I wouldn’t like to presume but my monthly postings have not yet caused enough offence or bored the readers of GIITTV as I’ve been welcomed back for a fourth month. As a self-proclaimed critic picking through the musical genres that don’t usually make the headlines of GIITTV, I bring you another “polygenesis” column of new album reviews that include the debut Afro-soul-funk-jazz-rap LP from Nubiyan Twist and a special round up of the latest jazz releases from Kyle Eastwood, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Natalia Mateo and Ida Sand. If that wasn’t already generous enough of me, I’ve included a six-hour plus playlist from my imaginary radio show; over a 100 songs to suit all moods and preferences from spiritual jazz to Cambodian rock’n’roll.
Nubiyan Twist ‘Nubiyan Twist’ (Wormfood Records) 30th March 2015.
Stirring up a feverish live stew of Afrobeat, jazz, dub, hip hop and soul for the last three years, performing alongside luminaries both old and new (De La Soul, MF Doom, Ebo Taylor and Bonobo), the eclectic spirited Nubiyan Twist have finally settled down to record their eponymous debut. Part of the polygenesis Leeds music scene that has also spawned the dual Fela Kuti/Sun Ra disciples Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra, the Nubiyan Twist (named after their leading vocalist Nubiya Brandon) merge rhythms and instrumentation from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean with more contemporary flavours. Encouragingly they channel late 60s Afrofuturism through the spiritually free-floating flute and saxophone of the Pharaohs on the opening instrumental passage Turu, before shimmering along to a swaying, laidback Janellé Monáe meets The Digable Planets jazzy soul number Work House. Twist’s silky but earthy pliable vocals follow the contours, shifting effortlessly between smooth down-tempo R&B and rap on this resigned post-financial crisis lament.
The amalgamated influences continue, suffused throughout a methodical and tightly played album that flows like liquid between Acid jazz and the carnival celebratory dance floor sauntering grooves of Brazil on the richly layered horn led Straight Lines, reggae and Lagos downtown stonk on “murder” decried Hypnotised (a space-y, even more laid-back remix version of this track closes the album) and Guru jazzmatazz on the twinkled resonating Hammond toned Figure Numatic. It will comes as no surprise that they also pay homage to both the grand doyen of Afrobeat percussion and foundation stone of the Fela Kuti sound Tony Allen, and giant of the Ghanaian scene Ebo Taylor; choosing to finish on the scratched African funk and Youngblood Brass Band imbued epic Shake Down.
Fans of and those with a taste for Dee C Lee, Lack Of Afro, Jill Scott and The Heliocentrics will find common ground here in the cornucopia of Nubiyan Twist, relaxed and global traversing moods.
The Jazz Review
Kyle Eastwood ‘Timepieces’ (Jazz Village) 20th April 2015.
Rudresh Mahanthappa ‘Bird Calls’ (ACT) 9th March 2015.
Ida Sand ‘Young At Heart’ (ACT) 23rd March 2015.
Natalia Mateo ‘Heart Of Darkness’ (ACT) 23rd March 2015.
After my last column in January attempted to bring context and reasoning to the “so-called” jazz revival touted by various media outlets, I now have to quell the online chatter of many a “purest” jazz forum riling in aloof distaste at the recent Whiplash movie. Hardly the most encouraging of portrayals, the bullying demands of the sadistic perfectionist jazz teacher, meting out all manner of humiliating abuses in the vain hope of shaping the next Buddy Rich – either that or die trying – the bleeding hand student is more a combatant in a psychological battle of approval than a music student learning his trade. Up in arms, with many viewing it as discouraging blight, the unreal expectations putting off future generations form learning jazz, as if they may interrupt an over-egged fictional story as reality. True in as much as the real cast members of the Atlantic/Stax revue were secretly waiting to be freed from the bonds of their mundane existence grilling chicken or spiritually dying on the vine in a lazy lounge combo awaiting the arrival of Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers was a honest, real representation of R&B and soul music.
Regardless of where we actually are and how things stand, the jazz world carries on with its steady stream of contemporary releases, the German ACT label alone regularly knocking out five or more albums every month – a triumvirate from them is featured below. Granted, purists may have some niggling concerns and worries as jazz is absorbed into a myriad of genres; arguably watered down to suit tastes and a wider audience, but also taken in entirely new, inventive directions too. Even this collection of dedicated jazz enthusiast, has in some way or another adopted or experimented outside the confines of their chosen and studied profession; Ida Sand’s covering the songbook of country rock doyen Neil Young and the saxophone virtuoso Rudresh Mahanthappa, despite using the jazz legend Charlie Parker as a central theme for his anthropological imaginative Bird Calls LP, incorporates spicy exotic sounds and rhythms from his spiritual home of Southern India.
