Viceroy and the majestic Epitome while Art Davis, bass; andKalil Madi on drums hold the whole thing together like velvet covered steel, allowing the virtuosos the time and space to make their magic happen. I may not understand the actual title, but the intricately beautiful ‘Richard May Love Give Powell’ gives the title track Metaphysics a run for its money in the Favourite Track Stakes; but for no real other reason than it is just plain brilliant; with the latter taking the title by a short head. The three additional tracks are the obligatory ‘alternate takes’ and there’s nothing wrong with them at all; but phew the playing and energy earlier is truly spellbinding; and well worth discovering if you are only vaguely interested in this style of music; as I am.
Finally Unearthed! A Great Lost Jazz Recording With an Amazing Backstory.
“Hey man! This is Jazz!” Historically I’ve dipped in and out of Jazz, eventually knowing which bits and pieces suit me, but thankfully my ‘bag man’ in that multi-faceted world knows my tastes and sent this ‘great lost album’ for my delectation. Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Thelonious Monk before; but obviously recognised the name (as it’s quite distinctive!) so would have given this album a listen anyways; but the story attached to the recording blew my mind, and is worthy of a Film (movie) ….. seriously. “In the autumn of 1968, a sixteen-year-old boy named Danny Scher had a dream. He wanted to bring the renowned jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California to raise funds for his school and to help bring about racial unity in his community. Armed with little more than a telephone, posters, a persuasive pitch, an impressive knowledge of jazz and an iron-willed determination, Scher made the concert happen……. all for $500!“
Then of course, there’s the actual music. The 47 minute set opens with the sublime Ruby My Dear; and apart from the breathtaking musicianship from the individual players; the first thing I noticed was the clarity of the production. Even allowing for 21st Century studio witchcraft cleaning up the tapes, the soundboard that night must have come from the Starship Enterprise. As the night progresses the tunes (?) simply get ever more intricate and keep managing to astound my untutored ears; especially the way Monk appears to go in and out of the Classical end of the spectrum on Don’t Blame Me and Episotrophy; which manages to really swing too. Obviously there isn’t just Monk on stage; and while he is undoubtedly the ‘Star’ ……….. but when tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse steps forward everything, especially on the sublime Blue Monk takes on a whole new dimension; and his additions to Well You Needn’t certainly deserve a mention in despatches too, as do bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley who get to showcase their skills in the spotlight there too. As this is all new to me choosing a Favourite Track out of these six is nigh on impossible as each is truly amazing (to me); but the finale, which finds Monk alone at the piano; I Love You Sweetheart (of All My Dreams) is spine tingling, and therefore wins the accolade (today). With Jazz artists in general, and from what I’ve learnt of Thelonious Monk, they change direction so often and on a whim, plus improvise so much tunes are often unrecognisable from their original versions Compilations and Best Of’s are a waste of time and money; so perhaps this will be the only work of his that I ever own.
Smouldering Soul and Fiery Funk From a Master-Craftsman.
I’ve always had eclectic musical tastes, but Funk and Jazz-Funk have mostly passed me by; probably because I associate both with Nightclubs, and being the boring old sod I was as a young man, hardly ever visited such establishments. Oddly enough; the older I got the more intrigued I became; but apart from a couple of George Benson, Commodores, Jeffrey Osborne (and Various Artist) albums, the RMHQ cupboard is bare. So, I grabbed the opportunity to review this with both hands! I presume most people reading this already know Maceo Parker’s backstory; and if you don’t there’s more than enough on the internet to fill a Tuesday evening in; so I will get straight into the music! The ‘groove’ starts with more relish than a NY Hot Dog on opening track Cross The Track; a slinky dance floor filler that’s just as listenable in the comfort of your own home; but be prepared to find yourself dancing when you least expect it. I don’t even know if Nightclubs still exist; but if they do just like that first song; most every cut here is destined to make you want to cut a rug; with or without the love of your life opposite you. For the unaccustomed like myself there’s a glorious mix of old and new songs here; all sprinkled with Parker’s saxophonic diamond dust and superbly soulful singing voice. Of the songs I recognised the Good Doctor’s Right Place/Wrong Time gets a 21st Century makeover, with the Voodoo slightly diluted but the Funk turned up to the MAX! Then there’s The Meters’s, Just Kissed My Baby which I actually have on a VA album; but hardly recognised in this format which sounds like something Allen Toussaint may have recorded; which isn’t as odd as you’d think; because Maceo follows it with a reworking of Toussaint’s own Yes We Can, Can ……… which sounds as cool as it’s apt in the current Geo-Political climate! I’ve never really been a Prince fan; but Parker’s slow and soulful rendering of the Purple One’s Other Side of The Pillow sounds as if Parker had been listening to Brook Benton and Nat King Cole on the ride to the studio; and that’s meant as a huge compliment. While not my favourite Aretha song; Maceo and friends really do add extra edge and Funk (of course) to Rock Steady and bring it right up to date. Of the new tracks; Hard Times evokes more memories of the Blue Note Club than it will Studio 54; and it adds a really cool vibe to an otherwise uptempo album. I’m not sure when Compared To What was first written; but it’s got a real hard edge to the Maceo’s message in the lyrics; and without being outright angry; it could easily be the Sound of Summer 2020 across America, in the way that Curtis and Marvin managed many moons ago. Which brings me to my Official Favourite Song here; it was very, very nearly the finale Grazing in The Grass with Parker’s saxophone sounding almost Angelic; but man you have to have big cajones to include a song MACEO; (instrumental actually) named after yourself; but Maceo Parker does it with poise, self-assurance and Class with a capital C. This is Maceo Parker’s 16th full length album; but the first in 8 years and …… yes indeed; it’s been well worth the wait.
Matt Monro Stranger in Paradise/Lost New York Sessions UMC
A Great Lost Treasure Re-Defines Easy Listening
As many of you will know; I have very eclectic tastes in music; which comes from growing up in a house full of music lovers in the 1960’s. There’s a twenty year age difference between me and my eldest brother; who was a Rock ‘n Roller, then my next brother was Dylan fan with a large collection of Folk and Blues LP’s then my next sibling was a Mod who evolved into the Blues Rock scene and my Mother loved Big Bands; mostly Glenn Miller and Joe Loss. Then there was my Dad who loved a good singer; and ‘The Singing Bus Driver’ Matt Monro was his favourite. So; when this double album arrived in October 2019; I was thinking of him while I played it. Then; the release date got knocked back until March 2020 to coincide with what would have been the singer’s 90th birthday celebrations; but I’ve played it regularly in the intervening months, as something of a ‘guilty pleasure’. For the uninitiated these are two very seperate albums; with the second being a Best Of; featuring a lot more songs that you will recognise than you’d expect. Of course the magnificent Born Free, Portrait of My Love, From Russia With Love and On Days Like These are here; but others I had totally forgot about; And You Smiled, Maria and On a Clear Day sound absolutely stunning and haven’t aged a day; which goes to show what a truly great singer Matt Monro was. Sadly a couple haven’t aged quite as well; Georgie Girl is still as twee as I’d remembered and Gonna Build a Mountain doesn’t bare a second play, and the least said about Everybody’s Talking, the better. But there are plenty of other gems to make you forget about the couple of clunkers. I’ve heard some tepid versions of Yesterday over the years; but this double lush version brings out something special from Lennon and McCartney’s beautiful words; and Spanish Eyes really plays to Monro’s strengths. Plus, there a a couple of songs I don’t recognise but are absolute diamonds – On Days Like These and especially And You Smiled which; if I’m betting without Born Free, is my Favourite track here. But the main reason for fans buying this package is the Lost New York Tapes, which has never been released in this format before. Time hasn’t been kind to Matt Monro’s memory; possibly because he was British and we take the likes of him for-granted. It’s all too easy to forget that he wasn’t just a star in his home country, but the USA too; headlining all of the big name venues and eventually signing to Capital Records as the replacement for Nat King Cole; instead of Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records! The songs on this disc were originally released as Invitation to Broadway in 1967; with big, big arrangements with these original arrangements locked away in the Capital vaults ….. until now. It mus have been quite radical at that time for a singer like Matt Monro to just a pianist, drummer and two guitarists making up arrangements as they went along. I’ve only ever heard a couple of songs that made the LP; but trust me; these versions have certainly aged better and actually matured in that damn vault. The disc opens with the Classic Impossible Dream; which would have ticked every box my Dad had; and even without knowing the back story sounds unlike anything you’ve heard from this singer before and is very special indeed, and then it’s followed by Stranger in Paradise even the most casual of listeners will have to sit up and take notice. The way the music is arranged and produced; there’s an air of the one take/Live recording about many songs here. Unlike most other recordings from similar singers of that era; there’s a definite sharpness to I Only Miss Her When I Think of Her, If She Walked Into My Life and even Put on a Happy Face. Although most of these songs were culled from Broadway shows of the time; the vast majority are brand new to me; with Lover’s Caravan, Sunrise Sunset and Beautiful and Look For Small Pleasures sounding like they should be Nightclub Standards; or at least the type of songs that Michael Buble dreams of singing! OK, out of twenty songs, with a couple of alternate takes added for good measure, yet again, not everything has aged well, Beautiful Beautiful World could easily have been dropped out at some stage; and does the world still need another version of Hello Dolly, even a late night Jazz version? For my Favourite Track on this very special recording, I’m going for a song I’d never heard before, and one that took my breath away; The Sweetest Sounds is up there with not just the best of Matt Monro’s songs; but will easily fit into any Top 20 Easy Listening playlists you will find. Apart from hoping that this release gets the due promotion and reception from the Media in the UK and USA that it and indeed, Matt Monro deserves there’s not a lot else to say; apart from my Dad would have loved it too.
Jack Bruce & Friends The Bottom Line Archive Store For Music
A Fitting Epitaph For a Legendary Singer, Songwriter and Bass Player.
As a spotty teenager in the early 1970’s many of my musical discoveries came via my elder brothers record collections, and there collections were as varied then as mine is now……… coincidence? This was how I first fell in love with The Cream; albeit after they had already split up; and then Jack Bruce’s seminal solo albums HARMONY ROW and SONGS FROM A TAILOR, although I didn’t understand how he could be the bassist in Rock Band and also a Folk Singer (it still baffles me today); but both of these albums became ‘gateways’ into a whole new field that I may never have experienced at such a tender age. Always a Maverick, Jack Bruce’s career has spanned both Rock and Folk; but also Jazz (of both the Rock and Fusion varieties); and to some extent all of that finds it’s way into the songs on this amazing double album. Recorded during the final set of of a two shows a night, four night residency at the legendary Bottom Line in NYC on March 19th 1980 this is a veritable Supergroup of it’s time with Billy Cobham on drums, David Sancious on keyboards and guitar, Clem Clempson on lead guitar and of course Jack Bruce on bass. There’s a noisy reception from the crowd as the instantly recognisable intro to White Room fills the room; and the ensemble give them exactly what they want, with Jack sounding exactly like he does on the original recordings; but Clempson’s liquid guitar playing somehow sounds more intricate than Eric’s ….. not ‘better’, but certainly ‘different’….. in a good way. My memory’s not as sharp as it used to be, so I can’t tell you what songs come from which albums; but that matters not a jot once you immerse yourself in the magic that this quartet produce. Obviously to my generation the inclusion of Born Under a Bad Sign, Politician and the finale Sunshine Of Your Love are every bit as amazing as you’d hope in these hands; but it’s the other songs here that have not just stunned me; but impressed me beyond belief; mostly because this end of the Jazz/Rock spectrum hasn’t aged terrible well in other hands …… now has it? For the first time in a lot of years, the length of and ‘self indulgence’ in a few of these tracks wasn’t even noticeable the first twice I played this double album; even the intense 19 minutes and 5 seconds of Bird Alone seems almost ‘the right length’ for everything that is included therein, especially David Sancious’ spectacular piano playing ….. which surprised even me! With so many years now behind us, it’s been an absolute joy to re-discover Theme For an Imaginary Western and Running Out of The Storm again; albeit with completely different and exciting arrangements; but this has also been a way to appreciate Jack Bruce’s bass playing; which even though he was probably the greatest ever Master of that instrument is probably underappreciated. Post War and The Loner both had me sitting transfixed listening so intently to all of the bizarre constituent parts coming together in a way my brain finds it difficult to conceive; but my heart knows that this is something very, very special indeed. Speaking again of ‘self-indulgence’ the inclusion of drummer, Billy Cobham’s track Quadrant 4 didn’t make sense at first; but remember this was the band’s 8th performance in 4 days; and then this fire and brimstone Jazz-Rock fusion piece suddenly makes sense; and had I been in the room that night I’m not sure that my head wouldn’t have exploded or even imploded as each band member sounds like their life depends on keeping time with each other as the track roars to a crescendo of an ending. If you’d asked me before hearing this album what my Favourite Track would be, I’d have probably said one of the Cream songs or probably Theme From an Imaginary Western; but there’s a song here I can’t remember hearing before and has absolutely blown me away. Jet Set Jewel is intricate, complex and just beautiful in the way Bruce delivers a bass guitar performance par excellence alongside Sancious’ amazing keyboard playing and Clem Clempson’s molten guitar in the background and you can set your watch by Billy Cobham’s meticulous drumming as Jack Bruce sings his little heart out. 10/10 all around. While the other band members here are all as exemplary as you’d expect ……. this is after all a Jack Bruce album and a fabulous reminder and a very fitting epitaph for one of my Favourite ever musicians.
Moody, Sensual and Smoky Alt. Jazz-Noir Or Something Like That!
Now, here’s a funny thing! Last Tuesday I was planning to listen to an album by someone else called ‘Lucas’ and absent-mindedly tapped ‘play’ on this one; and as I was expecting some ‘Good Ole Boy’ Country, my head nearly spun off it’s hinges when Bo Lucas’s sensual and smoky vocals oozed out of the office speakers on the spooky Brunswick Place which opens this debut album. Ye Gads! Who is this young lady?? As the next song, Maybe I Do, followed in a similar sensual, late night conversational path I had to hunt out the accompanying Press Release; and when I did I couldn’t believe that this young couple come from Southampton……not that there’s anything wrong with Southampton; but what kind of seedy nightlife begets music like this? Surely Lucas & King must inhabit the darker echelons of Soho (London and NYC!) to create such dark jazzy, Soulful or is it possibly Bluesy witchcraft….but musical witchcraft it most certainly is? Even on a Tuesday afternoon songs like Crazy Heart and Moonshades made my pulse race and heart skip a beat; so goodness only knows what I would be like in a darkened nightclub as Bo prowls the stage caressing her microphone in a most phallic manner (or so I assume!) and Hayleigh strums her guitar as if the strings are made from Angels hair! It’s now over a week later and I’m still bemused by the wonderfully simple and almost hypnotic sound this duo create. Is it Jazz? Is it the Blues? It may even be a type of Country I’m yet to discover if the amazing I Only See Stars (When I Stand Up Too Fast) is anything to go by; as Hayleigh King effortlessly puts more Twang into her guitar than most of today’s Nashville Cats can ever hope to achieve in a lifetime! The songwriting is rather intense too; albeit dealing with the hum-drum aspects of life that are ever so important to the individual they are writing and singing about; especially so on Dancing to No Music and the punch to the heart that is Shop Girl! On an album that puts the ‘Noir’ into whatever category you finally settle on putting Lucas & King into, I’m torn between two bittersweet love songs as my Favourite Track here. Bo Lucas gives free reign to her lovely voice on The Heart is a Lonely Wanderer making it the type of song you turn to in the wee small hours of the morning; and you patently know you shouldn’t! The other, Crazy Heart finds Kayleigh making her guitar smoulder and shimmer as Bo takes us on a journey to the centre of her soul; and back again; so I’m probably going for that one……… but you will probably find something different that captures your own heart, and that’s fine too. As I listen again this morning I find words like ‘enigmatic’, ‘whispering’, ‘love lorn’ and ‘luxurious’ springing to mind; as well as Chris Isaak, Maria McKee (circa Show Me Heaven) but mostly Noosha Fox whom I was smitten with as a spotty teenager in the 1970’s! Already winners of the prestigious Fender Undiscovered Act Of The Year, it’s hardly going to take anything for this remarkable and classy duo of young women becoming megastars around the world!