Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: Miles Davis - Get Up With It


‘Get Up With It’, Miles’ final two-disc set from the 70s was seen as a bit of a hotch-potch release when it first appeared, and garnered itself some middling reviews saying as much. Again, like ‘Big Fun’ and other recordings from this period in Miles’ career, it has with the passing of time seen itself keenly re-evaluated and now praised as pushing the boundaries of music forward (but, unlike ‘Big Fun’, with no new added material).

Not an easy album to write or even think about, it’s an even harder album to try and put in the confines of one genre. And not really a coherent album, it is basically a collection of works from a four year period of ever-changing personnel and experimentations, that rather than sounding like ‘Big Fun’s missing link between ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘On The Corner’, it sounds instead like pieces either taken from each, or from other scrapped directions (some tracks featuring as interesting directions as having as many as three guitarists).

‘He Loved Him Madly’, the major showcase of the album, dominating the first disc at thirty-two minutes, is a languid and simmering crawl lead by gentle wave after wave of reverbed guitar and Dave Liebmans superior unaffected flute. When drums, bass and Airto Moreiras persussion enter at around the ten-minute mark, a gradual intensity begins to take hold as Miles’ yearning trumpet gently cuts through the sonic haze. Languorous and shimmering, the piece contains a beauty and lyricism easily as great as ‘My Funny Valentine’, and one can see the influence it would later have on other musicians and even whole genres (Brian Eno himself has stated numerous times just how important this recording was to his later ambient works).

The rest of the first disc is made up of three very couldn’t-be-different tracks. ‘Maiysha’ is, bizarrely, pretty much a standard cocktail jazz arrangement, whilst Miles interrupting by stabbing out harsh-sounding organ chords. ‘Honky Tonk’ is not much to write about and seems to be here solely to show us the stellar, who’s-who of 70s jazz and fusion, line-up on display (John McLaughlin! Herbie Hancock! Keith Jarret! Billy Cobham! Airto! Steve Grossman! Michael Henderson!). The biggest stand-out of these three though is easily the bizarre and polarizing, what can only be called an experiment, ‘Rated X’. Featuring a dense, heady mix of tabla, drums, various African percussion and thumping bass that, with its oddly very danceable beat, sounds to modern ears like an uncanny precursor to drum ’n’ bass, Miles again away from his trumpet fires out keyboard riffs that sound like unholy shrieks. Ocassionally the rhythm stops, leaving nothing but fierce organ howls. Then the beat starts up again. Some will revel in this strange early heady beats-based dance music. Others will run in fear at the unholy horror-soundtrack keyboards.

‘Calypso Frelimo’, in stark contrast to the first disc, kicks things off on disc two with a bang. Frenzied layers of percussion and freak-out guitars jostle for space with Miles’ Latin-sounding high-powered trumpet. Again running well over the twenty-minute length, it sustains itself for the whole duration, with a nice slow-down section and some excellent stop-start bass moves from funk-bass prodigy Michael Henderson.

‘Red China Blues’ continues the hard edge, complete with wails of blues harp, which on any other album would be out of place, here though it seems to fit in and make sense. ‘Mtume’ on the other hand gives a nice workout to the stellar eponymous percussionist, whilst ‘Billy Preston’ ends proceedings with Miles on piano giving him a chance to give tribute to one of his soul inspirations and is simply a riot of fun and funk.

‘Get Up With It’ is, like many other recordings from this period in Miles Davis illustrious career, seriously over-looked – either for being too ahead of its time or only now being listened to without any bias or pre-conception. It isn’t jazz. There is some funk, there is some rock, and there is some jazz, but mostly trying to put this into one genre would be useless, and false.

When it finally closes, the album feels like the end of a long and winding, unplanned one-way roadtrip. Like listening to an over-stuffed cassette or CD mix tape an over-enthusiastic fan has made for you, it’s sequencing and structure doesn’t really feel coherent, and you probably won’t remember half of what you heard. Smaller selected journeys are required for ‘Get Up With It’, so the hard funk can be appreciated separately, away from the soulful and moving, the larger group sounds away from the smaller. Not the best Miles album as a whole entity, by far, it has more than a strong number of compelling tracks (you need to hear ‘He Loved Him Madly’ at least twice in your life), and perhaps each has to be listened to individually to be fully appreciated, but it is a journey that has to be done, because the highlights are spectacular.

****

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Review: Andrew Hill - Andrew


Andrew Hill in the 1960's forged a strong relationship with Blue Note head Alfred Lion that lead to the pianist creating and recording some of the finest avant-garde post-bop jazz of the period. As enjoyably cerebral and challenging as his work is however, it was (and sometimes remains) clearly difficult music to market, and of course to sell. Which can really be the only reason why this most intense and resolutely uncommercial of artists appears on the front cover in glorious smiling teen pop-idol soft-focus. Indeed, if ever there was to be a jazz pin-up to rival Chet Baker from this time, then this is the photo that would do it.

The ubiquitous Blue Note exclamation marks too make their return, complete with oddly unnecessary subtitling, meaning we get a title that reads bizarrely like a lounge singers churned out bland covers album. Don't be fooled though, 'Andrew!!! The Music Of Andrew Hill' is one of the man’s very best - and also, with terrible irony, one of his very hardest to find.

Backed by a team of familiar stars and Hill collaborators, we are treated to an unusual piano, sax, vibraphone, bass and drums line-up. Rhythm is superbly handled by Hill regular Richard Davis on bass and Blue Note favourite Joe Chambers on drums, while Hill lays down his tightly knit complex piano lines with rising star Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes on top. And yet despite this, the star saxophonist guesting here is what will grab many jazz fans attentions.

John Gilmore held one of the strongest most distinct voices on the tenor saxophone, that had always led many critics to compare him favourably with John Coltrane (lesser known of course is that Coltrane had in the late fifties actually studied under Gilmore), but unlike Coltrane, Gilmore had never actually been particularly bothered about becoming a leader or star in his own right. Happy to maintain a unique position in Sun Ra’s Arkestra as his right hand man, and always given highly interesting music to play, Gilmore was rarely recorded playing with anyone else, and many were perplexed at his extreme loyalty to Ra. His appearance here with Hill then is most noteworthy, before you’ve even heard a single minute. Luckily then, his playing from the first note is nothing short of exemplary.

Together this awesome band storm their way through six addictively hypnotic Hill originals full of his trademark complexities and flourishes, that though enthralling are probably among his least easily accessible at first listen. It's this same energetic restlessness however that creates the real success in the music here too. Yes, it is complicated densely woven tapestry, and so obviously fails as easy background dinner music, but all brought together it creates an eminently listenable experience all its own that draws the listener in and doesn't let up for a single moment.

One of Hills very best recordings, it puzzlingly remains one of his most neglected, currently existing solely on Blue Note's valuable yet undersold limited Connessieur label (as opposed to the much wider Michael Cuscuna or Rudy Van Gelder reissue programs). As such, it comes wholeheartedly and fully recommended - just be prepared to pay that little bit extra. But don't worry, sitting up there with career high Point Of Departure’ it's 100% worth the cost.

*****


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: JD Allen Trio - The Matador And The Bull


A label hop for any artist can usually be a good indicator of a change in sound to come - whether it be a bigger budget, a glossier production, a change in band, a change in style, or more – and it can as many times mean a development for the worst as it can be for the best. With J.D. Allen however, though he may have left regular home Sunnyside for the newer (and bigger) Savant, he takes his usual band with him again lays down some audio dynamite.

The music on ‘The Matador And The Bull’ further shows Allen’s move from more straight-ahead bop (and post-bop) into more open and adventurous musical endeavours. Not that the words open or adventurous should scare anyone off. Far from being free or avant-garde, the results here are concise (all but two tracks fall under the four minute mark), listenable, richly melodic and always highly enjoyable.

The album kicks off in fine style, and throughout there is a strong theme of the bullfight, in the same way that Grant Green conveyed the fight with the similarly themed ‘The Matador’. But where that album had McCoy Tyner’s rolling piano providing the insistent Spanish rhythm, here Allen uses just his backing bass and drums team, and they rise masterfully to that challenge.

As usual the work as a whole is what is important, with all the individual pieces contributing to create more. ‘Cathedral’ possesses a dark atmosphere that is counterparted by ‘Paseillo’ and it’s more light rhythm. And whereas ‘Santa Maria’ hangs loose and free, ‘Ring Shout!’ is tight and driving. And despite the Latin title of the album, Allen rarely decides to play an obviously ‘Latin’ sound – avoiding any overt Spanish clich├ęs, and in fact only playing with a slight accent on one or two numbers.

As usual Allen, despite his name holding the album, shares equal space here with his two cohorts Gregg August and Rudy Royston. And every member of the team is clearly a master of improvisation, with both longer passages and shorter flashes or inspiration showing what each is more than capable of doing - and doing so with laser-like precision. There are no wasted moments here, or long-winding noodles that go nowhere. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear a saxophone trio where each member is contributing equally to the sound of the group, rather than just two players backing a lead, then this is where you should look.

For many jazz artists, smaller outfits are usually formed out of necessity, the dual concerns of personal commitments and finances, and indeed many performers expand their line-up as soon as the money starts to roll in – for better or for worse. The better comes from when an artist is able to fully realise the sounds they hear in their head with a greater musical palette, and the worse comes from when the artist smothers their music with too many instruments from said palette, or drowns out their own distinct voice with too many others. For Allen though this appears not to be a concern. He is constantly exploring the intricacies and interplay of the trio, and always endeavours to find new ways to express himself, and each further work from him is another winning success that leaves you hungry for more.

****

Review: Portico Quartet - Isla

Portico Quartet are four musicians hailing from East London, who started a band together in 2005 and chose to spend a good deal of their time busking. From there, they perfected their atmospheric instrumental sound, with the addition of the relatively new-to-the-world inverted steel drum, the hang. Picked up by Babel records, their debut album sold handsomely with strong word of mouth, leading to a nomination in the Mercury music awards (which thankfully they didn’t win, winning the award being much akin to being cursed, and would you really want to share the dubious company of M People?).


A strong and successful first album buoyed by equally successful tours, the Portico boys regrouped mid-2009 between two separate tours to record new material with assistance from famed producer John Leckie. On this, their second album, the quartet have expanded their array of instruments from the acoustic line-up of saxophone, double-bass, drums and hang, to include some electronics, loop pedals and even some strings. Recorded live, mostly at Abbey Road, together with Leckie they have made something that sounds both bolder and darker than their pastoral more ‘worldly’ debut, but still unmistakably sounds like them.

Every track oozes mood and atmosphere, with crucially none out-staying its welcome. Opener ‘Paper Scissors Stone’ opens with a strong group workout, Jack Wylie’s sax clearly to the fore, and the hang drum in an almost jazz piano rhythm role. Second track ‘The Visitor’ then ups the ante with Wylies melismatic eastern sounding soprano, the subtle electronic effects (all live) and manipulations melding with the saxophone as it lays down a hypnotic and repetitive figure. ‘Dawn Patrol’ changes focus with Milo Fitzpatricks robust bass leading a two-minute ‘walk-in’, with only some drums for support. Driving and pushing everything forward, even when the usual leads of hang and saxophone enter the fray, the bass stays well to the fore.

Ever so slightly reminiscent of Michael Nyman, the arguable centrepiece of the album comes in ‘Line’. Beginning with Nick Mulveys hang rhythm line, sounding both hypnotic and fragile, Duncan Bellamys drums come skipping in and out of the mix throughout, the two combining and occasionally delicately crescendoing, before returning to a quieter groove. The bass sometimes strolls in and out, and the eastern saxophone offers long and slow rides over the top of the continual and hypnotising hang drum. Where perhaps ‘Steps In The Wrong Direction’ came to be the favourite and centre of ‘Knee Deep In The North Sea’, ‘Line’ also occupies the same space and will easily come to be a new live highlight. Indeed it already was when we had the chance to see them play it in during their 2009 tour.

‘Life Mask (Interlude)’ offers a gentle piano, subtlely leading into ‘Clipper’, a maelstrom of sound with all of the band on fire, before ‘Life Mask’ returns as a full track - opening with a synth drone, snatches of sax and bowed bass float along the top, before a mournful and gently melodic glockenspiel comes in from Bellamy. Featuring a strong solo from Wylie, it’s also a superb Portico-style ballad.

‘Isla’ heads toward the end of the album with a swelling anthemic ensemble, before the album closes, brilliantly, with ‘Shed Song (Improv No.1)’ – recorded appropriately in their shed. Swirling and captivating, it is the ideal closer, and leaves you wanting, oddly, more shed recordings.


A gorgeous and haunting album, in many ways it improves on their first. Revealing fresh nuances on every repeated listen, this is an album that hits you and then continues to grow and grow.

****

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: Diana Krall - All For You

Following fast on the heels of her second album, Diana Krall quickly convened a trio of herself, Russell Malone on guitar and Paul Keller on bass, in order to pay tribute to the Nat Cole Trio. ‘All For You’ then features a number of well-known long-time favourites from the legendary, but the band are able to pay syitable homage by including some of the lesser known of Cole hits, taking in the full range of Cole’s repertoire. Every track though is about the trio. Of course Krall sings on every tune, but more than half of each song is instrumental, with superbly crisp extended soloing on piano and guitar.

Here is perhaps the best example of what Krall’s voice can offer; full, sometimes husky, she is able to sing at fast tempo and slow. Although in truth, she is at her best with her slower pieces, such as on the bluesy ‘Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You’ which she chooses to sing at a slower pace than Cole did. With ‘You Call It Madness’ and ‘I’m Through With Love’, she sings in the whisper that would later, to her detriment, become her trademark. But where that would later epitomise the soul of laid back chill, here it forms a melancholic soul.

The highlights though come in the form of the very different ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’ and ‘Hit That Jive Jack’. The latter is a fast moving toe-tapper of a number where everyone involved sings along and sounds like they’re having a whale of a time, whereas ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’ is a revelation to anyone who would later write Krall off as having a thin or emotionless voice. Essentially a torch song, the singer pines for love gone by, with the sound of a voice holding back the tears.

Touring together for several months before recording this album, the trio perfected their ensemble, and with strong earthy vocals from Krall, this is easily her best jazz album. But Krall has always been a favourite to introduce people to jazz, and her later major label work with her mellower piano and vocal work is what pulled in the larger audience. To those fans, this will come as a surprise, and the sublime instrumental work may be seen by them as perhaps less important than the vocal work.

Recorded when Krall was still relatively unknown, the piano is more prominent and the number of love songs is less. But the music this smallest of bands makes is perfect, taking in numerous tempos and styles. To make an album of this quality, and with so few musicians, you need to be very good indeed. And they do it. It may not be what you’re looking for if you like the later ‘Look Of Love’ or ‘From This Moment On’, but the lack of instant appeal will mean that this will grow on you each time you play it.

A great recording, this is a fitting tribute to Nat Cole and his trio. And perhaps more importantly, for any Krall dissenters, this is the album which shows her true skill at the piano and the heartfelt emotions she can render with her voice.

****

Review: Diana Krall - Quiet Nights


It was always going to be just a matter of time before Diana Krall would make a bossa nova record. Moving on from her early piano trio days, her work has always moved towards the slower beat, and on ‘The Look Of Love’ she even hired arranger Claus Ogerman, who added a touch of bossa to proceedings.

So here it is; the ‘Diana Krall Does Bossa Nova’ album. But strangely for a bossa nova record, and even stranger given that the title of this recording is named after one of The Maestro’s more famous tunes, there is a surprisingly low number of songs here from Antonio Carlos Jobim. Instead we have three Jobim tunes mixed with a blend of songbook standards and ballads, performed in a bossa style.

‘Quiet Nights’ then is essentially the latest stage in the unjazzing of Diana Krall. Sure, there’s a hint of samba here and there, but mostly Krall operates in the slow and breathy whispery vocals that currently are bringing smiles to record label accountants everywhere with the likes of Melody Gardot and Norah Jones and their huge successes. Not that this would be too much of a problem when tackling bossa nova, but at times her voice becomes so breathy, it becomes lightweight and makes the songs sound simply tired. Worst of all, returning for his first time since ‘The Look Of Love’ Claus Ogerman again manages to cover everything in an anaemic glob.

The result is unpleasant at best. And certainly if you love anything bossa or Jobim related, I’d advise you to stop reading now and simply go and buy another copy of ‘Getz/Gilberto’ or check out anything by Eliane Elias.

‘The Girl From Ipanema’ is re-read in its boy version (always a bad start) and simply plods. Any tune or energy you’ve ever heard from this classic is replaced with sleepy drawling, the song being for some unfathomable reason being slowed down to half-speed as Krall wearily gasps the words out. ‘Quiet Nights’ too suffers the slowing down treatment, but at least retains its melody. Surprisingly, the third Jobim tune ‘Este Seu Olhar’ is actually pretty good, with a subtle arrangement and a silky vocal delivered in some very impassioned Portuguese.

Curiously the non-bossa tunes also suffer the plodding and crawling fate. Having successfully rendered ‘The Look Of Love’ completely uninteresting (a feat in itself) eight years before, attention is turned to another Bacharach/David classic in ‘Walk On By’ – which is then remade into a bloodless apology. ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ too is given perhaps its most non-descript treatment ever.

‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face’ is one of two songs not done as a bossa number, but instead as a very slow ballad. And again, it’s the slowness that kills it. You’ll be willing for the pace to pick up just a little bit. The other song not in the bossa style is ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry’, and rather pleasingly it feels perfectly paced, with Anthony Wilsons silky and seductive guitar work raising it to an easy album highlight.

Intended as a ‘love letter for my husband’, it sounds more like a (over) production job than a personal and intimate dedication. Aiming for dreamy and sensuous gently swaying cocktail music, it instead – bossa or not – gives us a distinctly unsexy expensively made collection of songs that despite their high calibre, completely fail to engage. Not jazz, not bossa, it is a clutch of outstanding compositions from the background of both reduced to slow balladry, something that you would expect from someone of a much lesser pedigree than Diana Krall.

Obviously going for the romantic and caressing, Diana Kralls ‘Quiet Nights’ is more likely to instill drowsiness and instantly induce narcolepsy. So there you go, this is ‘Diana Krall Does Bossa Coma’.

**

Review: Grover Washington Jnr - Feels So Good

‘Feels So Good’ is possibly the peak of Grover Washington Jnr’s ‘70’s electric smooth-funk music, with its equally deep soul and groove overcoming any criticism that accompanies the dreaded phrase of ‘smooth jazz’ that sometimes gets flung his way (Personal note here: Grover helped pioneer smooth soulful groove jazz, it was only later that others came along and invented a neutered take on it that would eventually become ‘Smooth Jazz’). Intricately composed and played with typically expert hands, it is music that comforts but contains just as much pulse and attention grabbing musicality that it compels you to listen instead of just relegating it to mere background wallpaper.

Bob James can’t be credited enough here, with some gorgeous arrangements for some well-deployed horns, as well as providing some perfectly pitched acoustic and electric piano coming to the fore. James also wrote the lead-off tune ‘Sea Lion’ which is a nicely strutting start, with plenty of funk and Washington showing his velvety tenor saxophone playing to great effect. The moody ‘Moonstreams’ offers us Washingtons more distinctive creamy soprano sax, with some spell-binding guitar licks courtesy of the phenomenally under-appreciated Eric Gale who very almost owns the highlight of the record here, ‘Knucklehead’. Very funky stuff, it and ‘Hydra’ showcase some fine and visceral improvising from Washington and his group, as well as the awesome bass work that forms the musical spine of the session from Louis Johnson.

A favourite for the hip-hop crowds sampling and re-tooling, everything here – solos, rhythms, beats - has been re-cut, borrowed or looped numerous times for dozens of different artists, often to great success. A bright jewel in a rich discography, ‘Feels So Good’ is the perfect title to Grover Washingtons excellent and sophisticated, smooth-as-silk take on funk, and if you have even just a passing interest in his music, this is a great starting point for you.

*****

Review: Grant Green - Alive

Grant Green had a successful and much-loved period at the Blue Note label for a good portion of the sixties, and after struggling in his battle with drugs, and also leaving the label, he would record significantly less frequently, and to much critical derision. Changing his sound for a more funk-flavoured sound, he would play and tour often but enter the studio only sporadically. A brief return to Blue Note though would give the world a chance to hear a few of Greens always popular live gigs.

