Tag Archives: Jazz

Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni (2013)

Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy - Amkeni (2013)

So, this is interesting; a couple of days ago, a friend posted this link to my Facebook page. He was introduced to them because I reviewed their album GroundUP. Well, it was my very first review on this blog and interesting to revisit it.

Snarky Puppy are an American musical collective, rather than a specific band, centring around bassist Michael League. The shear number of musicians involved has led to them having a multifaceted sound on previous albums, mostly focusing on jazz and funk, but incorporating elements from rock and music from around the globe.

It seems there could be no more perfect companion band to accompany singer Bukuru Celestin. Celestin arrived from Burundi to the USA in 2008 and is a music student at Virginia Western Community College. He, along with his sisters, specialises in afrobeat-inspired gospel.

The combination is sublime; from the disco-funk stylings of Shima to the afrobeat/gospel of Amkeni. There is not a single track that is a disappointment. Each is exciting and so perfectly realised. One striking thing is that this is not Snarky Puppy with a guest singer; this is all about Bukuru Celestin, these tracks are written by him and focus on him as the singer. Snarky Puppy provide the framework and support, but this is Celestin through and through.

His voice is fantastic and complemented so well by the choral work from his sisters. Snarky Puppy are, as expected, tight and funky, confident and dynamic.

Comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland would not be unfounded; Simon opened a lot of the West’s eyes to the music of Africa and did so with a blindingly good album. Well, this album is blindingly good as well.

The only negative I can say is that, at only 6 tracks, it is tragically short; however, Celestin has a wonderful future and I look forward to hearing more.

Favourite tracks: Amkeni, Ntumbero, Muzogezahe
Spotify link: Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni
Bandcamp link: http://bukuru.bandcamp.com/
Sneak peak: 


Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down (2013)

Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down (2013)

Melt Yourself Down are not Acoustic Ladyland, but they are Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham’s new band and they are fantastic!

This album is a showcase of talent. Pete Wareham is joined on sax duties by jazz sax maestro Shabaka Hutchings, but this album is pretty far from a jazz outing. In fact, if you are expecting jazz, even out-there punk-influenced jazz a la Acoustic Ladyland, then you are barking up the wrong album.

There is no denying that that same adrenaline-fueled attitude is present, but this is deep and expansive. Listening to the first three tracks throws you a curve ball as you are presented with what can only be described as dub jazz, with reverb-laden vocals, African beats, courtesy of Tom Skinner (of Hello Skinny, who has drummed with Mulatu Astatke and Matthew Herbert) and Satin Singh, big driving basslines from Ruth Goller (also of Acoustic Ladyland), as well as electronics from Leafcutter John (from Polar Bear). We Are Enough shakes it up a bit with a decidedly ska-influenced track. The Acoustic Ladyland sound is present in places, for example at the beginning of Kingdom Of Kush and other times when the music breaks down to just the duo of saxes.

There is also a big African/Middle-Eastern influence in the delivery of Kushal Gaya’s vocals, as they are belted out in French and English, with the occasional scatting. The dub reminds me in places of African Head Charge and, at times, due to the punk attitude, Public Image Ltd. I am also reminded a lot of bands, such as Chrome Hoof and Secret Chiefs 3, that seamlessly incorporate global influence with heavier and aggressive music, for example on Mouth To Mouth and Camel.

This is an amazing album, dubby, rocky, acid jazz. A worthy successor to Acoustic Ladyland and an album that I will be singing the praises of for a long time to come.

Favourite tracks: Tuna, Mouth To Mouth, Camel

Spotify link: Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down
Bandcamp link: http://meltyourselfdown.bandcamp.com/

Sneak peak: 

Jorge Pardo – Huellas (2012)

Jorge Pardo - Huellas (2012)

Jorge Pardo is a flautist and saxophonist from Madrid, Spain. His two streams are flamenco and jazz, and he has worked with flamenco legend Paco de Lucia and jazz auteur Chick Corea.

Huellas is a double album of flamenco-infused jazz, performed with around 50 additional musicians, and I have to say, I enjoyed it very much. There are 18 original pieces, and a number of things make this album stand out to my ears. Firstly, the flute and the marimba, two great instruments which are not utilised all that often in jazz, masterfully played on this album and add a real sense of excitement to the overall sound; next, the guitar; mostly played in a style familiar to Iberian jazz, incorporating elements of flamenco and adding the Latin vibe of the album; along with the flamenco stylings of the guitar is the use of palmas, rhythmic clapping derived from flamenco. Together, these raise Huellas above other jazz albums. The fact that they are integral to the music and not part of an artificial fusion, where the flamenco has been tacked on, but instead is a natural addition, is another reason to hold this album in high esteem.

Pardo’s flute and sax skills are extraordinary and Huellas is an album of high talent, well worth the listen.

Favourite tracks: Saluncar – Mojacar, Cora Cora, Y Tu Tambien

Spotify link: Jorge Pardo – Huellas
Sneak peak:

Kit Downes – Light from Old Stars (2013)

Kit Downes -  Light from Old Stars (2013)

Kit Downes is another to add to the list of exciting talent in British jazz. In fact, the pianist has already been reviewed in a previous blog entry with his band Troyka.

I was first introduced to Downes via his role in Troyka, but his work as bandleader of a quintet was brought to my attention during a rare occurrence of me listening to Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio 2 Jazz programme. I’m not a big fan of Cullum’s radio show, but he does play some good tracks now and again. I’m not entirely sure what track he played, but it piqued my interest and when the new album came out, I was eager to listen to it.

So, here it is, and it is near faultless; an absolutely stunning modern jazz record.