They also all share a postmodern bent of dipping back into the past, whether its a more recent or further back epoch, giving a contemporary lilt to established examples of songwriting both inside and outside the jazz genre.
The first of these is the reputable bassist auteur and composer Kyle Eastwood, who’s latest collection Timepieces pays homage to Horace Silver (Kyle’s Peace Of Silver a tribute to the late and great virtuoso, who died during the recording of this session), Herbie Hancock (Kyle covers his Dolphin Dance signature from the 1965 Maiden Voyage LP) and the improviser extraordinaire Wayne Shorter (who’s 1959 classic ‘Blowin’ The Blues Away title track is recreated by Kyle), and is informed in part by the late 50s and early 60s hard bop style of jazz. It would hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that Kyle’s surname sounds instantly familiar, it’s a privilege of course but also a tough gig for the son of one of cinema’s most archetypal no nonsense tough guys, standing in the shadow of his Clint Eastwood patriarch. And it was pretty inevitable that Kyle would take up the jazz mantle, exposed to some of its greatest performers from an early age, his father’s enviable backstage pass allowing him to meet such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival – an event that Clint first attended in 1958. Of course you still need talent and Kyle certainly has this, a virtuoso on the upright and electric bass guitar and also a composer of note, scoring a number of Pa’s films, including Letters From Iwo Jima – an attentive prayer like interplay between the piano and bass stripped alternative version of that WWII drama’s original title track appears on this album.
Timepieces is billed as a “self-portrait”, and as I’ve already mentioned a tribute and homage to the music that has shaped and inspired Kyle. A (excuse the pun) timely reminder of the influences that run deep throughout his work, with even the original compositions nodding in appreciative respect: the light-headed tipsy up-tempo lounge lizard bounce of Prosecco Smile showing a penchant for boogaloo, and ritualistic alluded drum rattled, bleating trumpet piqued Incantation recalling the lyricism of Wayne Shorter. Imbued then by this spirit Kyle attempts to capture the essence of the hard bop period, especially the genius connection felt between the players of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers band and Horace Silver’s Blue note period. As he puts it:
‘What was amazing at the time was how these groups had an immediately recognisable signature. I wondered where this singularity came from and I concluded that this was primarily down to years of collaboration. It is with this way of thinking and playing the music that I sought to reconnect in this new album.”
Benefitting from their past mastery Kyle attempts to craft a bridge between eras. His dependable quintet, now featuring saxophonist Brandon Allen and Cuban-born, London-based drummer Ernesto Simpson (adding some Latin fills and sauntering grooves to the mix), have it seems forged an attentive and at times smooth soundtrack with the many syncopated highlights. Kyle’s group is shaping into a most excellent dutiful jazz band, their leader’s own musicianship articulate and cozily blissful.
The catalyst for the saxophonist supremo Rudresh Mahanthappa’s brand new LP, Bird Calls, is the venerated, and arguably one of jazz’s greatest acolytes, Charlie Parker. Granted a top table seat in the jazz equivalent of Mount Olympus, Parker’s legacy has never been in dispute, however, he is often taken for granted because of his looming omnipresence. With a special emphasis on the forward thinking inventiveness, harmonics and rhythms (of which Rudresh believes where advanced enough to still be considered as cutting edge even now) of this titan, Rudresh uses his “21st century jazz lens” to not copy or cover but form new compositions. Taking and isolating Parker’s melodies and solos as a starting point inspiration, Rudresh adds a contemporary, eclectic feel to the “birds” back catalogue. A touch of Donna Lee here (on the jilted sax tooting be-bopping fusion On The DL) and a trace of Anthology there (loosely the foundation of Rudresh’s closing fiery Man, Thanks For Coming), certain Parker traits and ideas are present but far removed from their original source as to be completely eroded.
Introduced to Parker’s music by a junior high music teacher, Rudresh’s obsession and love stemmed from being handed a copy of the 1974 released Archetypes LP and Jamey Aebersold’s Charlie Parker Ominbook transcriptions. A revelation to the young Rudresh, he poured over those magical, charismatic compositions until they left an indelible mark upon his own work, which now pays a tribute of sorts. Informed by his own avant-garde and Indian heritage explorations, Bird Calls is far from a straight-laced interpretation, with plenty of fantastical flights of fantasy into interesting locations: evocatively stirring up illusions of a tightrope walk between a N.Y. city skyline and Indian monumental temple entrance on Gopuram and a North African drum patter along dusty desert trails on the title track. Taking the title to its logical conclusion, Rudrush even mirrors the movements and song of a number of birds through a series of, nigh on classical, Bird Calls vignettes with #2 mimicking the soaring and circling of flight with a trumpet and saxophone duet, #4 enacting through the double bass a busy flock moving through the glades, and #5 a twinkly deft piano equals a bird majestically rising from a pond.
You can’t go wrong with a Rudresh Mahanthappa LP, and this one is not going to be the exception. Gracefully poised when it needs to be whilst fiery and bombastically inventive when you may least expect, the connections (both alto saxophonists, and with Rudresh a convert of the be bop style arguably instigated by Parker) beautifully transcribed into a more contemporary language.
It is the begrudging and grizzled Canadian singer/songwriter and wise old bird Neil Young who stands at the center of the new album by Swedish jazz vocalist Ida Sand. Dipping her toe into the maverick’s songbook on her 2009 LP True Love with an interpreting of Heart Of Gold, Sand now wades in with an entire LP of cover versions. Though a pupil of the Nordic jazz scene and famous University of Gothenburg’s conservatory, Sand’s sweet nothings and adroit smoky veiled vocals lean towards the gospel and soul of Nina Simone, Etta James, Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. Smoothly executed, and placable in parts, Sand’s transmogrifies the “climate” and “melancholy” of Young’s spiritual home with her own country’s existential resignation and lament. She finds common ground between the two cultures and attunes the country rock and great North American panoramic takes of woe, loss and love with a lilting candour.
Paying a dutiful respect Young At Heart moves vapourously through some Young’s most classic examples of songwriting craftsmanship. With a Ry Coder like esoteric suffused resonance and peaceable lounge style burr, Sand’s begins with the opener from Young’s 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Cinnamon Girl. A lightened, skittish Hey Hey, My My is followed by soulful bordering on gospel, organ reverent Don’t Let It Bring You Down before slipping into a tender, Philly sound canoodling saxophone, rendition of Harvest Moon. Sand’s channels Carly Simon when she lays down a boogie acid country version of the anthemic Woodstock – written by Joni Mitchell but also made famous by Young – and recruits fellow compatriot, rock singer Bo Sundström, for the harrowing plaintive duet version of Helpless.
Hard to fault the musicianship, Sand’s band led by her husband Ola Gustafsson in the role of a “Neil Young alter ego on the guitars”. If anything these types of albums tend to be a little too comfortable, if safe, for my ears. Transcribing to a, mostly, languorous jazz style of poised and purposeful contemplation Young At Heart is a clever take on the originals.
Another jazz vocalist of repute, a “burgeoning talent” if you will, is the Polish singer/songwriter Natalia Mateo who releases her debut for the German contemporary jazz label ACT this month. Born in Warsaw but growing up in Austria, attending a nun’s girl school back in her native homeland where she learnt to play the piano, violin and guitar, Mateo’s influences are enriched with both a pan-European heritage and more modern American music scene. Drawing her many inspirations together on Heart Of Darkness, Mateo declares, at it were, her love for modernity and tradition; moving seamlessly between Slavic ballads, interpretations of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Commedia and the transient pop slush of Lady Gaga (an echo-y husky vocal and jazz gravitas backing is administered to Paparazzi). A mix of both covers and original compositions, the album highlights Mateo’s vulnerable amorphous burr.
Wistfully strung out on a version of The Windmills Of Your Mind or moodily cooing melted notes on Blue, her vocals effortlessly run the full gamut of emotions, subtly tip-toeing over the ivory or oozing moody sophistication. However there are times when the lungs are stretched, Mateo vocal gymnastics channeling Beyonce as she performs Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ mooning voodoo classic, I Put A Spell On You. Notable covers include a less street more suave version of Lou Reed’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side, and a slick, flirtatious style take on Tom Waits Chocolate Jesus.
Nothing proves more mournfully tragic than the cover of Lewis Allan’s original penned Strange Fruit (performed by a litany of powerhouse singers over the decades, most notably Billie Holiday), which is handled with appropriate sadness by Mateo. It also informs the whole album, and comes closet to capturing the album’s title; a lamentable anguish yet filled with more serene and bright breaks.
If the Monolith Blogger had a radio show.
Well I haven’t, but if I did then this cornucopia playlist of tracks from an eclectic range of genres would be piped out 24/7 from Monolith Cocktail HQ, onto an unsuspecting public. Here is just a mere smattering of what you will hear…Dorothy Ashby, Louiz Banks, Tong Allen, Piero Umiliani, Nino Ferrer, Family Tree, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Soft Machine, The Church, The Long Ryders, Johnny Thunders, The Beach Boys, The Black Angels, Véronique Sanson, April March, A Certain Ratio, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ben Zabo, Aguaturbia, Big Chief Monk Bourdreaux and more…