Recorded live at the Newark Lounge in New Jersey, in the summer of 1970, ‘Alive!’ would go on to be released with a meagre four tracks and a great deal of flak from his previous jazz supporters. A cult hit though with the funk audience of the day, and then a massive hit for the later sample-heavy acid-jazz crowd, Blue Note have since re-released the album with several major and worthwhile improvements.

Kool & The Gangs ‘Let The Music Take Your Mind’ still opens the show with a storming funk - the energy and groove of the band oozing from the speakers – with ‘Time To Remember’ offering us a more intimate and gentle side of Greens sextet. ‘Sookie Sookie’ is, if not famous in name, then is certainly to be familiar to many, being one of the most popular of Greens tracks to be remixed and sampled, and is a pure ten minutes of infectiouc head-nodding groove. ‘Down Here On The Ground’ that closed the original LP instead gives us something poignant and beautiful, with everyone playing in absolute harmony.

The first and most obvious of the enhancements to this live document are the three extra cuts. ‘Hey Western Union Man’, The Isley Brothers ‘It’s Your Thing’ and Herbie Hancocks ‘Maiden Voyage’ are all excellent, smoking tracks, every bit as strong as the tunes that made up the original relase, if not stronger. And inevitably it’s a complete head-scratcher as to why these went unreleased for so long, and asks the question as to just how much Grant Green is there still unissued?

Better still, there are no fake and obvious attempts to make this sound ‘more live’ by tacking on some stock audience clapping and hollering as each number fades out. Instead the band plays out to a gradual fade. While a whole night with no fading would have been best, this way is much preferable and much less intrusive.

The sound too is greatly improved, with all the instruments perfectly positioned in the mix, and no one player drowning out anyone else contribution. Close your eyes too and you’ll think you’re there in the lounge, small snippets of genuine audience noise in the background coming out and occasionally the odd ice clink in the glass.

‘Alive!’ is not a great Grant Green recording - fans of his sixties bop and soul-jazz work will find a much different sound here and therefore are really best advised against it. Most of the pieces are repetitive, modal and highly-rhythmic grooves that although occasionally monotonous, are frequently hypnotic and captivating; ‘Sookie Sookie’ in particular is transcendant. The original release is very much a less than essential release due to several mistakes made after the recording of the event, but this newer version is much better. Green himself is very good here, but often feels like he is just a player in the band rather than the star or leader, with the thumbs-ups definitely going to Joe Armstrong on the congas that pepper the rhythm everywhere, Claude Bartee on sax, and both Ronnie Foster and Neal Creque on organ.

A solid and funky album, it’s a good live recording full of great jams, licks and vamps. Not as musically interesting as Greens earlier jazz work for sure, it none-the-less is good-time fun music that’ll have the body moving to its skillful rhythms and grooves, and on those terms comes well-recommended.

***

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Hiromi - Another Mind


You may have heard of wonderkid piano player extraordinaire Hiromi Uehara, usually known simply as Hiromi. You may not. Chances are that if you have, then her name was more than likely mentioned accompanied with a gushing side of superlatives. Always dangerous, as when an artist then fails to be anything other than ‘the best thing you have ever heard up until this point right now’, criticisms come to you just as easily as the superlatives do to the gushing fan.

Hiromi grew up listening to a number of jazz players and took up the piano at the tender age of six, where she then quickly (very quickly just under a year later) became a student at the Yamaha School of Music. At the age of twenty, she then found herself at the prestigious Berklee School of Music. But as if that weren’t impressive enough, she also found the time to both meet and be mentored by such legends as Oscar Peterson and Chick Corea. Ahmad Jamal though saw such a talent, that the two became close friends and it is his production work that features on this, her debut album.

With such close mentorship, problems and accusations of having too similar a sound often arise. Here though, that is not the case. The aggressive opener ‘XYZ’ displays a driving rhythm with some beautiful cascading piano lines, before settling into a hypnotic bass and drum groove with some impressive piano variations skipping over the top. A great beginning, it sets the tone brilliantly for the rest of the album.

‘Double Personality’ that follows features again a strong band, this time with additional guitar and saxophone. A taut balance of rhythm and melody, the band speeds from one variation to another. At the nine-minute mark, it sounds like a party you wish you’d been invited to.

Similarly ‘Summer Rain’ and ‘Joy’ maintain the uptempo mood, but with more of a funk feeling. After the weaves of the first two tracks, these two pieces are easily the most accessible tunes here. ‘01010101’ alternatively has a surprising electronic sound that warrants its title, even if the keyboards featured sound out of place, played on the piano or organ, this would have been sublime. When the piano does come in much later, it fits much better. None-the-less, the track oozes fun.

‘Truth And Lies’ and the title track offer much heavier and moodier themes, whereas ‘Dancando No Paraiso’ sandwiched between them possesses a fun fast jaunt that settles into a slow groove but Hiromi still tinkling like a fast-flowing stream. A brief and enjoyable drum solo then gives way to a perfect salsa-esque piano run, that can’t help but raise a smile to your face.

Bassists Mitch Cohn and Anthony Jackson, drummer Dave Di Censo and guests Jim Ogden on alto saxophone and Dave Fiuczynski on guitar give fine support, and Hiromi in turn gives them great solo spots. Together the music encompasses a wide variety of musical tastes, taken in such luminaries as diverse as JS Bach through to King Crimson. An incredible debut performance, this amazingly was made while Hiromi was still attending music school. One can only wonder at what she’ll come up with upon graduating.

The ending bonus solo piece ‘The Tom And Jerry Show’ is a superb display of Hiromis dexterity and also her strong sense of melody. Playful and energetic, its sense of infectious fun seems to mirror the feel, as well as the pacing, of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It is a perfect ending to a great album. The only problem is that by the end you’ve run out of superlatives.

****

Review: Grant Green - Iron City


Grant Green’s distinctive single note guitar had played on a variety of well-received and still highly-regarded Blue Note releases between 1960 and ’65. For the best part of four years after that purple patch however he was unfortunately lost to the debilitiating effects of an on-going battle with heroin. It wouldn’t be until 1969 that he would be heard from again.

Not that the drug years were entirely unproductive. Green recorded a small number of albums, of which at least one is known to remain unreleased. ‘Iron City’, recorded with old band-mates John Patton and Ben Dixon, was recorded in the middle of his bad patch, in 1967. Unreleased for five years, it then appeared for the first time on the small Cobblestone Records in 1972 when Green was now back on the Blue Note roster.

A mostly up-tempo set; it’s one of Greens funkiest efforts, with the title track being one of the catchiest pieces he’s ever written - Patton and Dixons organ and drums combining and aligning perfectly to form a deep heads-down groove. Luiz Bonfa’s perhaps over-played ‘Samba De Orfeu’ is covered, but in such a harder funkier style, renamed ‘Samba De Opheus’ it’s almost unrecognisable and, for the purposes of this album, to really great effect.

‘Work Song’ and ‘High Heeled Sneakers’ are solid soul-jazz numbers that each gets a good ferocious gloves-off workout from Green’s trio, while ‘Motherless Child’ in contrast is the sole slower piece, with a strong blue atmosphere, played gently and subtley by the group. The best piece though is easily ‘Old Man Moses’, a song Green first played on 1962’s ‘Feelin’ The Spirit’ in a very different style and take to the version here. An almost gospel sounding funk, the group are uniformly excellent, with special mention going to Patton, who puts in arguably one of his best ever and most-sampled performances.

A strong and bright sound enhances the material and playing on the entire record. The two guest players, and their technique, in particular are brought out shiningly. For many, Green’s ‘last great performance’, it is arguably also his best organ trio work. After his proper return to duty in ’69, his output would be sporadic and patchy, and although occasional high-points would occur, Green’s best work, at least from a jazz view, was easily behind him. Why ‘Iron City’ remained unreleased for so long before it first saw the light of day is unknown. Regardless it was a mistake and, now more widely available, this should be sought out by any admirers of Green.

Iron City artworks - or at least the two most popular ones. Due to existing on a small label that's changed hands a dozen times, it has multiple covers. These two are the most common.
****