Bleydays is a fantastic free/bop track, absolutely classic sounding, with a catchy head leading to wonderfully free forms in honour of pianist Paul Bleys. Blues play a major influenced, evidenced in the fantastic and noir-esque Outlawed, simple in it’s outlook, but inventive and full of life. Two Ones and Owls are along the more experimental end of things, the former beginning with atonal cello in an Eastern Europe droning folk melody, before the bass comes in to tidy things up ready to launch into a more third stream style piano, while the latter is a whirling merry-go-round, bookending a dark free cello solo.

If someone were to ask me for an example of great modern jazz, this would be among the albums I would recommend. Perfect, a great album.

Favourite tracks: Bleydays, Outlawed, Owls

Spotify link: Kit Downes – Light From Old Stars
Sneak peak: 

Flat Earth Society – 13 (2013)

Flat Earth Society – 13 (2013)

Flat Earth Society - 13 (2013)

Ah, Belgium; the country that’s famous for its fries, chocolate, waffles, beer, Tin Tin, functioning anarchy and Vinkensport. And also Flat Earth Society! FES are a jazz big band formed in 1997, 1998 or 1999 (dependent on source) by Peter Vermeersch, producer of dEUS’s first album, and they number about 15 persons.

FES first entered my world due to their association with Mike Patton, and release of album ISMS (2005), a compilation of previous work released through Patton’s Ipecac record label. At that time, FES joined the tour as a support act for Patton’s avant-metal band Fantômas along with glitch-maester Kid606, which is when I first saw them live. The combination in a night of jazz, glitch and avant-metal was one to cherish; and, although, on paper, it might seem out of place to have a big band alongside these avant garde musics, FES’s brand of jazz is by no means straightforward, often eclectic, building on a HaFaBra (harmony, fanfare, brassband) sound, with creativity in abundance and with twists and turns along the way.

13 is a great example of why I hold FES in high regard. The tracks are difficult to describe, as they form musical adventures of their own. The album is fairly reminiscent of a soundtrack, so evocative are the tracks. There is a certain jazz noir flavour to a number of these tracks, and although there is a certain cliche inherent in this style of music, it is embraced rather than shunned by FES, as the story of dreaming train traveler is told in a gumshoe style on Patsy, or with the creeping bassline of Six Pine Trees. Other times, the music is playful, toying with our expectations (as all good jazz music should), as on Betwixt & Between, with its polyrhythms , or Stoptime Rag, with its Shave-And-A-Haircut-style call and responses. Raincheck is an intense journey, and flys FES’s avant garde flag, as drone gives way to driving  and riotious jazz, and beyond.

Overall, a great album for fans of Flat Earth Society and newcomers alike. One needn’t be a fan of jazz to appreciate the music that Flat Earth Society make, and the madcap nature only adds to the appeal, without being too much for those who prefer structure.

Favourite tracks: Sneak Attack Of The Sponges, Six Pine Trees, Betwixt & Between

Spotify link: Flat Earth Society – 13 (The most Unreliable Music Since 1999)
Sneak peak: 

Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project – Mirrors (2012)

Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project - Mirrors (2012)

Kenny Wheeler is an octogenarian Canadian trumpeter who has made the UK his home since the early 1950s. Here he is joined by British jazz singer Norma Winstone, as well as Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophone, Nikki Iles on piano, Steve Watts on bass and James Maddren on drums. The album also sees the London Vocal Project providing choral work.

While the music was written years ago, poems by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W.B. Yeats dictate the work on Mirrors. An admirable and interesting project.

First off, the music is fantastic, erring on the smooth and blue side of jazz; Norma Winstone, quite frankly, has honey instead of vocal cords. Piano, bass and drums work well as the rhythm section, though never taking the limelight but instead being solid, steadfastly dependable. Sax and trumpet are absolutely spot on, exactly what you would want from any jazz album.

However, I find myself completely distracted by the choir. It’s not that they aren’t good, they have a great sound, but to me it is a great sound that would work in a church or a stage musical; this I feel is exacerbated by the use of the poems as lyrics. The poems naturally have a narrative thread, in the same way that songs from musicals do. This may appeal to some, but to me, I find that it leads to a fairly uneven album.

My favourite tracks are those for which Winstone takes the lead and the choir add support; such as the beautiful bluesy The Lover Mourns (W.B. Yeats), or The Bereaved Swan (Stevie Smith), which both work wonderfully, while a track like The Deathly Child (Smith) has that musicals sound during the sung sections.

Overall, a mixed album; I do like the music and Winstone’s voice, but I find that the overall style and concept is distracting and doesn’t live up to what is otherwise a good blue jazz album.

Favourite tracks: The Lower Mourns, Through The Looking Glass, The Bereaved Swan

Spotify link: Kenny Wheeler – Mirrors
Sneak peak: 

Jazz Kamikaze – The Return Of Jazz Kamikaze (2012)

Jazz Kamikaze - The Return Of Jazz Kamikaze (2012)

Jazz Kamikaze are a Danish group, who cite Bach, Radiohead and Coltrane among their many influences.

And those influences show! The major influence here is jazz, as told through the sax, piano and drums; yet the bass and guitar add a decidedly more rock edge to their work. At times the guitars are heavy and distorted and reminiscent of 90s grunge, the sax wails with blistering pace and hair-width accuracy. I feel like the bass could be a bit louder in the mix, it sometimes getting a bit lost and misses what I think is an important ingredient in good jazz (whatever avenue it wants to travel down); I found I had to turn the volume up quite loud to really hear what was being played.

Overall, I think it is a pretty good album. There is a lot of interesting music here and a good mix of rock (especially prog) and jazz.

Favourite tracks: Mitsuhirito, Agent Cooper, Kole

Spotify link: Jazzkamikaze – The Return of Jazzkamikaze
Sneak peak: